Sean Forbes and Writing a New Book

By Alex Phelps

Sometimes when doing something for a long period of time, it is important to take a step back and gain a new perspective on whatever task you were devoting your time to. This is exactly what UConn’s Creative Writing Director Sean Forbes did this past year when he signed up for the Humanities Institute Fellowship. The Humanities Institute Fellowship is a program where professors from the University of Connecticut and other universities are able to take the year off from teaching their classes and focus on their own projects. This allows them to develop their own work while not having to worry about the stress of teaching many classes at their universities, and gain differing perspectives on their individual work. For Sean, it allowed him to focus and look back at his second book of poetry, Archaeological Revival. Sean has been working on this book off and on again for 9 years. Due to this, he wanted to spend some time to really look at what he has done and what he wants to do for the book to be completed. He said that it becomes difficult to find time to work on his book while managing the various responsibilities he has as a professor and the Director of Creative Writing at Uconn. The Humanities Institute Fellowship allowed him to instead spend his time on his book which was incredibly helpful, as he was able to gain a better sense of what direction he wanted to take with it. One of the advantages of the fellowship was that it allowed him to work with other professionals who have different perspectives than his own. Sean was partnered with a professor from Yale who was not involved in creative writing at all. This allowed him to see how people that are not as invested in reading poetry would look at his work. This was important to him because he does not want to write a book that would just be for people who read a lot of poetry.

Not only was his break helpful for his own projects, but Sean believes that it was useful for being introspective on his teaching. He said that what has changed for him is that he has made an effort to ask more open ended questions that will facilitate class discussion. Sean started to rethink some of the assignments that he would give and how he would want to approach the prompts he would give in a creative writing class. He believes that not only for him, also for his students the time away from in person learning allowed them to realize just how important it is. One of the things that he has noticed was the ability for students to discuss things that struck them in class after the class is over, something that is difficult in an online class. This is something that everyone going back to in person classes have been able to appreciate this year. There are many small things that come along with having classes in person that we do not realize are missing until we do not have them. Even just the ability to walk up to your teacher, professor, or student after class and talk to them about something that happened in class can dramatically improve how well a student is doing in class. This is especially the case for a class focused on creativity. Sean estimates that he is currently about halfway done with Archaeological Revival and is hopeful that he will be able to complete a finalized manuscript by next summer.

Below is Sean’s poem Memorial Sight

Memorial Site

Bavaria, Germany

December 2015


Sunny and chilly,

visitors saunter through the gatehouse,

infants swaddled in pinks and blues,

their parents wearing lime green parkas.


The crunch and skid of loose gravel

underfoot echoes as teenagers on class

trips run and giggle—some wander off

with a boy or girl, hide behind a watchtower

as they grope each other, make out.


Elderly women readjust patterned silk

scarves over chic cashmere coats, 

smoky eau de parfum wafts.


Elderly men take off their woolen

pageboy caps when indoors, twist gold

signet rings, stale cigar musk lingers.


We follow Karl, our tour guide, walking

past the stone foundations of what’s

left of the camp barracks, built in 1937

with a life expectancy of 10 to 15 years.

We enter the crematorium, our final stop,

some with somber, contemplative faces. After

he’s done speaking, a family group asks

him to take their picture, and as Karl finds

the right angle, he tells them to smile—I notice

his slight horror—but they ask for different poses,

goofy grins and raucous laughter frozen in digital

time. After having scoffed at their posing, I realized 

that visiting Dachau had been on my bucket list too.