To Fight the ‘War on Woke,’ We Need Poetry and Poets

Ms. Classroom wants to hear from educators and students being impacted by legislation attacking public education, higher education, gender, race and sexuality studies, activism and social justice in education, and diversity, equity and inclusion programs. Cue: a new series from Ms., ‘Banned! Voices from the Classroom.’ Submit pitches and/or op-eds and reflections (between 500-800 words) to Ms. contributing editor Aviva Dove-Viebahn at Posts will be accepted on a rolling basis.

I’m a former professor at the New College of Florida—I resigned the end of July.

In 2019, I was hired as the first and only professor of creative writing at the New College. I am trained as an ecofeminist poet and was affiliated with gender studies and environmental studies. I taught courses like “The Sexual Politics of Meat,” “Poetry Recess” and “How a Woman Becomes A Lake, and Other Unheroic Acts: a Seminar in Gender and Genre Bending.”

On July 19, 2023, Robert Allen published an opinion piece in the Sarasota Herald Tribune criticizing the lack of ideological balance in the New College faculty and listing myself, faculty chair Amy Reid and gender studies professor Nick Clarkson as “pedagogical aberrations” that exemplified his point.

Shortly thereafter, I resigned—which would have happened regardless of Allen’s piece. However, Allen’s piece has invited me to speak up and, after much deliberation and careful wordsmithing, I’ve decided I want to share my story, below.

I hope it helps to raise awareness on the plight of education in this country—because New College isn’t an anomaly, it’s the future of the “war on woke.”

Because so many voices are lost or silenced in this battle.

Because we need to share our personal, intimate, vulnerable and authentic experiences of the American culture wars.

Because we are more than just collateral damage.

Because—particularly in the midst of this massive cultural dysfunction—we need poetry and poets, too.


Are You There, Bobs? It’s Me, Emily.

375 BCE | Greece

Plato kicks poets out of the first democracy, because we are liars and a threat to civilization. We spread misinformation and corrupt the youth and have no place in the ideal state.

Nevertheless, Plato argues that poetry is “nearer to vital truth than history” and praises poets as people who, “gifted with a god-sent madness,” “utter great and wise things which they do not themselves understand.” At the time, poets played a significant role in social life and were highly revered—which is one reason Plato loved to hate us.

1964 | Somewhere, Florida

The New College of Florida becomes the first institution of higher education in Florida to institute an open admissions policy committing the school not to discriminate based on “race, creed, national origin, or cultural status.”

1978 CE | Somewhere, Florida; Nowhere, Missouri

Bob Allen graduates from the New College of Florida.

I am born, the first child of two first-generation college students.

1996 | Nowhere, Illinois

Harvard graduate and truck driver Bob Bogue pens an opinion piece for the Quincy Herald Whig, advocating for student artists like me.

I’m 17 and I’ve just won a national poetry award with a $1000 cash prize. I live in a small town known for its state champion basketball team, who regularly rides on fire trucks through downtown. Bob writes: “How about it, Mr. Mayor? Emily just brought us a national title. Can we expect to see her name on a little green sign at the city limits? A proclamation of appreciation? Emily Kruse Day? Quincy businessmen, Emily T-shirts? An Emily burger? A poet’s corner?”

In my honor, the mayor declares June 3 a poetry holiday and all the local Pizza Huts print my poem on special, neon yellow placemats.


Knee high by the fourth of July
My grandfather always said,
And the golden ears of corn
Would sway in the summer sun.
Wait, child, he would say.
Each day he plucked
An ear from the rustling stalk
And ground the kernels
Between his teeth—
Not yet, child, he would say,
And smile,
Crinkling his creased, brown face,
It is not dry enough.

So we would wait,
Until the air was filled
With the crackling of parched corn.
The combine would emerge
From the musty barn,
Startling the lazy cats
Basking in thin rays of sunlight.
Slowly the rows of corn would disappear,
And my grandfather
Would return from the fields
In the twilight of the night,
Weary and dusty.

And when the corn was gone,
With it went the golden days of summer.
In each ear there lay memories
Of those days
Of freedom and carelessness.
Each glorious month
Was stored in a bin,
To remind us of those happy days
Until we could once again
Fling away all cares
And run wild and free through the corn.

2000 | Nowhere, Missouri

Following in the footsteps of Brad Pitt, who famously dropped out of the very same institution to be an actor, I drop out of the medical school at the University of Missouri to be a poet.

That’s right Bobs—I drop out of MEDICAL SCHOOL to be a POET.

2019 | Central Oregon

I resign as program director of the MFA at Oregon State University–Cascades to pursue my second dream job: as the first and only professor of creative writing at the New College of Florida, where I will design an innovative, interdisciplinary area of concentration in creative writing and advise thesis students working at the intersection of creative writing and gender studies, environmental studies, computer science, classics, music and more.

2023 | Somewhere, Florida

New College becomes the latest target of Governor Ron DeSantis’ “war on woke,” and I inadvertently walk into history by the back door.

2023 | Somewhere, Florida

I host a “Cento of the Universe” Party for students in my “Ecopoetry and Ecoperformance Workshop” class. I don’t know it yet, but this will be the last workshop I will lead at the New College of Florida. I pass out Capri Suns and popcorn balls, and decorate the Four Winds Cafe with helium balloons. Everyone performs an original ecopoem—which, according to the definition we’ve co-created this term, is a poem that radically redefines home as bodies, vulnerability, love, energy in motion, a place for shapeshifting and transformation, where you share everything you have: food, equipment, medicine, technology, time, labor, emotional space, knowledge, the most intimate stories…

The process—which I’m borrowing from Richard Jeffrey Newman’s open mic reading series in Queens—goes like this: Each participant reads their poem, and the group listens for their favorite lines. Folks shout these out and I choose one as the first line of our cento. We repeat the process after each reader, until we come to the last reader, when we choose the line that completes the cento.

As Newman explains: “Because we have been listening for lines that will make the cento work, we concentrate on each reader’s offering. When I finish reciting the last line of a completed cento, the feeling in the room is a collective version of what every writer feels when the last word of a poem clicks into place. In composing a cento jointly, we recommit ourselves to being a community for whom literary culture really matters. Given the political moment we’re living through, nurturing this kind of community seems more and more like a necessary act of resistance.”

On a white-hot Wednesday in May—the same day interim president Richard Corcoran announces he’s chosen Trump’s notorious COVID-19 advisor, Scott Atlas, as our commencement speaker—we co-create SHEAR: A Cento of the Universe.

A video montage from our “Cento of the Universe” Party, made by NCF alumna Liss Monti.

breakdown breakdown breakdown in a useful way
but maybe that’s too on the nose
I realized I was unclean

does the soil hold forever or let me learn to be all the tender ways

is he tying your intestine into a perfect bow?
we mix placements of colors & palettes that don’t belong

all to say the light wasn’t bright enough

not ready to be slaughtered again.
when I feel like I owe you for the way you feel about me

you smile at me like you have smiled at me from the beginning of time
it’s a lie that never finishes.

2023 | Somewhere, Florida

In an opinion piece for the Sarasota Herald Tribune, super-yacht owner, lawyer and New College alumni Bob Allen deems me a “pedagogical aberration” because I play tarot at the beach with my puppy in my free time.

This Bob clearly has not read my poetry, which is far more dangerous! There’s my famous abortion poem, my famous anorexia poem, and my famous divorce poems—in fact, I have a whole book of divorce poems and a brewer in Oregon crafted a beer inspired by it—not to mention my collection of tarot poems, which forage into infidelity, suicide and sexual abuse.

2023 | Nowhere, Illinois

Heartbroken, I serendipitously land a job at a medical school and resign from the New College of Florida. President Richard Corcoran has made all the illegal moves he can think of to get out of my contract—while hiring a head athletic coach and offering student athletes signing bonuses. Bobs, the irony is not lost on me!

I am no philosopher and I am not a politician and while I do indeed call myself a “beach witch,” I don’t predict the future—but, in my “god-sent madness,” I know this to be true: We have come to the exact same precipice. We are repeating ourselves, slipping. Bobs, I dedicate this “statistically significant” love poem to you. For caring enough to consider me news.

a statistically significant poem

you could think of Lazarus
as someone who had to die

space voyages report nothing. nothing, nothing.

abortion never did anyone
any good, as far              as I can tell. & yet
I’d do it again.

housewife is the poorest paying
job a woman can hold. but most women feel
cheated if they don’t

freedom would turn out to be harder
to use than it was           to win.

if lemurs are not extinct then what
have we learned.

& what about Neil Armstrong, who wishes
he could go back up there & take
his footsteps away

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Dr. Emily Carr is a beach witch, love poet, ecofeminist professor and author of four collections of poetry. Carr was the founding director of the MFA in creative writing at Oregon State University–Cascades and creator of the B.A. in creative writing at the New College of Florida. These days she’s the first poetry professor on faculty at the Southern Illinois School of Medicine, with a mission of injecting healthy doses of awe, creativity, zest, hope and perspective into the problem-based learning curriculum.