Prof Huk is an award-winning teacher whose research is committed to understanding the ways in which poetry, as a form of thinking, has both illuminated and helped generate some of the greatest ideas of the 20th-century. Since returning to Notre Dame in 2002 (having earned her doctorate here in 1987), she has had the opportunity not only to teach numerous innovatively-designed poetry courses at the undergraduate level, but also to help build the English Department’s increasingly acclaimed strengths in graduate-level Poetics studies. She would direct those interested in details about her recent books and articles to her webpage at the College.
She understands poetry to be precisely not what students fear: a hermetic, exalted artform, its rules set down since time immemorial to trip up the uninitiated. Rather, she reads it as what some of the greatest philosophers, theorists, socio-linguists and theologians of the 20th century have also seen it to be: that molten verbal realm where rules for writing and thinking bend most, and where new ideas can be absorbed and assessed, or intuited and formed, most flexibly and honestly – minus “certain” narrative conclusions in a very uncertain age. Therefore she never teaches poetry as if it were caught in a literary chamber, echoing only itself and art’s concerns; instead she sets it beside the many crises of thought and belief in 20th-century history that it responds to and travels beside.
No two teachers are or should be alike, in her view. She therefore believes that what students appreciate most are not so much the strategies professors learn from other professors (though these may help!), but rather a teacher’s own genuine presence in the classroom. For her this involves the continual, best modeling of her own scholarly thinking even as students are urged to develop their own; a resultant imperative, of course, is ongoing critique of one’s thinking, its faults and failings, always on show. (This is only one of the many ways that she finds teaching, and student evaluations of it, help to improve scholarship.) Firmly believing that self-consciousness is at the heart of self-undoing, for both students and professors, and firmly devoted to complex thinking however hard it might be to develop, she attempts with every course – all of which, from first-year to grad-level, are filled with the most difficult ideas written down in the last century – to at least begin the semester’s discussion sessions with a method she calls “team-work with half-thoughts”: free-for-all conversation in which even part-sentences and unfinished ideas are welcomed and run with, collaboratively, non-judgmentally, innovatively. The desired result is an energized classroom in which the ideas coming to form are the focus, not one another, though the achievement is made through one another and in gratitude to one another.