Through academia, Cori Winrock blends poetry with science

Well-traveled visiting assistant professor of English Cori Winrock has a long history of expression through poetry.

Winrock laughed recalling her angsty teen poems but said that she valued her high school experience at the School Without Walls in Rochester, N.Y. There she partook in a senior project with poet Kathleen Wakefield thanks to the non-profit organization Writers & Books.

“Meeting a real living poet was a big deal in high school,” Winrock said. “It was a good experience. She had a book out, and I got to see her do readings.”

Winrock studied psychology and creative writing at Oberlin College, where she said she developed her interest in neuropsychology.

“I always thought I’d end up as a doctor, a clinical psychologist, or something with brain dysfunctions,” Winrock said. “What got me into neurology was that my professor opened the class with an Emily Dickinson poem.”

“I can’t tell you the exact moment I decided to try and do poetry,” Winrock said. “I function better when I’m writing … I made the decision to get my Master of Fine Arts when I realized that I could be involved in both fields, just from a different perspective.”

While working toward her Master of Fine Arts degree at Cornell University, Winrock applied to create a course that fused her two interests; she called it Literature in the Laboratory. The course values the importance of communication to both disciplines of science and literature.

“Alice Fulton and Lyrae Van Clief-Stefanon were my two main mentors at Cornell” Winrock said. “As someone who was sure she was going into the sciences, who then fell too hardcore in love with poetry not to pursue it further, I went into graduate school rather unsure of what I wanted out of not only my own poetics but also poetry in general.”

Fulton pushed Winrock to engage with her poetry ancestors; Van Clief-Stefanon helped Winrock to recognize her bad habits and tricks and to simultaneously not abuse her good habits.

“She [Van Clief-Stefanon] was hard on me in a way that not only helped me to pinpoint the most demanding aspects of a piece but to also confront them,” Winrock said. “I feel like she shaped not only my poetics but who I am as a person; that is what poetry really is—it’s not simply a way of seeing the world but a way of existing within it.”

After completing her degree at Cornell, Winrock spent the next two years as a lecturer. Following her lectureship, she spent a year living and writing in London.

Winrock received the Emerging Writer Fellowship at Kingston University in London for the spring semester, where she lectured on the difference between contemporary American and British poetry and publishing.

“I think it’s really important to go to another place and be uncomfortable,” Winrock said. “I feel that I’m a better teacher for having had to engage with the cultural of poetics.”

Winrock said British poetry is more conservative than North America’s contemporary poetics.

“It was really good for me to understand the boundaries of the countries that we’re in,” she said. “Poetry is about communicating, but we forget that we’re in a dialogue in a specific cultural context. I did a lot of traveling, and I think it’s really good for your writing to be uncomfortable - to be in the spaces where you can’t fall back on language in a way that you’re used to.”

After London, Winrock returned to Rochester, where she taught freshman writing at Rochester Institute of Technology before applying for a position at Geneseo.

Winrock currently serves on the pre-medicine advisory committee, where she encourages natural science students to engage in the writing process through enrollment in INTD 105: Literature in the Laboratory, which Winrock brought to Geneseo from her time at Cornell.

“What is so striking to me is the curiosity of the student population,” Winrock said of Geneseo. “Students are really receptive but also willing to engage. They push back in order to learn more.”

“Everybody is nice and awkward in the best of ways,” Winrock said. “It’s really welcoming as a creative writing faculty member. It feels like I’m having a genuine dialogue with students.”

Cori Winrock’s poems have appeared, or will soon appear, in the Best New Poets anthology, Blackbird, Black Warrior Review, Colorado Review, Denver Quarterly, From the Fishouse, Handsome and elsewhere.

Additionally, her work was chosen as a winner of the 2012 Summer Literary Seminars’ St. Petersburg Review Award and Editor’s Choice for The Mid-American Review’s James Wright Poetry Award.

Her manuscript has been a finalist for a number of prizes, including the Academy of American Poets’ Walt Whitman Award, Ahsahta’s Sawtooth Prize, and the Kore Press First Book Award.