Ph.D. Student teaches poetry to engage others with activism

Darla Ida Himeles, a fifth-year American literature Ph.D. student, holds her 6-month-old daughter Evelyn in her Mt. Airy home on Monday. | SYDNEY SCHAEFER / THE TEMPLE NEWS

After a young Darla Ida Himeles got home from school one day, she was excited to tell her stepfather about her poetry lesson.

Her stepfather was a doctor who had gone to night school to earn his master’s degree in English. His favorite poem was by William Carlos Williams, a 20th-century modernist poet who was also a doctor.

Right before Himeles’ stepfather suddenly died in 1996, he lent her a copy of Williams’ “Pictures from Brueghel and Other Poems,” which furthered her interest in poetry.

“My stepfather’s comments that he left on Williams’ poems took on special meaning after he died,” said Himeles, a fifth-year American literature Ph.D. student. “I became convinced that writing poems was important, valuable work and a way to process overwhelming emotion.”

Himeles was recently awarded the K. Patricia Cross Future Leaders Award at the 2018 Association of American Colleges & Universities annual meeting in January. The award honors graduate students who show promise as future leaders in higher education. Himeles’ Ph.D. study focuses on 20th- and 21st-century American poetry and multiethnic literature.

When Himeles received the call that she had been selected in December, she cried.

“Aside from disbelief and gratitude, I felt something open, a sense of hopefulness,” Himeles said. “I looked at my daughter, and my path suddenly felt a bit more solid.”

Himeles’ interest in writing and reading poetry inspired her to earn a bachelor’s degree in English from Bryn Mawr College in 2006 and an MFA in poetry from Drew University in 2012.

At Temple, Himeles leads a poetry workshop in the English department focused on reading a diverse range of poets.

Shannon Walters, an English professor, wrote a letter in support of Himeles for the Cross Leaders Award. She said that Himeles’ time at Temple has been invaluable. Himeles helped her rewrite the syllabus for all sections of Analytical Reading and Writing, a General Education course.

“She was very familiar with the struggles of a new teacher, but also very knowledgeable about how to handle these struggles and what things to adjust in one’s teaching,” Walters said.

Himeles has taught at Temple since 2013, first as a teaching assistant for English lectures. Since then, she has taught Analytical Reading and Writing, introductory poetry courses and most recently, a fiction class on graphic memoirs.

Her current poetry focuses on motherhood and animals and their treatment in society. In the past, she said she wrote about more abstract topics.

“In the beginning, I wrote about death, dreams and love, subjects that are admittedly still in my work,” Himeles said. “They were full of teenage angst, rhyme and words I barely understood.”

Her current work features more of her personal life than before.

Himeles, who has always loved animals, did not incorporate this passion into her poetry until her 20s when she worked as a professor at the Maine Maritime Academy.

Himeles also started writing more about motherhood after she gave birth to her daughter, Evelyn, in August.

She said she enjoys writing about being a mom during Donald Trump’s presidency.

She expresses her views on motherhood in this political climate because it helps her understand what it means to have a daughter, given that the president has boasted about his own sexual misconduct toward women. Her poems give her hope for her daughter’s future, she said.

“Both of these topics come from a place of love for me, but also a place of…anger or sadness,” she said.

Although Himeles doesn’t believe that all poetry should be centered around activism, she has an interest in reading poetry that sparks a longing for change in readers. Himeles has been inspired by the work of poet and activist Audre Lorde, who wrote about the injustices faced by women, the LGBTQ community and people of color.

“I’m interested in moments of change, both in the classroom and on the page, and I’m interested in the ways that poems can engage readers,” Himeles said.

This can be seen in the first poem in her chapbook of poetry, “Flesh Enough.” It’s titled “They’ll say the blue whale’s tongue weighed as much as an elephant,” and it examines the impact of animal extinction on humans.   

Rachael Groner, an English professor, initially nominated Himeles for the award. She has seen how Himeles’ caring, genuine personality has affected students.

“I have seen Darla teach, and she is one of the most encouraging teachers I’ve had the pleasure of seeing,” Groner said. “Her classrooms are exciting and vibrant, and students want to talk to her and each other because she has created the kind of classroom space where people feel comfortable discussing texts and ideas, even difficult or contentious ones.”

For Himeles, writing is something she loves, even if it can be difficult at times. She hopes to show that same passion to her students.

“I love when writing a poem answers a question I didn’t know I had, and I love when a poem leaves my hands and becomes a thing on a published page or spoken into a room with others,” Himeles said. “I love this even as it also, sometimes, terrifies me or invites uncertainty or regret. It’s worth those things, even though those things are hard.”

Jessica Bond
can be reached at jessica.bond@temple.edu. Follow The Temple News @TheTempleNews.

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