After forty years of teaching, almost thirty of them at Ithaca College, Jerry Mirskin retired from his position as a professor of writing at the end of the fall 2021 semester. With specialties in poetry and composition theory, he created and taught many of the first versions of classes that have been a part of the Writing Department’s curriculum over the years. Among them are Composition Theory, an ethnographic writing class, and flash creative nonfiction.
Outside of developing classes, he has created memorable and involved lessons for his students over the years. He says he “was very proud to have involved my students in learning experiences that engaged them not only as writing students, but as responsible citizens.” In one instance, he paired them up as mentors with residents at the local juvenile detention center, Finger Lakes Residential Center, where he spent part of his summers tutoring. At the end of the year, he was invited by the principal at the detention center to deliver a commencement address at the end of the residents’ school year.
In addition, he connected his advanced poetry students with the exiled Chinese poet Yi Ping, who was the first writer sponsored by the Ithaca City of Asylum. His students met with Yi Ping at Mirskin’s house where they translated Ping’s poetry into English with the help of Ping’s wife.
Amy Monticello, who studied and eventually taught at Ithaca College, remembers Mirskin in the classroom fondly: “He used his voice to help us locate a poem's discoveries and to show us the limits of articulation — he showed us where the poem gestured at what we have no language for, only sound as embodiment.” She, too, believes in Mirskin’s belief that writing is public. “He taught us to recognize the small moments that contain what is possible between people, between different versions of ourselves, between ourselves and our environments.”
Mirskin will miss many of his students that he had the chance to grow close to and remain in contact with, saying: “the classroom moment often focused my attention in a way that I felt was important and real.”
Outside of the classroom, Mirskin has published poems in numerous anthologies, among them including In Roots & Flowers: Poets Write About Their Families; The Prairie Schooner Anthology of Contemporary American Jewish Poetry; the Bloomsbury Anthology of Contemporary Jewish American Poetry; The Working Poet II; and The Heart is Improvisational. He has also published multiple books with Mammoth Books with one of them, Picture a Gate Hanging Open and Let that Gate be the Sun, winning the Mammoth Books Prize for Poetry.
Cory Brown, a writing professor with a focus in poetry, believes that Mirskin is “a wonderful poet — a reader can always expect remarkably unique expressions couched most often in interesting and sometimes humorous narratives that read like prayers, like votive offerings to the god of love and human connection.”
As Mirskin looks toward his life in retirement, he looks forward to traveling and learning, but perhaps most importantly, to “being worthy in the roles of child, parent, partner, and friend.”