Kettering University Professor Reflects on Past Through Poetry

I see poetry as a way of trying to figure out what’s going on around us and what our place is in the world.”

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Dr. Joy Arbor recently completed a 20-year journey of investigating the past to determine what it means for her future in a collection of poems titled Where Are You From, Originally?. The collection was published in March 2016 by Finishing Line Press.

“When we are born, we are in the middle of our story,” Arbor said. “We have to figure out the past before we can address the future.”

Her grandparents’ journey from Nazi Germany in the 1930’s has inspired deep reflection into her family’s past. Her grandfather was a German Jew who left his family and emigrated to Palestine in January 1939. Her grandmother lived in Czechoslovakia and moved to Palestine with her family.

“In these poems, I spend less time trying to render their experiences and more time trying to figure out what they mean for me and who I am,” Arbor said.

Global transplantation and its historic consequences are balanced by Arbor’s own memories. As a child, Arbor recalls her grandfather opting to formally shake her hand as a greeting as opposed to an embrace. When she questioned her grandfather’s formal behavior, she received responses related to his past. Arbor’s mother hypothesized that he had left his family at a young age in Germany so he lacked traditional family norms. Everything about Arbor’s present was viewed through the lens of the past.

“In this chapbook there are poems about belonging,” Arbor said. “There’s a lot about origins and being an outsider versus an insider. There are themes and obsessions in here. There are a number of poems that come out of family stories and history and question what those mean for us today.”

The oldest poem in the collection dates back to 1996 while Arbor was a MFA student at Mills College. She wrote the most recent poem in the collection during her tenure in the Liberal Studies department at Kettering. Arbor joined Kettering as a professor in 2009 after teaching at American University in Cairo, Egypt and College of the Canyons in Los Angeles.

As a Communications professor, Arbor has attempted to balance instruction of the professional skills students require to succeed in their careers and the necessary personal development achieved by self-reflection and self-expression.

“Being a poet does affect the way I look at the classroom and what I think students need,” Arbor said. “Our schedule of work doesn’t scream for down time and reflection. I’m always trying to bring reflection into the classroom.”

Arbor views many Kettering students as “makers” and encourages expression through the arts in her upper-level electives. In July 2016, Arbor will judge a campus poetry contest that includes over 40 submissions from Kettering students that will be displayed in the Humanities Art Center on Campus.

“I see poetry as a way of trying to figure out what’s going on around us and what our place is in the world,” Arbor said. “I always hope that readers will see things in a different way. I hope they get a different spin on something that they might have previously taken for granted and think about something in a different way.”

Joy Arbor is the author of Where Are You From, Originally?. The collection of poems can be purchased at Finishing Line Press or Amazon. For more information, visit