Catherine Pierce, winner of the Mississippi Institute of Arts & Letters' 2017 award for Poetry.

STARKVILLE, Miss. — Catherine Pierce tries to begin each of her classes with a question.

Something like, but not specifically: “Would you rather be a shepherd spy — a shepherd who is also a spy, not to be confused with shepherd’s pie — or a super agent who is a dog but is really bad at math?”

This particular question came from Pierce’s son, Sam. She jotted it down several years ago, along with other interesting questions he’s asked through the years, and posed it to her intermediate poetry students at Mississippi State University at the beginning of a recent class.

“My questions get weirder and weirder. Today was like the weirdest one yet,” she said. “To their great credit, they just rolled with it.”

The creative spirit Pierce brings to the classroom also serves her well while writing. She’s Mississippi’s current poet laureate and co-director of the creative writing program at MSU, where she tries to share her knowledge and love of poetry with others.

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