Wednesday, April 9, 2014

Do you know any poets?

A student asked me in class the other day if I knew any poets.

Personally? I replied.

Not to name drop, but I realized I've taken for granted my experience with extraordinary poets and their poetry.

Poets may be some of the most interesting people you'll meet. They are at heart story tellers that take notice of the world around them and find the words that tend to fail us.

Look into the biographies of poets and you'll discover colorful lives that compel them to write. Contrary to the general perception of poetry as dry and dusty, I've admired the humor of poets I've met - the quick wit in conversation. I have a friend George Bilgere, a friend's professor at John Carroll. George read his poetry at my former school. Since then, we've met up a few times to talk poetry and life, telling stories and sharing laughs.

In grad school at The Bread Loaf School of English, I was fortunate to take a summer workshop for six weeks with Pulitzer Prize winning poet and Princeton Professor, Paul Muldoon. At Bread Loaf, I heard 1976 Pulitzer Prize winning poet John Ashbury read; I especially enjoyed talking with him afterward at the reception. (As poetry editor to the New Yorker, Paul Muldoon interviews Ashbury on this podcast.)

I still regret not taking poetry with David Huddle at Bread Loaf.

In college, I had a dear mentor in that was a published poet Deborah Burnham. I wish I had studied with Al Filreis; I highly recommend taking his Coursera ModPo.

Although not a poety, my mentor from high school, an English teacher and Milton scholar, is a published novelist Paul Kalkstein. Princeton undergrad and Yale grad school, Paul was also my lacrosse coach and house counselor. He may be the most influential teacher I had, even though I never had a class with him; to be honest, I was afraid of disappointing him since I knew he had high expectations.

I also regret never seeing my favorite poet Seamus Heaney, but I did study with arguably the most demanding professor at Bread Loaf, Victor Luftig of the University of Pennsylvania. Victor taught "Heaney in Context," a course that would alter my view on poetry and the teaching of poetry.

I've attended readings by former Poet Laureates Ted Kooser and Billy Collins in Cleveland.
Listen to Ted Kooser's intro below where he shares a funny story of how a young boy said he looks like a hobbit.

I enjoyed listening to Sharon Olds, 2013 Pulitzer Prize winner for poetry, a few years ago at my last school. Here's Muldoon talking poetry with Olds for the New Yorker.

Another visiting poet and professor, Jay Parini, inspired this blog and furthered my exploration into poetry. As an English department, we had dinner with Jay; then, he visited my class and a creative writing class where he talked of his writing process:

“The first draft of anything I write is usually always a cliché, so I go back and try to sharpen the words,” Parini explained. “Word choice is crucial, because if you have the right noun or verb, you don’t need to hustle up a bunch of adjectives or adverbs (to make your point). I also have favorite words that I find myself using, but they are often just holding places until I can go back and find a better word to use."
As Parini suggests, understanding the importance of diction, especially the connotation of words, is vital in poetry - and in life.

Poetry is about finding the fresh words and moving beyond cliché to express ourselves. Poets bring poetry to life though the instrument of their voice. Listen to poets read their poetry - read their prose on poetry.

Lastly, I have been fortunate to have colleagues who write poetry - and I hope to have some visit a class soon.

1 comment:

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