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Posts Tagged ‘poetry’

Reality Represented Through Poetry

Spring Visiting Writers’ Series: HOA NGUYEN

Hoa Nguyen

Hoa Nguyen


On a chilly Wednesday evening in the middle of April, Hoa Nguyen begins reading from her various books and collections of poetry in a room on the top floor of the CUE building on the WSU campus. The audience is mostly a mix of students and faculty members who eagerly wait to hear the work that this poet will bring alive in her reading.

Hoa’s writing is daring and blunt—she’s not afraid to use words that others might shy away from, or discuss politically charged current events. Her slightly sarcastic, yet intelligent delivery is compelling and leaves the audience grounded in reality; her verse is rooted in gritty images that leave listeners thinking about world issues that many would rather avoid.

After Hoa concludes this powerful reading, I pull her aside for a quick interview about the inspiration and experiences that influence her work so powerfully.

Angela: Out of all your experiences, what would you say inspires your writing the most? Is there one specific experience or time in your life that’s the most inspiring?

Hoa: No, I don’t think of writing that way. I think just life, loving, and being curious [informs it]. And that includes reading poetry, figuring out the name of that little purple star flower that’s blooming right now [and] what the name of the creek is, and where does it flow. I think it’s more about being an active participant in being-ness.

Angela:  So you would probably say that where you grew up (Washington D.C.) didn’t really influence your writing that much, or did it?

Hoa: Oh, sure, I think your life is all of those things. When I grew up in D.C. certainly influenced how I received that experience of being. Growing up in a place that’s really political [and] very international definitely influenced my worldview. Growing up with The Washington Post as my daily newspaper [and] having conversations, regardless of where I was [that] would often gravitate towards international politics. I think that [these things] probably did politicize me at an early age. The access to pretty good public schools and libraries certainly didn’t hurt at all. If I’d grown up in a place that was impoverished or [in] a different class of neighborhood, it would’ve completely had an effect on my poetry too.

Angela: Do you think that if you had grown up somewhere that wasn’t quite [as] diverse as a big city, you wouldn’t have been a poet at all, or do you think you still had that in you?

Hoa: It’s hard to say. We can only speculate. I really always did feel like a poet. I know poets that grew up in small towns that also had the same sort of pull towards poetry, towards a kind of compression, a kind of song, a kind of concern towards verse. I’d like to think maybe I would just be the same and it would just be informed by different things.

Angela: You talked about how you were the co-editor of the poetry journal. How has that influenced your own writing?

Hoa: Hugely. In a lot of different ways. First, when you’re an editor of a magazine, you get tons of submissions and you become really quite adept at identifying what poems you are interested in. We got lots of submissions especially towards the end when we were at the pinnacle of our popularity.  At one point we were getting 30 submissions a week, which is a lot for just a little mom ’n’ pop kind of place. It was because we had been recognized in this yearly called The Best American Poetry and everybody that saw that issue wanted to be in our magazine because they thought [they could] get in The Best American Poetry. It kind of crushed us, actually. It ended up being the demise of the magazine. But earlier, when I was able to really absorb the work, what I found was that I could read a stanza and immediately make a decision [about] whether I wanted to continue to read the stanza. [This] made me interrogate my own poetics. What is the [energy] of this stanza that makes it something that I want to keep reading? I just naturally applied that eye to my own work, so it definitely informed it.

Engaging in the process of being an editor [also] put me in contact with editors across the United States who were doing similar projects. Suddenly you have these nexus of connection [where] you can see what other people are doing in their magazines, what that editor’s aesthetic is like. It really just kind of expands your worldview of what’s happening on the ground right in that moment. An amazing benefit is that editors would understand that you’re a poet and [say]: “Hey, we’d love to see what you’re up to, send me some poems.” It became this way that you could actually take part in your own creativity and be part of those journals and presses.

Angela: Your poems talk about the environment and world issues that are really negative. Do you think that poetry is a more effective means of communication than a news article online? Do you think poetry reaches people in a different way?

Hoa: My hope is that the poetry impacts people’s imaginations and the possibilities of engagement. There’s no poem of mine that’s going to really make a difference in the oil spill in the gulf, but my hope is that it creates an opportunity for an imaginative possibility that can then extend beyond me, beyond the page, beyond that poem, and live and carry out in other imaginings and other possibilities. The multi-facetedness of a poem can actually reach other interiors that just reading a fact might not.

Tod Marshall: A contemporary poet and his work

Visiting Writers Series, Installment #3—November 4, 7:30pm

It is Thursday evening, November 4, 2010, and the skies are clear with that definitive chill in the air that indicates it is fall in Pullman.  WSU faculty and students gather into Kimbrough 101 to listen to a reading given by Tod Marshall, the last visiting writer of the fall semester to participate in the English Department’s Visiting Writers Series.

Tod Marshall is the author of two books of poetry, including Dare Say (University of Georgia Press 2002) and The Tangled Line (Canarium Books 2009). These two books are filled with unique poems bearing titles such as “Describe KFC to Icarus,” “No Nightingales in Kansas” and “St. Jude and the Tomatoes.”  He has also published a book of interviews that he did with contemporary poets—Range of the Possible (EWU Press 2002)—as well as an anthology of poems by these same contemporary poets, which he edited—Range of Voices (EWU Press 2005). Tod received his Ph.D. from the University of Kansas in 1996 and currently resides in Spokane, Washington, where he is an English teacher at Gonzaga University.

Tod gives an hour long reading from his books, interspersed with some insight into the background and inspiration behind his writing.  He finishes the evening by reading from some newer poetry that he is currently working on.  Afterwards, I meet briefly with this local poet to get some insight into the creativity behind his writing.


Angela: Do you purposely go out into the world to experience unique things, or do you just let things happen to you? Where does the majority of your subject matter come from?

Tod Marshall

Tod Marshall

Tod: Well, I don’t think that I do anything exotic in order to go find poems out there in the world.  I think if you looked at my life on the outside you’d [see] kind of a boring life.  But I think it’s important not to turn down new experiences.  There’s that Eleanor Roosevelt quotation: “Try something every day that you’re afraid of,” or something like that.  So, I think that that’s important just to remind us that we’re alive, and to keep us fully alive. A lot of my poems come out of[a] combination of the normal things that I do and reading and things that I read about.  I steal things that I read about and blend them together so it’s all a blender that mixes those things, and hopefully comes up with something interesting.

Angela: In your book The Tangled Line (2009), you did a lot of juxtaposing of really bizarre things that don’t seem to go together [“divorce and martinis,” “custody and omelets,” “fly fishing and Marie Antoinette”].  Why did you decide to do that exactly?

Tod: The first reason I decided to do it is because I had just finished my first book and I was kind of stuck getting going on new poems, so I did it as an exercise.  I’m going to give myself this template that I’ve got to write poems within—“describe something to something else” [as in, “Describe divorce to Martinis”].  Eventually, after lots and lots of failed attempts—probably fifteen, twenty poems that just never really went anywhere— I started to find commonalities and threads. In the course of that book they describe a historical book.  I also think that description can be a form of containment—if we’re trying to describe something, we’re trying to get control of it.  Life doesn’t usually let us do that, so there’s [an] artificial control in [the] section of the book that has to do with Daedalus the maker. [He is] the grand artificer wanting to get control over all these circumstances that are really beyond his control.  There are lots of riffs there on different types of violence—from the violence of our country at war to the violence that happens in a custody fight over a kid.  You try to find ways to control your life when it’s out of control, and one of them is through coming up with a template.


Two Poets, Two Languages: A Conversation with Claudia Keelan and Donald Revell

Visiting Writers’ Series (September 23rd, 2010)

It’s a dark, rainy Thursday evening in September, and people are slowly migrating from the wet outdoors to a small room in Kimbrough Hall, one of the music buildings on WSU’s campus. While normally this building would be the place to hear a variety of instruments, tonight the crowd that gathers in the small auditorium will hear two distinguished poets: Claudia Keelan and Donald Revell. The poets are married with two children, and both work at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas, as professors of English and creative writing.

Donald has been awarded the Gertrude Stein Award in Innovative American Poetry, and a fellowship from the John Simon Guggenheim Memorial Foundation, among other awards. Claudia was awarded the Silver Pen Award from the state of Nevada and is the editor-in-chief of Interim, the UNLV’s literary review. Donald is of French ancestry, and both poets have done work with translating French poetry. They also speak French at home.

At approximately 7:30pm, Claudia steps to the front of the room to begin reading her work. She reads from her book Missing Her (2009) first, and then after a brief introduction by Claudia, Donald takes his turn, reading from The Bitter Withy (2009). After they finish reading, I sit down with both writers separately to ask them a few questions about their writing and their translation work.