Friday, October 24, 2014

A Night of Poet Laureates

I attended the Midwest Writing Center’s fundraising event that featured Mary Swander and Kevin Stein, Iowa and Illinois poets laureate.

It was my birthday and I chose to celebrate with poetry.

The poets were introduced by Dick Stahl, Quad Cities own poet laureate and frequent Writer’s Studio attendee. He read his own piece written to commemorate this joint appearance. As he read, I waited for him to mention the Mississippi River. I knew from experience how he liked to insert the great river into his poems whenever possible. I wasn’t disappointed. Toward the end, he allowed it to flow through.

What followed was a round robin of poems between Ms. Swander and Mr. Stein, each introducing their selection and placing it within the context of their lives in the Midwest.

Everything went smoothly until what should have been the last poem delivered by Mr. Stein. It was a dog poem. Ms. Swander felt compelled to respond with one last dog poem of her own. I’ve seen this before. Dogs and cats seem to have that effect on poets.

A question and answer period followed and I was taken by one of the last asked: What do you have on your nightstand?

Ms. Swander talked about the poems and a biography of Emily Dickinson she was currently reading, saying she liked to study authors in depth.

Mr. Klein came to the podium and kind of sheepishly admitted he wasn’t reading any poetry at the moment and actually hadn’t for quite a while. He had read a lot of poetry in his earlier years and now was more focused on his own work. If anything were on his nightstand, he said it would have to be a newspaper. Newspapers supplied him with all the information and prompts he needed to spark ideas for his work.

I really liked his response, both as an endorsement for keeping newsprint around and for making a commitment to his own creativity and voice.

Being creative and having a unique voice—things we all aspire to as writers. 

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