“Poetry at Tech” features acclaimed guests

Throughout the year, the liberal arts program Poetry at Tech brings renowned guests to the Institute to present their compositions to the campus community.  The “Adam Stephens Night Out for Poetry” that took place Thursday was the second of the semester’s events, and invited acclaimed poets Bob Hicok and Jamaal May to present selections of their works.

The Technique sat down with Poetry at Tech’s Associate Director Travis Denton to discuss the importance of poetry and the arts on campus along with ways to get involved, and spoke with featured poet May to discuss his style and inspirations.

For Denton, poetry and other artistic outlets for expression can be a crucial balance against the purely academic rigor at Tech.

“The presence of the arts on campus is vital, and the students need the creative outlet.  I think students should take full advantage of the arts at here…because academics are important, but you feed your spirit with art,” Denton said.

While Poetry at Tech readings and events may represent a reprieve from academics for some, Denton explains that the program supplements its poetry readings and springtime community workshops with academic classes, such as the intensive poetry reading courses “Poetry and Poetics I,” and “Poetry and Poetics II,” which are workshop-style classes in which students are given the opportunity to explore each other’s work.

“Students learn to generate poems, learn about poetic  forms, and how to present their work,“ Denton said.

Poetry at Tech’s reading series, Denton explains, has built its reputation as one of the premier reading series in the southeast by featuring works from poets who are vibrant in their use of language,  present their work well and are likely to be captivating to an audience.

However, Denton also notes that Poetry at Tech seeks additional complementary qualities when pairing poets for any given reading.

“We like to pair senior poets who have been honing their craft for years. They’re the ones that we look up to. At the same time, we like to pair our senior poets with emerging poets that are just getting their feet in the door, that may have their first book coming out, or maybe don’t even have a book out just yet,” Denton said.

Notably, May has recently been receiving recognition for the powerful, compelling quality of his work.

“The “Adam Stephens Night Out for Poetry” featured a wonderful pairing of poets. Representing the emerging poets, in this corner we have Jamaal May, who is a poet out of Detroit,” Denton said. “Jamaal has been getting a lot of attention in the poetry community because he combines being a page poet and a slam poet, he has that kind of energy that’s just inspiring, and he’s able to pull both of them off and do it well. He also won the Beatrice Hawley Award for poetry this year, which is a great accomplishment.”

When describing his personal reasons for composing poetry, May  said that he feels more compelled to write than having been inspired to do so. Those aspects of his life are varied, and he believes these motivations differ across poets.

“I think what typically makes a poet’s work distinct isn’t always a particular thing they do that stands out. Often what makes a  poet’s work unique is the way they mix the available hodgepodge of words, techniques, goals, forms, sounds, images and rhetorical devices into their own blend of ideas,” May said.

May works themes into his compositions that call into question the nature of humanity.

“Lately, I’ve been compelled by the [connections] between things that appear to be at odds. I’ve been interested, for example, in displays of strength that require vulnerability, desire’s relationship to fear, and demonstrating the need for human connection by showing isolation,” May said.

From the mundane to the extraordinary, May’s sources of inspiration come from far and wide and give him a broad range of subject matter to compose on.

“I am compelled by the usual go-tos like music, film and poetry, but even more so by all of ways that the world surprises me. I’m compelled by individual words, images and events, and also by love, by inequality, by metal, woodgrain, comedy, overheard arguments—the largesse of this bizarre world,” May said.

For Thursday’s event, May was paired with one of his favorite poets Bob Hicok, who teaches at Virginia Tech.

“[Hicok’s] poems have such a rich wit around them, such a lively humor, that an audience can’t help but be entertained by his work,” Denton said.

Associated with the School of Literature, Media and Communication and Ivan Allen College of Liberal Arts, Poetry at Tech was founded when Henry C. Bourne created the Bourne Chair in Poetry at Tech. The Chair is held by nationally-acclaimed poet Thomas Lux.  In the Spring of 2013 the H. Bruce McEver Visiting Chair in Writing will be held by both Travis Denton and Ginger Murchison.

Lux is scheduled to teach a poetry workshop with Denton later in the semester, with the date and time to be announced. Applications should be requested by Saturday, Nov. 10.

Denton encourages students to get involved with Poetry at Tech’s reading events and spring community workshops.

“I can think of at least four to five right now off the top of my head who have come to our community workshops consistently and have said to me ‘I want to get a master of fine arts in creative writing and poetry’ because of this workshop and these programs.  We’re really happy about that,” Denton said.