Thursday, October 04, 2007

ODU Literature Festival- Day 3!

Wednesday morning came so early! I was sleepy from all I had been doing the last two days. I’d been rushing around constantly, from teaching to studying to this reception to that author’s reading. I had my students give me a little midterm evaluation, just to see how I’m doing. The results were mixed. Some thought I explained things too much, others not enough. No one thought my class was boring (I’m very proud of that). A few students tried to scam me: “We should do more readings in class so we don’t have to do them at home.” “You shouldn’t ask us to do so much at an 8 a.m. class.” Hee! There were some constructive suggestions about how I should structure class, but what’s with the laziness, people? Human nature, I guess…well, at least Freshman nature.

The lit fest kicked off for the day with a reading by poet Alan Shapiro. One of my poetry classmates got to introduce him. She had been talking about it for weeks. He is her “poetry hero,” and made her want to be a poet. I’d gotten to chat with him at lunch, and he was rather funny, talking about his life.

Shapiro grew up with Yiddish in the home and American English outside. When people describe him as a Jewish-American poet, he responds that he lives in the hyphen: “That’s where my imagination is most fertile: in the mixing ground where it’s more impure.” He’s also fascinated by the gods, and what people are capable of. “The gods are incapable of excellence because they have no limits.” He contrasted this with the acts of athletes, “whose human bodies are basically like ours,” but are capable of amazing feats.

His poetry is bitter-sweet and daring. Some is abstract. Others are inspired by things he's observed in life. For example, one heartbreaking poem about a relationship disolving shocked the audience into laughter with the line “It’s not the eggrolls, Harry. It’s the last ten years!” During the Q&A, someone asked about the humor in his poetry.

“Life is miserable,” he replied. “I don’t know how you live in the presence of the sorrow and mortal terror without a sense of humor.” Yow.

Then it was off to class. We were discussing 19th Century prose (and unfortunately missing a reading by Navajo poet Sherwin Bitsui). Then professor Moraou was nice enough to let us out early. Jake and I walked over. Then I was back to work hosting. Yippee. The director of the festival, Janet Peery, thanked me many times. She kept telling me she was impressed by my grace as a hostess. I appreciated the recognition and it’s great that I made a good impression on one of the top members of the MFA faculty (who is also a talented writer).

I missed Sherwin Bitsui's reading, but at least I got to talk with him for a while. He had some interesting things to say about the trickster figure in mythology and the way his culture shapes his work. He was also great about chatting with ODU students of many different majors and backgrounds.

I also chatted with Jill McCorkle. She's written five novels and three story collection and she's won lots of prizes. It turns out, I had taught one of her stories to my students in the Bronx. We would read it and the students would respond by writing descriptions of their neighborhoods. They loved it. Jill McCorkle replied that that was amazing because she used the story for the same purpose with her students! When I told her about how much my students loved the story, and the great stories they wrote, she told me it was one of the finest compliments she could receive.

The story she read was in turns hilarious and heartbreaking. I cried a little, and I was not alone. I even caught some guys sniffling. It was fiction, but so true to life. She was the first writer so far who made me feel like I might want to write a short story and might actually be able to write one.

That night, the after hours was a lot of fun. I chatted with Mary, Dana, Leslie and Jake. The hours slipped away again until it was time to go home again and hit the hay.

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