One of the pillars of contemporary American poetry is being paired with a younger writer who has quickly become one of poetry’s most compelling voices in America, for Poetry Night during Fall Arts Celebration 2011 at Grand Valley State University.
“An Evening of Poetry and Conversation with Ted Kooser and Terrance Hayes” will be presented Friday, October 21, at 7 p.m., 2nd Floor L.V. Eberhard Center, 301 W. Fulton, on the Pew Grand Rapids Campus. The unveiling of a special poetry-inspired gift to Grand Valley will also take place.
Kooser, born in 1939, was U.S. Poet Laureate for two terms (2004-2006) and was the first poet from the Great Plains to hold the position. An English professor at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, he is the author of 11 collections of poetry, including Weather Central and Delights and Shadows, which won the 2005 Pulitzer Prize.
Kooser’s writing is known for its clarity, precision and accessibility, and his poems are included in textbooks and anthologies used in both secondary schools and college classrooms across the country. In addition to poetry, Kooser has written a variety of plays, fiction, personal essays, literary criticism and children’s books.
The Poetry Foundation describes his work as “accessible verse that celebrates the quotidian and captures a vanishing way of life … populated by farmers, family ancestors and heirlooms … but escape nostalgia in part because of their clear-eyed appraisal of its hardships.”
Of special interest to local audiences may be the collection of poems Kooser wrote in correspondence with Michigan native Jim Harrison, fellow writer and friend, whose lifetime papers are held in Grand Valley’s Special Collections. In Winter Morning Walks: 100 Postcards to Jim Harrison (2001) Kooser writes in metaphor about his battle with cancer and the possibility of his dying from it. The book won the 2001 Nebraska Book Award for poetry. Braided Creek: A Conversation in Poetry (2003) is comprised of short poems Kooser and Harrison wrote to each other while Kooser was recovering.
Hayes, born in 1971, is the accomplished author of four award-winning books of poetry: Lighthead (2010), winner of the 2010 National Book Award in poetry; Wind in a Box, winner of a Pushcart Prize; Hip Logic, winner of the National Poetry Series; and Muscular Music, winner of both the Whiting Writers Award and the Kate Tufts Discovery Award.
A native of South Carolina, Hayes excelled in basketball and painting prior to turning his focus to writing and the graduate program at Carnegie Mellon University, where he now teaches creative writing. In fact, some of his book covers feature his artwork.
In a PBS interview Hayes spoke of taking his first poetry classes in Pittsburgh and how the area was the focus for many of his poems. His work also confronts racism, sexism, religion, family structure and stereotypes with overwhelming imagery and what has been deemed “brilliant turns of phrase” with “grace, tenderness and disarming humor” by critics. Using a range of forms and voices, Hayes explores the many factors that shape identity and the struggle for freedom within containment.
“Surprise is the engine that drives me to keep writing,” Hayes said. “A discovery or two is usually buried beneath the first thoughts and assumptions … to be excavated by both the writer and the reader.”
Kooser and Hayes both provide insights of identity by exploring their cultures and environments, though vastly different in their experiences and approaches. Together at Fall Arts Celebration, they will provide much to contemplate and enjoy. The unveiling of a special poetry-inspired gift to Grand Valley will be followed by a reception and book signing by the poets.
Fall Arts Celebration is made possible, in part, through the generosity of sponsors including, Ginny Gearhart and the Gearhart Family, Liesel and Hank Meijer, Elaine and Larry Shay, Judy and Peter Theune, and media partner WOOD Radio. For more information, visit www.gvsu.edu/fallarts, or call (616) 331-2180.