The Visiting Writers Reading Series Returns

Jacqueline Rees-Mikula

This week marks the return of Whitman’s Visiting Writers Reading Series, a tradition inspired by Professor Katrina Roberts.

Photo courtesy of Visiting Writers Series

“It seemed to me crucial when I arrived at Whitman over a decade ago to establish a consistent Visiting Writers Reading Series dedicated to bringing active writers (just emerging, as well as extremely established) to campus for readings and discussions that would be free and available not only to our community but to residents of the greater inland Northwest … When the texts come alive off the page, as voiced by the writers themselves, they expand for those of us in the audience. We’re also fortunate to have the opportunity to engage our visiting writers with questions, and in discussions about approaches, process and intentions. In directing the series, I’ve wanted to bring a diversity of writers representing a range of genres, genders, orientations and perspectives. I try to bring writers whose work is relevant in a cross-disciplinary way as well––a notion central to the liberal arts … As a writer, professor and human being, I value each one of these events, whether or not I’m aesthetically inclined toward the style or subjects of writers visiting; each interaction with another writer enriches my perception of what it means to be alive in this world we share; it’s exciting to see how profound an impact visits by writers can have for so many people,” said Roberts.

Last Thursday the series featured Visiting Assistant Professor of English Robert Schlegel. In addition to winning the 2009 Colorado Prize for Poetry and the 2012 Midwest Chapbook Series, his works have been published in numerous sources, including Boston Review, Slope and Volt.

Schlegel: I’ll be reading from three of my books: “The Lesser Fields,” published in 2009; “January Machine,” yet to be published in 2014, and my work in progress, “Almost Air.” All three works are poetry.

Do you primarily write poetry?

Schlegel: My imaginative writing is poetry.

For how long has this been an interest of yours?

Schlegel: I’d say I’ve been writing poetry since high school––if not before then, with varying degrees of intensity. I’ve been gradually focusing more and more on poetry.

Why is that?

Schlegel: I don’t know if I have the attention span for longer forms. I think I tend to favor compression in language, and poetry seems like the best vehicle to explore that desire.

Are there any particular poets or works that inspire you or influence your own style?

Schlegel: I feel like I’m always influenced [by] and re-reading poets like Wallace Stevens, and Elizabeth Bishop, and George Oppen (a lesser-known poet, but no less influential to me). In the past five or six years, I’ve been really interested in long poems … so I’ve been reading and thinking about serial poems and sequences, and Wallace Stevens has written some long poems. C.D. Wright has written long poems, like “Deepstep Come Shining” …

Is there any particular theme or message for tomorrow’s reading?

Schlegel: No. I don’t know if I want to try to suggest what an audience or reader can get out of my poetry; I think doing so might be reductive in some ways. I think most of my poetry sounds pretty serious––which I know can be sort of a downer for audiences, but there are also some bright spots.

Why do you think your work is so serious?

Schlegel: I have no idea! I’m generally a very happy person. It seems like my writing is the place where I can investigate that part of myself that otherwise might be inaccessible in other moments of my life.

Rob Schlegel is in residence for a one-year sabbatical replacement position in the English Department.

“So students will have the chance not only to hear him read, but to work with him on their own writing during this year. His work is elegant and intelligent, and full of heart,” Schlegel said.

Schlegel read this Thursday, Sept. 27, at 7 p.m. in Kimball Theatre.