“We’re gonna tear (them) apart,” famed poet and author Gerald Stern joked, kicking off a “Master Poetry Class” held in the New Library Auditorium last Thursday by the Creative Writing Department and Jess Row, professor of English.
A “Master Poetry Class,” Row explained, is a class in which a “master,” in this case Stern, critiques advanced students in the arts. Four poetry students stepped up to the plate – Andrew Justin Croft, senior English major, Melissa Mijares, junior English major, Ariel Matos, senior English major and Tom Dunford, Signal News Editor.
First up was Croft, who read his poem, “Abraham,” a retelling of the biblical story of Abraham and Isaac with psychological overtones. As soon as Croft was done reading, Stern said, “The killing with the knife reminded me of Bush.” After that ice-breaking comment, he told Croft he liked the poem, but not some of his word choices.
“I want words to be resonant, to make my mind leap,” he said. “I don’t like words to get in the way of my reading.” Stern liked the poem’s vagueness since “a poet doesn’t get printed nowadays if it isn’t vague, ambiguous and hard to read,” and he really liked Croft’s line about Isaac’s first cry as a child in which he wrote: “It scared the birds away.”
Croft said he was “satisfied” with the critique.
Next, Mijares read her poem, “It’s Creepy,” in which she describes an uncomfortable situation where two generations and cultures collide over a roast pig with an apple in its mouth. Stern’s main problem with the poem was that he felt it didn’t go anywhere.
“The poem decided to end itself because it didn’t know where to go,” he said. “The worst thing that can happen in a work of art is for nothing to happen.”
Stern, however, liked the part in which Mijares described the pig itself, writing: “Suddenly aware of the eye sockets/the oven-dried jaw askew/the belly ripped and jagged/I feel the urge to throw a blanket over it.”
Stern finished by commenting that the “poem (was) yet unwritten” and encouraged Mijares to finish it to the best of her ability.
Matos was next with “Down the Scarlet Brick Road,” a poem about a man’s female boss who is on her period, and is therefore making him fear for his life, included with “Wizard of Oz” references and imagery. Unfortunately, Stern’s first question was, “Is this a good subject for a poem?”
He then went on to say that while he thought it was good to make people uncomfortable, he thought the poem was “too literal and prosy.” He added that one “cannot meet a subject dead on,” but should take evasive maneuvers. He did, however, like the last two lines of the poem, when the man is exiting the boss’s office: “navy tie hanging loosely between his legs/desperately in need of courage.” To these, Stern said, “I applaud (them).”
Last to read was Dunford with his poem, “g= -((mG)/r_)r” (or as Stern called it, “G equals dodadodado”), a poem about a man whose roomate threw himself out a window and is contemplating the physics of falling bodies. Stern decided the poem was “very distant, an intellectual distance used to cover up emotional fear or terror” and that Dunford’s “technical talk adds to the distance that he’s taking.”
Stern’s favorite line was the last one: “But tonight, it’s a secret you can keep to yourself.”
He ended by simply saying, “It’s kind of a nice poem.”
After the four student poets were finished, Stern read some poetry to the audience, both his own and some of his favorites by other poets. He then fielded some questions; When asked what his advice to aspiring poets was, he spoke these words: “As an artist, you need more than skill. You need will.”