2009’s Winter with the Writers series came to a spectacular close this week with the inimitable Billy Collins. At Wednesday’s reception, various Rollins and Winter Park luminaries cavorted in the central hallway of the CFAM. Eventually, though, guests drifted back to the rear-most gallery, where animations set to Collins’ poems had been playing, for the presentation of a special award.
Winter with the Writers intern Deyon Williams was this year’s recipient of the Laura van den Berg Scholarship. Program director Carol Frost read Mr. Williams’ Bio before handing the podium over to Scholarship co-founder Edgerton van den Berg, who explained the origin of the scholarship and presented Deyon with a medallion. Billy Collins then took the podium, offered the intern his congratulations, and thanked the audience for coming out to his reception.
At Thursday’s master class, Collins brought his own style of teaching into Bush Auditorium. After reminding the audience of the importance of reading, the poet stressed the importance of knowing one’s literary past, then read a few poems to demonstrate his points. That informative preamble complete, he then moved into a discussion of the Interns’ poetry. Collins reviewed our work as he expected an editor of a literary publication would: looking for an excuse to stop reading. The reading that night was packed. Even after we convinced the draconian stage manager to open up the balcony, a few people still had to sit on the floor. Carol Frost thanked interns, the English department, the administration, and patrons (as well as future patrons). Billy Collins launched into his reading with an apropos request that urged the audience’s attention. He then read the title poem from his latest collection, Ballistics, and a few love poems that caused an “awwww” to blossom from the seats of Tiedtke Auditorium. His reading was certainly the most audience involved. Indeed, Collins sometimes had to pause mid-poem while the din of amusement died down. He seemed to be smiling the whole time. This Q&A was different from those of the other writers this year. It was more serious than the reading. The amiable, humorous quality of Collins’ work would make anything seem more serious in comparison, even a question from the president of American Haiku Association. There was, however, a significant dearth of silly questions. I, honestly, found Collins’ answers to serious questions amusing enough on their own. I’m sure that, despite his disappointment at not learning his favorite poet’s old brand of cigarette, intern Alex Ruiz, like everyone else present, left the auditorium with a smile of satisfaction at an evening well spent.
When I first met Nobel Laureate Derek Walcott on Wednesday, February 4th, we were making our way to the Cornell Fine Arts Museum, by car. For the St. Lucians, the weather was too cold for a walk. Members of the Winter Park and Rollins communities congregated in the Jack R. Smith’s American Poets exhibit room. There was a great moment in the evening when Derek Walcott posed for a picture next to his own portrait. If anyone could fully appreciate the quality of that portrait, it was definitely Derek Walcott, whose own paintings were being shown on a slide show in another room. The next day we met again for his Master Class in Bush Auditorium. He started the class by giving the group of undergraduate students on the stage with him some artistic advice. Derek Walcott said young poets should be focused on the technical and metric aspects of poetry and should learn through reading and imitation of the masters. He also pointed out that poetry, unlike prose, is meant to be recited. He then spent about half an hour going through Currin Bell’s poem in minute detail. He included broad advice and suggested poets to read, such as Hemmingway and Hardy, making the class useful to everyone present. He finished up by touching on a few other students’ pieces, more quickly but with the same level of insight. Derek Walcott’s poetry reading filled every seat in Tiedtke Hall. He read several passages from his Nobel Prize winning Omeros as well as poems from his forthcoming book White Egret (two poems that were written at request of the Times and BBC recognizing President Barack Obama). Truly, as he said in the Master Class, his poetry is meant to be recited. You can listen to the sound of the words and become entranced by the metrics of the line and be completely satisfied. When you also grasp the meaning of the piece, you are captivated by the island flavor and colorful narrative laced with powerful, deeper themes. In the question and answer session that followed the reading, the audience gained true insight into the life of such an amazing artist, with a little humor thrown in. He gave his opinion on what the role of a poet was (simply to write poetry) and was candid about what it means to be a writer from the Caribbean. The questions ranged from ones about poetry in general to questions about his own works. There were also a few silly ones, such as “how often do you trim your mustache,” and “how do you correctly pronounce ‘Caribbean.’” He also talked about theater. We found out that his target audience for a comedy is an old fat lady from the countryside who he hopes will sit in the back of the theater and laugh so loudly that she has to cover her face. He also admitted that in theater he has recently “become an authority on the flop” and that he has “learned nothing from failure…but the failure is negligible if you worked hard.” Finally, when asked which of his art forms he enjoys most, he told us that it was painting because it provides the most physical joy. The joy from writing plays, he said, is sharing in the enjoyment of the audience. Poetry, however, simply brings relief and gratitude at being able to finish it. According to Derek Walcott, true poets are not selfish or focused on being great, their poems are about service to poetry. Derek Walcott has truly mastered this servitude to his art. Next up for Winter with the Writers is the visit of novelist Margot Livesy. Livesy is a Scottish-American writer. She has published six novels and one collection of short stories. Her most recent publication, “The House on Fortune Street”, is a very uniquely written novel that brings up many controversial issues and moral dilemmas, much like many of her other novels. Her novels also tend to have a fantastical and somewhat surreal element. Her other well known titles include National Bestseller "The Missing World" and acclaimed "Eva Moves the Furniture." Her work has been quietly acclaimed for years as “readable yet literary”. She is currently teaching at Bowdoin College in Maine and is well know for her talents as a teacher and work shop leader.
Wednesday, January 28 was the was the kick off for 2009's Winter With the Writers program. It had an exciting start when our first author, poet Brigit Pegeen Kelly, got stuck in a snow storm in Indianapolis and missed the reception in her honor Wednesday night. The party went on without her--Provost Casey read Mayor David C. Strong's proclamation in celebration of Winter With the Writers, A Festival of the Literary Arts. Director Carol Frost read one of Kelly's poems and a poem by a creative writing student who emulated Kelly's style. Thursday was a huge success. Brigit Pegeen Kelly held a marvelous master class in Bush Auditorium. She workshopped several poems by Rollins College students and encouraged participation from the students that were on stage with her as well as from the audience. Later that day, Kelly gave a stunningly beautiful reading, complementing her own work with verses from Laura Riding, Emily Dickinson, and others. In the question and answer that followed, Kelly was refreshingly honest and candid. She signed books and conversed with literary enthusiasts who formed a patient, curving line to the stage. Derek Walcott will be on campus Thursday, February 5th for a 4 pm master class in Bush Auditorium and for a reading in Tiedtke Hall at 8 pm. Mr. Walcott was awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1992 for his epic Omeros. A playwright and painter, too, Walcott infuses his work with the colorful culture of the Caribbean. He is revered as a wordsmith of the highest order--the language dazzles--and his sense of place and the mythic seems fathomless. The reading will be a singular event, so park early and join us in time to welcome the astonishing Derek Walcott.