BOONE, N.C.—When Bianca Spriggs appears March 30 in the Hughlene Bostian Frank Visiting Writers Series at Appalachian State University, the occasion will draw attention to her significant, growing body of poetry.
Or is it poetry-plus?
Spriggs lives in Lexington, Kentucky, where she is pursuing a doctorate in English literature at the University of Kentucky. She has written four well-received collections of poems, most recently “Call Her By Her Name” (Northwestern University Press, 2016) and “The Galaxy Is a Dance Floor” (Argos Books, 2016), from which she will read at 7:30 p.m. in Room 169 (Three Top Mountain) of the Plemmons Student Union. From 12:30 to 1:45 p.m., she will also offer a craft talk titled “Writing Speculative Poetry” in Room 201A (Price Lake Room) of the Plemmons Student Union.
She is a prominent member of the Affrilachian Poets, with whom she appeared at Appalachian in October 2016 through the Appalachian Heritage Council. “Affrilachia” is a term coined in the early 1990s by Frank X. Walker, the former Kentucky poet laureate. It features poets writing out of their experience of being African-American and of coming from and/or living in Appalachia.
Spriggs’ credentials as a poet, then, are some of the most solid around. To appreciate them fully, however, it helps to consider the many other artistic disciplines she has embraced to extend the scope of her creative work. These include performance art, drawing, painting, sculpting, novel writing and filmmaking as well as collaborative efforts with everyone from dancers to photographers.
“I think about every other genre or discipline through the lens of a poet,” she said in a 2016 interview published in the Accents Publishing blog. “And what I learn from other areas informs how I think about how many, many ways there are into a poem – it’s not always through the front door. Sometimes I get it in through the second story window. Sometimes I’m coming up through the floorboards.”
The “ways” in question apply to how Spriggs writes a poem and to how her audience receives it.
In many instances, Spriggs finds a way into a poem that she is writing by asking “what if?” – a question at the heart of the fantastical and mythological themes of speculative poetry, the subject of her craft talk while at Appalachian.
“Speculative poetry is in essence highly imaginative writing,” Spriggs said. “Instead of following the old adage ‘write what you know,’ you write what you don’t know. During the craft talk, I’ll be speaking about why speculative poetry is useful as a technique, even for realist poets.”
Most of the poems in “Call Her By Her Name” and “The Galaxy Is a Dance Floor” are speculative in nature.
“Call Her By Her Name,” the title poem and the inspiration for several other poems in the eponymous collection, began with Spriggs asking what if the woman popularly known as Potiphar’s wife in the Old Testament were identified by name.
“Her name was Zulaikha,” Spriggs told the Accents Publishing blog. “And she had an identity. But the mainstream knows her as the perjurer who got Joseph locked up and sent about his destiny to ascend to greatness…
“When I first started working on this manuscript I was trying to track down her story and thought she’d been given just the worst treatment across the board in that she was never really given a voice of her own to redeem herself or explain herself or tell us how it really was.”
Spriggs said that “Call Her By Her Name” reflects her desire to recognize people “as individuals” with names, identities, personalities, habits and hobbies.
“The stories I am most drawn to are those where people, contemporary or historic characters are deprived of a voice,” she told the Accents Publishing blog.
As for the ways into her poetry that Spriggs paves for her audience, she sometimes pairs poetry with music or a photograph, which “is like leaving a little trail of breadcrumbs back to the heart of the poem,” she told the Accents Publishing blog.
She collaborates with dancers, enabling a choreographer to “set” her words to movements; when that happens, “an entirely new vocabulary, the vocabulary of the body, is available to initiate a conversation with an audience,” Spriggs said in the Accents Publishing blog interview.
Spriggs also transforms her readings of her poems into performance art – which can captivate an audience and allow it to discover meanings of a poem often missed by someone who reads it silently.
“I was so impressed not only with her poetry but also with her presence as a performer of her poetry,” Susan Weinberg said, referring to Spriggs’ appearance last year with other Affrilachian Poets at Appalachian State University. Weinberg, an associate professor of creative writing in Appalachian’s Department of English, serves as the coordinator of the Hughlene Bostian Frank Visiting Writers Series and recommended that Spriggs be a part of it.
Spriggs said that readers of her poetry get the most out of it when they can approach it like patrons attending a play in a traditional theater.
“In a traditional theater, there’s a tactile nature to a performance,” she said. “The sweat and breath of the actors occur in real time and the play can never be recreated in that way with that audience ever again. It is a unique shared space between the artist and audience. We are building the experience together.”
Upcoming series guests
Others appearing in Appalachian’s Hughlene Bostian Frank Visiting Writers Series this spring are poet Al Young April 6 and novelist Robert Gipe April 20. For more information, visit http://www.news.appstate.edu/2017/02/15/visiting-writers-series-8
About the Hughlene Bostian Frank Visiting Writers Series
The Hughlene Bostian Frank Visiting Writers Series, named in honor of alumna Hughlene Bostian Frank ’68, brings distinguished and up-and-coming creative writers to the Appalachian State University campus throughout the year to present readings and discuss their works. Frank is a 2013 Appalachian Alumni Association Outstanding Service award recipient, past member of Appalachian’s Board of Trustees, current board member of the Appalachian State University Foundation Inc., and generous supporter of Appalachian. Learn more at http://visitingwriters.appstate.edu.
The Spring 2017 Hughlene Bostian Frank Visiting Writers Series is supported by the Appalachian State University Foundation Inc., Appalachian’s Office of Academic Affairs, College of Arts and Sciences, Department of English, Office of Multicultural Student Development, University Bookstore, Belk Library and Information Commons, and the Appalachian Journal. Business sponsors are The Gideon Ridge Inn, The Red Onion Restaurant and The New Public House & Hotel. Community sponsors include John and the late Margie Idol, Paul and Judy Tobin, Alice Naylor and Thomas McLaughlin.
About Appalachian State University
Appalachian State University, in North Carolina’s Blue Ridge Mountains, prepares students to lead purposeful lives as global citizens who understand and engage their responsibilities in creating a sustainable future for all. The transformational Appalachian experience promotes a spirit of inclusion that brings people together in inspiring ways to acquire and create knowledge, to grow holistically, to act with passion and determination, and embrace diversity and difference. As one of 17 campuses in the University of North Carolina System, Appalachian enrolls about 19,000 students, has a low student-to-faculty ratio and offers more than 150 undergraduate and graduate majors.