BOONE, N.C.—When Al Young was in the second grade, the venerable poet recalled recently, his teacher made him and his classmates recite poetry regularly.
“She was teaching us that poetry did not live (solely) on the page,” said Young, who will appear April 6 in the Hughlene Bostian Frank Visiting Writers Series at Appalachian State University. “The recitation of poetry was once no big deal. Poetry was a recreational sideline for a lot of people,” who read it out loud or recited it in the company of others.
Young, who is pushing 80, will arrive in Boone with what he called “many old-fashioned ideas” about poetry, its role in society and what constitutes compelling subject matter for a poem.
From 2 to 3:15 p.m., he will offer a craft talk titled “No Poem, No Home” in Room 169 (Three Top Mountain) of the Plemmons Student Union. He will read from his poetry the same day at 7:30 p.m. in Room 201B (Table Rock Room) of the Plemmons Student Union, giving his audience samples of unpublished fare along with selections from two published collections. The collections are “Something About the Blues: An Unlikely Collection of Poetry” (Sourcebooks MediaFusion, 2008) and “The Sound of Dreams Remembered: Poems 1990-2000” (Creative Arts Book Company, 2001).
The unpublished fare underscores another old-fashioned idea: “They’re getting fresh material that I’m enthusiastic about,” Young said, not something in line with what people think an Al Young poem should sound like.
Young, who has participated in past Visiting Writers Series at Appalachian, once served as the poet laureate of California, his home state. He has also taught at several schools, including Appalachian, where in the fall of 2003, he taught a poetry seminar as the first Rachel Rivers-Coffey Distinguished Professor of Creative Writing at Appalachian.
His experiences as a teacher have driven home to Young just how important the big idea is in poetry, as opposed to the first-person confessional that is in vogue today.
“There is only so much you can say about yourself that will be interesting,” Young said.
The big idea, by contrast, upholds the notion that poetry can express anything and everything, from a complex scientific concept to the prayerful hope for good weather or a safe childbirth.
Young said he sometimes instructs his students to write poetry from the point of view of an ancestor or someone they have never met or, even, an entire region.
Because the poetry is not about themselves, the students “moan and groan,” Young said. “But they write some of their best poetry.”
Young has also dealt with lots of students staring at screens.
“They have tin ears,” Young said. “They don’t hear what they’re writing. What passes for poetry is often prose. There should be musicality.”
For Young, musicality can be as basic as that poem that makes children squeal with delight because “the sound of it hits us before the sense of it does.”
He extolled the virtue of the old-fashioned tape recorder.
“If you write a poem and you don’t hear it, read stuff into a recorder and listen to it back,” Young said. “You’ll hear more.”
More about Al Young and his presentation
Young will present the 2017 Juanita Tobin Memorial Reading. When Blowing Rock poet Juanita Tobin died in January 2007, at age 91, family and friends gathered to discuss a way to honor her memory as one of North Carolina’s most beloved poets. As a result, the Juanita Tobin Fund was initiated by Paul and Judy Tobin, the poet’s son and daughter-in-law; and Dr. Alice Naylor, retired Appalachian professor, and longtime friend and companion of Tobin. The fund underwrites the annual Juanita Tobin Memorial Reading by a poet of national renown in Appalachian’s Hughlene Bostian Frank Visiting Writers Series.
Young, a native of Ocean Springs, Mississippi, started his professional career as a musician. He sang and played guitar throughout the United States in the late 1950s and early 1960s, then took up writing. He published his first book of poetry, “Dancing,” in 1969; his first novel, “Snakes,” followed in 1970. Since then he has published four additional novels, eight books of poetry and five memoirs, among them the highly acclaimed “Mingus, Mingus, Two Memoirs,” from 1991. Young served as poet laureate of California from 2005 to 2008. Young has taught at numerous universities. In the fall of 2003, for example, he taught a poetry seminar as the first Rachel Rivers-Coffey Distinguished Professor of Creative Writing at Appalachian.
Young’s many honors include Wallace Stegner, Guggenheim, Fulbright and National Endowment for the Arts fellowships. He has received the PEN-Library of Congress Award for Short Fiction, the PEN-USA Award for Non-Fiction, two American Book Awards and two Pushcart Prizes. He has received New York Times Notable Book of the Year citations, an Arts Council Silicon Valley Fellowship, the Stephen Henderson Achievement Award for Poetry, Radio Pacifica’s KPFA Peace Prize, the Glenna Luschei Distinguished Poetry Fellowship and the Richard Wright Award for Excellence in Literature. At its May 2009 commencement, Whittier College conferred on him its highest honor: the Doctor of Humane Letters degree. On October 4, 2011, at the University of North Carolina’s Historic Players Theatre, he received the 2011 Thomas Wolfe Prize.
Upcoming series guests
Appalachian’s Hughlene Bostian Frank Visiting Writers Series this spring will conclude with an appearance by novelist Robert Gipe on 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
As the premier public undergraduate institution in the state of North Carolina, Appalachian State University prepares students to lead purposeful lives as global citizens who understand and engage their responsibilities in creating a sustainable future for all. The 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 to embrace diversity and difference. Located in the Blue Ridge Mountains, Appalachian is one of 17 campuses in the University of North Carolina System. Appalachian enrolls more than 20,000 students, has a low student-to-faculty ratio and offers more than 150 undergraduate and graduate majors.
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