Poet Forrest Gander speaks at Worcester State University.

Poets Christina Davis and Forrest Gander Speak about Their Creative Process

May 22, 2014
By: Christine Hickman

When asked by a student how she created her poetry collections, Christina Davis responded that her collected poems come together naturally, not necessarily through conscious planning.

“I don’t go about it like writing a book,” she explained.

Davis, the curator of Harvard University’s Woodbury Poetry Room, and Forrest Gander, a 2012 Pulitzer Prize finalist, visited Worcester State University and answered questions about their work and the creative process.

The audience included Assistant Professor of English Heather Treseler, Ph.D., who introduced the two poets and her Poetry II creative writing class, whose members had read Gander and Davis’ poetry collections and who were currently constructing “chapbooks”—small self-published collections—for their own poetry, which impressed the award-winning poets.

“Not a lot of universities have their poetry students create their own chapbooks,” remarked Gander. “The chapbook is a beautiful unit to work with and helps to study the relationships between your poetry.”

The poets offered insight into their writing process, their relationships with their “muses,” writing for an audience, and how they cultivate their love of poetry.

“Poetry has to have freshness, and needs to take risks,” said Gander. “Writing for a specific audience may misguide your vision.” Davis agreed, saying, “Poetry is a place where no one can tell me what to do.”

Gander also discussed his work in translating poetry, which, along with his interest in geology, has brought him to places such as Chile, China, Mexico, and Bosnia and Herzegovina. He demonstrated the complicated process of translation with a Lakota poem that mimicked the call of a native bird.

“The two common things found in every culture that I studied,” said Gander, “is one, respect for the dead, and two, poetry.”

The event concluded with a poetry reading from Commonwealth honors student Sarah Leidhold, the first-place prize winner of Worcester State’s annual Barbara Pilon Poetry Contest. Her poem “After Reading Joy Katz and Listening to Sandra Steingraber” was inspired by two speakers, one a poet and the other an environmental activist, who had visited Worcester State in the past year.

“I became aware of a strange duality in our human nature: to both nurture and destroy,” Leidhold explained, “And this poem came from my own grappling to understand how those two paradoxical things could exist so close together.”


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