I Went to a Poetry Reading (And Stephen Hawking is Dead)

One thing you might not know about me if you’re not a personal friend is that I’d like to think in a perfect world I could be a writer. Like, a real, published one. Some of my work was published in undergraduate journals in college. If you, for instance, perused the annals of the creative writing journal published at Murray State titled Notations, you might find a poem of mine called “Coalescence with the Dust” in the Spring 2009 volume (I think) if it’s even still available. Aside from a self-indulgent–and self-published–journal of creative works by the university’s English Student Organization, it’s my only claim to fame. Perhaps that’s a clue that I should give it up, but what are writers if not creative masochists?

When I began my teaching career in 2012, I quickly realized the real world would make it next to impossible to immerse myself in the things I loved: reading for pleasure and writing my own poems and short fiction. Seven years later, I’m still trying to find the balance between work and play. This week, I combined both when I invited my students to hear a poetry reading featuring my very first creative writing teacher, Pamela Johnson Parker.

Here’s my dear Pamela. The biggest cheerleader of my fledgling attempts at creative endeavors, and the most fabulous dresser I’ve ever encountered. I still dream of the fringe she wore when I was at Murray State.

The reading was hosted by our local community college at the Paducah School of Art and Design on Thursday as part of an event honoring the Kentucky Arts Council’s 2019 Al Smith Fellowship designees, of which Parker (and her co-reader Amelia Martens) is a recipient. I had never had reason to visit the PSAD, but its facilities were so lovely, and the Bill Ford Gallery was one of the neatest I’ve seen in western Kentucky. I’m a sucker for a good industrial chic design and converted factory buildings, and this had both. I’d live there if I could.

Aside from the Al Smith designation, Pamela has earned countless other accolades for her work, including a chapbook titled A Walk Through the Memory Palace, a collection titled Cleave and works published in journals all over. Pamela, in short, is the real deal and she’s got talent in spades. Each time I hear Pamela read her work, I’m completely taken by her brilliant wordplay. Her snappy wit and affinity for how language functions and how words sound manifests in such interesting ways in her work. Cleave, for instance, is a collection entirely focused on the dual meaning of the word. That is, that it refers both to a union and a separation given the context in which it appears. Pamela’s collection explores both of those meanings in verse that will–make no bones about it–shake you to your core.

I was pleasantly surprised to encounter a new poet, Pamela’s aforementioned co-reader, Amelia Martens. Martens is the author of The Spoons in the Grass Are There to Dig A Moat and four different chapbooks, one of which she read from. Martens chose, however, to feature selections from work she’s currently developing. One such project is inspired by morning walks to school with her daughter, which nearly brought me to tears when she shared a poem, oddly, inspired by oil slicks on the street. She shared a few epistles as well, but what stuck with me the most was her fascination with Stephen Hawking’s death, which occurred last March. (And, thus, explains the title of this blog post.)

I won’t get into the gritty details of someone else’s project because I just feel grimy about that, but I will say that Martens’ reading reminded me of a project of my own. Years ago, I wrote a poem inspired by the death of James Dean. I’m fascinated by death when it comes unexpectedly, and if you know the story of Dean’s death, then you’ll know he died in his mid-twenties in a horrifying car accident. Martens got me thinking…maybe I need to revisit this little idea. Maybe it’ll turn into a big idea, or a collection worthy of its own chapbook inspired by untimely death. Or, maybe it won’t. The point is that I’ll be writing again, and that’s kind of fun.

Oh, and if you’d like to visit the PSAD this weekend, they’re hosting a block party for their 10th anniversary. The school is stationed around the 9th block of Harrison and Madison Streets in Paducah, and they’ll have all sorts of stations set up with free art projects available to create your own work. Heck, you might even see me there.

If you’re interested in what I’m up to creatively, shoot me an e-mail or comment on this post. I’ll need some feedback or a shoulder to cry on when things (inevitably) don’t go as planned.

Until next time…

2 thoughts on “I Went to a Poetry Reading (And Stephen Hawking is Dead)

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    1. “First Anniversary: Reading Russian Literature” from her chapbook WRECKS me because I know her story so intimately. She’s a phenomenal writer, but she’s an even more phenomenal woman.

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