Thursday, October 1, 2009

Mary Biddinger at John Carroll: A Reading

Mary Biddinger came through John Carroll on September 9th to give a poetry reading. Here's my introduction:

It’s a pleasure to introduce poet Mary Biddinger to John Carroll as part of our visiting writers series. Mary will read for about a half hour, after which we’ll have time for questions, and then ask her to take us away with one final poem.

Mary Biddinger is the author of Prairie Fever (Steel Toe Books, 2007) and the forthcoming chapbook, St. Monica. Her work has appeared or is forthcoming in numerous splendid journals. She is the editor of the Akron Series in Poetry, co-editor-in-chief of Barn Owl Review, and director of the NEOMFA program. She teaches at the University of Akron, blogs at the Word Cage, and if you friend her on facebook, you’ll see that she’s an early riser. How else can she get so much done? She’s also a great reader and critiquer of poems, as I can personally attest.

Her full-length collection, Prairie Fever, is a taut and dreamlike series of poems that give voice to what I can only describe as the unspeakably confusing feelings of romantic love. In the book, fires abound. I kept wondering, what’s with all the fires?, until I recalled what desire does to us. Biddinger’s skillful use of the fabular underscores the strangeness of every day, where life is impervious to language. All of which to say: the story here is the language, and the emotional landscapes that emerge in it; not witty anecdotes in line breaks.

About her work, Robert Archambeau has written: “Sex, death, those liminal moments when innocence hovers at the edge of experience: all the great themes cross these pages, but not as narrative. Instead, Biddinger arrests them in her delicate gatherings of details. Flypaper, nasturtiums, and dangerous boys at the edge of town are the touchstones of her imagination. Think of Prairie Fever as a Sally Mann photograph in deftly chiseled verses. Or think of the poems as out-takes from a small-town gothic movie Jim Jarmusch should have made. It's as if Biddinger re-spliced them into a dreamy collage starring a cross between To Kill a Mockingbird's Scout Finch and Nabokov's Lolita. You get the idea: delicate, bruised, a little wayward.”

Please welcome Mary Biddinger.

Mary gave a great reading to a packed house, referenced the discomfort of certain family members when she wrote about sex in ways that aren't "scholarly,"(!) and gave these three bits of advice to beginning writers:

1) surprise yourself
2) creep yourself out (i.e. take risks)
3) read things beyond your comfort zone.

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