Matthew Zapruder and Robert Hass Dispel the Mystery of Poetry

Matthew Zaprduer, Brenda Hillman, and Robert Hass '63Accomplished English Professor Matthew Zapruder and former U.S. Poet Laureate Robert Hass ‘63 kicked off this year’s Creative Writing Reading Series with “Why Poetry? How Form?,” a poetry reading and discussion hosted and moderated by Professor Brenda Hillman, another one of SMC’s own distinguished English faculty members. The event opened on Sept. 7 at 7:30 p.m. to a full house at LeFevre Theater, with audience members of all ages and backgrounds.

A main theme of the night was the perceived inaccessibility and intimidation of poetry. Hillman contradicted this common belief when she introduced Zapruder and Hass. “They know how to make the compressed and powerful inner states of poetry accessible to many,” she said. “They both brought together many tropes of poetry from modernism, and they have in common a belief in the mystery and power of poetic language.”

Zapruder read excerpts from his book Why Poetry?, revealing that he, too, had not embraced poetry at a young age. He read, “Had you told me when I was young that I was going to become a poet, I would have been bewildered.” He pinpoints that poets seem like untouchable superhumans with this passage: “I did not know who the old masters were, obviously they were old and they were masters. So they were in control of things, or thought they were for a long time, it seems. They are not gods or masters at all.”

Hass then read a selection of his poems and discussed the nuances of form in poetry. “I found myself....trying to…show how permeable the relationship is between poems that are trying to ward off deep sorrow and poems that are trying to embrace life-giving goods and the way that even the most amazing poems are tangled together. And that was the task…to write a little book on form.” The mention of this “little book” elicited laughter in the audience—the volume tops out at 464 pages.

The event closed with a conversation between Zapruder, Hass, and Hillman, with room for audience questions at the end. One attendee asked, “What inspires you to write poetry and what advice would you give to new writers?” Hass answered the first question with, “I wish I knew! If I could look backward and say what inspires me to write. For me, the world is verbal music. It’s like listening for a tune and you can go on from there.” In response to the advice question, Zapruder said, “The heart of poetry is something beautiful and something musical… if you stay connected to that… then you will keep writing poetry… Just don’t be afraid to be attracted to what’s beautiful. You’re not betraying the causes you’re fighting for by doing that. Maybe you’re reminding us why we’re fighting in the first place.”

The next installment in the Creative Writing Reading Series is “Writing the World: From Struggle to Joy” at 7:30 p.m. on Monday, Oct. 9, in Hagerty Lounge, De La Salle Hall.