Thursday, February 4, 2010
Making Time for Poetry
Poet, Ann Chandonnet, wrote this profile of me, and last week the local weekly newspaper, Outlook, ran it. I love what Ann did with this, and after a student of mine told me his wife cried when she read it, I loved it even more. More than anything else I want my words to have an impact on the reader (I imagine this is the goal of most poets), so when an article about my words stirs a reader's emotions to the point of tears, it's pretty gratifying and a very complimentary reflection on the quality of Ann's writing. Thank you, Ann and Outlook. Pick up a copy of Outlook or visit the blog tomorrow for a poem from Joanna Catherine Scott, author of my favorite book of poems from the last several years and Poetry Hickory reader next Tuesday (2/9)
MAKING TIME FOR POETRY: A PROFILE OF SCOTT OWENS, POET
By Ann Chandonnet
The literary artist—the novelist, the essayist, the poet—must make time for his art.
Why? Because the literary artist is the most ignored artist of all in the United States.
In the Soviet Union (or whatever its politic name these days), they name battleships after poets. No such thing in the land of gummy worms and sound bites. Actors and embezzlers become celebrities while the poet is shunned like a leper.
Like the dedicated artist he is, Scott Owens chooses to stick to his literary guns. He makes time for what he feels is important. Although he has three children—one at home, two in college—he finds time. “Two mornings a week [my daughter] is in school,” he said in a recent interview. “When I was younger, I used to get up at 5 and have two hours to work. Now I just take advantage of time wherever I can find it. I take my books to the swimming pool when she swims. I take my stuff to her dance lesson.”
Owens was born in Greenwood, South Carolina. His life hasn’t been easy. He paid his way through college by working double shifts in a cotton mill. To make money while attending college, he gave massages, edited papers for fellow students and took on all sorts of part-time jobs. He has lived in Hickory for eight years, and teaches at CVCC. Two and a half years ago, he founded Poetry Hickory, a group that sponsors monthly readings at Taste Full Beans coffee shop.
As readers of his 2008 collection The Fractured World are aware, Scott was abused as a child. He has worked through that horrific experience, and his calm demeanor gives little clue to his early years. “At the bottom level, poetry was a way out—out of my feeling of desperation,” he explained matter-of-factly. “Poetry helped me think about the situation I was in, in my childhood and helped convince me that [life] didn’t have to be that way. Today poetry is how I know that I exist.”
Owens’ healing is expressed in his latest collection of poems, Paternity, out this month. The germs of the collection lie in his own fractured upbringing and in the love he has for his young daughter, five-year-old Sawyer.
Some of the inspiration for Paternity comes from his “absolutely favorite poem,” “Little Sleeps-Head Sprouting Hair in the Moonlight,” from The Book of Nightmares (1970) by Galway Kinnell. Owens’ second favorite poem, also by Kinnell, is “The Still Time.” Kinnell wrote The Book of Nightmares for his children, Maud and Fergus, and it has been called “a howl against the depravities of social injustice.”
Not all poets are sure they are deserving of the title. How did Owens know he was a poet? “When Robert Grey, the editor of Southern Poetry Review, was teaching me in a graduate level creative writing class, he said he wanted one of the poems I had submitted in class for the magazine. And I thought, ‘Well, maybe I am getting it after all.’ “Owens was 24 at the time of this revelation. Since then he has won many poetry prizes.
The beginning poet often feels lost. What advice does Owens have? “Read twice as much as you write. Make it twentieth- and twenty-first-century stuff that you are reading.”
And take your notebooks along to your daughter’s swimming class. Make time.