UConn alumnus and English professor reads from latest poetry collection
Published: Wednesday, October 16, 2013
Updated: Wednesday, October 16, 2013 00:10
Poet and UConn alumnus Steve Straight shared a collection of poems from his new book, The Almanac, Tuesday evening.
Sharing with the crowd the inspirations and anecdotes behind his poems, he opened with a piece titled, “At Spike’s Garage,” written while he was a graduate student teaching a freshmen English class, where he had difficulty teaching material to students who didn’t care for it. He encountered a townie mechanic at a garage who said he hated Hamlet, which he was teaching, but received “a slap in the face” when the mechanic said he loved Macbeth.
His next poem, “The Deepest Breath” detailed a swimming test for his high school gym class, where he had to swim two laps underwater in one breath. He explained back then everybody swam naked, because the class was separated by gender, comparing the experience to the Greek and Roman days. “I’m fifteen I’m naked, dammit, I hate Mr. Cobb, it’s one on one with my lungs now, with my brain.” He joked the detail of being naked is often mistaken for a metaphor.
“The News” was a poem that contemplated the possibility of sudden death of a loved one, and the speaker lack of awareness of the impending feeling of less and despair. “The news could be waiting for me, like a coiled snake, that my wife has suddenly died… I reach the house, and see the blinking phone machine for the last time without dread” Straight commented that the poem articulated a fear he initially thought only he had, but discovered after several readings it was quite common.
“The Horse Does Not Know It’s In A Movie” is a poem that discussed animals that appear in movies and television never realize that they’re acting, or are going to be appearing in cinematic works watched by thousands. Only line, “What is it girl?” referencing the old “Lassie” cartoon; he usually he had his say during readings. Because she wasn’t in attendance, he had the audience speak it instead.
The rest of his poems include a recount of a conversation with an Italian farmer, who explained, “Everything begins and ends with the Earth, the soil… The source of all sorrow and joy.” A piece that reflected his attempt at meditation, and one that attempted to perceive how his students perceived him; perhaps as an employer or parent rather than a teacher; and without any piece of the technology that encompassed their lives to turn off his lecture.
Commenting on his poetry, Cayla Gopen, a seventh semester English and Education double major said, “I liked his use of humor, he was very lively, but he was very real, which was cool.”
Adison Fontaine, a UConn graduate of the Class of 2013 with a degree in psychology, said “I liked that they were very realistic. He didn’t go into a lot of minute detail but he still kept your attention.”
Straight is a professor of English and director of the poetry at Manchester Community College. His began his tenure at the University of Connecticut began in 1978, initially as a student and later a professor. He remained at the university until 1989. Before The Almanac was published in 2012, he released his first collection of poetry, The Water Carrier, which was featured on the nationally syndicated radio program, “The Writer’s Almanac with Garrison Keller.” In 1998, he was named a Distinguished Advocate for the Arts by the Connecticut Commission on the Arts.