Visiting Poets at WSU

Susan Roney-O'Brien and John Hogden gave a poetry reading on campus

By Gabrielle Plainte

On Sunday, April 7, a poetry reading took place in the Faculty Lounge of the Sullivan Building. People of all ages attended, some students, others pure lovers of poetry, and a few poets themselves. For the first hour, jazz music was played by the “Reverend” Rich Falco on guitar and Jerry WilFong on stand-up base. The beautifully played music created the perfect atmosphere as guests enjoyed refreshments, anticipating the poetry reading ahead.

The first poet to read was Susan Roney-O’Brien, author of Bone Circle. Roney-O’Brien started writing Bone Circle when thinking about her brother, whom passed away at thirty-five years old. It “opened doors to things she didn’t want to remember,” and she felt a “need” to create poetry. Roney-O’Brien read “Stringed Instrument,” a poem about her complex relationship with her brother, whom from the inspiration for this book was gleaned. The first half of Bone Circle is written from the perspective of a child.

“Getting to Know My Father,” is another poem from Bone Circle about Roney-O’Brien’s family. In this work, she tells the story of building a relationship with her father. He worked long hours when she was a child, so she was unable to spend time with him. Fortunately, later in life, Roney-O’Brien was given the opportunity to become close to her father. Her poem sends a message of hope, that family relationships can grow throughout life.

Roney-O’Brien appreciates the wonders to be had in the natural world. One of the poems she read, “Forsythia,” was named for the tree which blooms yellow flowers in the early spring. In her spare time, she enjoys beekeeping, growing her own vegetables, and walking in the forest with her chocolate labs. Inspiration for her writing is often found among these walks.

Besides spending time in nature, Roney-O’Brien is involved in four different writing groups and spends time working with international students over Skype. She devotes time to family, frequently babysitting her grandchildren. When she finds time to write, it is usually in the early morning. She prefers to just write what comes to her, instead of sticking to any specific style of poetry.

When asked about her favorite poet, Roney-O’Brien spoke of Eleanor Wilner. Wilner weaves imagery from physics, the Bible, and music into her poetry. Roney-O’Brien had the opportunity to meet her at Warren Wilson College, in North Carolina, where they soon became friends. The manuscript of Bone Circle was given to Wilner to review prior to publication.

The first poem Roney-O’Brien read from Bone Circle was titled “Disclaimer,” which serves as warning that not everything in this book is to be taken literally. “Keepsake,” is the last poem in Bone Circle, ending the book with a “note of calmness and tranquility.”

Roney-O’Brien concluded her reading with a poem from her upcoming book that should be on sale by next year. The poems in this book tell of ancient Minoan culture, where men and women were given equal treatment. The poem Roney-O’Brien chose to share was about a Minoan priestess.

“Give up the idea of making any money,” Roney-O’Brien replied when asked what advice she would give to aspiring poets. “Listen to yourself. Do not give up on yourself. Even if someone doesn’t like your work, keep at it. The more you write the better writer you will become.” She also advised aspiring poets to read modern poetry, and not only get caught up with classical poetry.

The second poet to read was John Hogden, author of The Lord of Everywhere. For this reading, he chose to read poems from his upcoming book. Hogden gained his inspiration from the wildfires in California, which ravaged the town of Paradise and many others last summer. President Trump mistakenly called Paradise, Pleasure, and some of the poems speak to the “Trump-wary world” that we live in. This was the first time these poems have been heard in public.

Hogden started the reading with his poem, “Accelerant.” This poem spoke about his brother, and woman that had the same last name as him. They met while working at Raytheon and fell in love; he almost married her. After their relationship ended, she spiraled, and ended her own life with fire. “Accelerant,” was meant to “say what there isn’t words for.”

The second poem spoke to what usually remains unspoken. It is from the perspective of a man in Watertown convicted of manslaughter. The man pushed his best friend off the dock in a drunken attempt to wake him, after he had passed out from intoxication. The poem asks the question what can be said to a tragedy such as that?

Hogden found his inspiration for the “Harrows” when flying over the Midwest in a commuter plane. He saw the farmers bringing the land back to life and related it back to his own experience of being a farmer’s son.

The final poem Hogden read told of letters from his father to his mother. When his mother was pregnant with Hogden’s brother, his father worked in a factory, making planes for the Air Force to be used in World War II. His mother lived in Hubbardston, a distance from where his father was working. This forced him to travel to see her. When he couldn’t visit, he would write her love letters. The poem tells of one time a letter was returned because it was one penny short, so he put two in one envelope. The message is one of how beautiful, tender, and sweet real love can be.

Hogden discovered the poetry of Robert Frost when he was a junior in high school. The poem, “Birches,” by Frost spoke to Hogden in a time when he needed it most. The poetry of Frost, especially “Birches”, gave him hope and understanding. The lyrics of famous song-writer and singer, Bob Dylan, also had an impact on Hogden.

Hogden enjoys writing traditional forms of poetry, such as sonnets and other poems that requiring rhyming. In addition to writing, Hogden also teaches; he is an English professor at Assumption College, in Worcester. Besides writing, he loves baseball, an interest he has had since he was a child. His spare time is usually spent with his grandchildren.

“Run like hell,” Hogden said when asked his advice for aspiring poets. “Many kids will hit the ground hard and not get far.” He warned of how many young poets do achieve much and how you must work hard if have a chance of making it. Hogden also mentioned how statistics say young adults are finding poetry more appealing, because you can write your emotions in a small space.

After the poetry reading, Roney-O’Brien and Hogden were available to sign any purchased copy of Bone Circle or The Lord of Everywhere. Many people lined up to get their copies of the books before the boxes were empty. After listening to their poetry the audience left Worcester State University thinking about how powerful poetry can be, how it can move an audience, and how it tells a story.

This event was sponsored in part by the English Department at Worcester State University and the Worcester County Poetry Association.

Be the first to comment

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.