Serving the campus of the University of Alabama since 1894

The Crimson White

Serving the campus of the University of Alabama since 1894

The Crimson White

Serving the campus of the University of Alabama since 1894

The Crimson White

Award-winning poet John Taggart to host reading, discuss music

John Taggart raised his family in a household that included his wife, two daughters, one dog and one bathroom, but that isn’t why he got up early in the morning for years. It was to write.

Taggart is a poet whose awards include the Chicago Review poetry prize and the National Endowment for Arts Fellowships. With a musical quality woven through his own work through modulation and repetition, Taggart will discuss the relationships between poetry and music during his two-day visit to The University of Alabama.

Taggart will host a reading from his own works Tuesday. He said the selection will be varied, and some works will be recent, unpublished pieces.

“See most writers like to read new work,” Taggart said. “It’s like new parents with a new baby. What’s the first thing you got to do? You got to go shopping for groceries with the baby. So, I think I’m actually going to read in reverse. I’m going to read some recent unpublished poems to begin with and then just go backwards.”

He said some works will relate to music, some will relate to visual arts, and some to what it’s like to live in the country, as Taggart does. The talk, centered around the interplay of poetry and music, stems from his conception of a poem as a song.

“I think in many ways, a poem ought to be as good as what you hear on the radio,” Taggart said. “And I think a lot of songs, of course, on the radio are junk. But, usually, in one way or another, they are pretty well made.”

Taggart said he’s interested in the construction and form of music. He said that’s something he thinks writers can pick up.

For example, he said he’s interested in “standards,” old Broadway show tunes that jazz musicians have taken and streamlined. He mentioned the song, “These Are a Few of My Favorite Things.”

“John Coltrane’s group plays that over a period of years, and it’s fascinating,” he said. “Because at first, they more or less, just play it straight. And it takes, oh, about five minutes. By they time they’re done with it, you know adding all sorts of different colors and improvising on various different things, it’s 45 minutes long.”

He said that’s the challenge for writers and musicians: can the words be sung in some new, interesting way?

Taggart said his inspiration isn’t so much from a lightbulb going off, but routine.

“It doesn’t sound very glamorous or exciting, but the real answer is routine,” he said. “And it certainly doesn’t mean that when you get up every morning that bright lights and wonderful things happen. It just means, that like an athlete, you’re staying in shape, you’re bringing yourself to attention, and especially, that you’re making time for it.”

Taggart will also be speaking directly to an English graduate seminar on Wednesday. The class, taught by Associate Provost of Academic Affairs Hank Lazer, has been studying Taggart’s works this semester, along with that of three other American poets of the 20th and 21st century.

“His poetry represents a unique achievement in terms of its musicality and its intense investigation of new modes of writing about spiritual experience, all of which might be of interest to my students,” Lazer said.

He also said he would suggest attendees listen for the musicality of the work, and allow themselves to experience the poems as “gradually unfolding music.”

“It’s a great pleasure to listen to the ways that a range of musics – from R&B to gospel, from jazz to contemporary classical music – have provided the energy and direction for a unique achievement in American poetry,” Lazer said. “Best of all, it’s a beautiful, inspiring experience to hear this writing read aloud.”

Taggart will host a reading Tuesday at 7 p.m. in 205 Gorgas. The Poetry and Music discussion will be held Wednesday from noon to 1 p.m. in Maxwell Hall.

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