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

Professors and students show off creative work at poetry readings


When Lamar Wilson did his first reading on campus as a new professor at The University of Alabama last month, he chose to recite one of his poems that he doesn’t normally read aloud. He’d picked the poem because he thought some of the audience members he knew would appreciate it, but it’d been a long day for Wilson and during the reading he became a little tongue-tied and messed up the pronunciation of a word.

Wilson didn’t think his reading had gone well, but his audience disagreed. People came up afterwards to tell him how good they thought his poem was and how much it resonated with them.

For Wilson, that’s always the hope. Whether he’s looking at the audience or at the page, he reaches out in his performance in hopes of resonating in some way with those who are listening.

“There’s nothing greater in the world than to be able to do that on the page and then to get a stage with an audience of people and to hear them move collectively,” Wilson said. “To hear them gasp, to hear a sniffle back of tears, to hear the clapping that happens because they said ‘yes I hear you. I feel you I’m with you,’ it’s a great gift and a great feeling.”

Every semester the English Department sponsors many poetry readings featuring faculty, MFA students and visiting writers. These readings not only give the participants a chance to share their work, they also give undergraduate students a chance to see what their professors do outside of class.

“Most undergraduates who show up have never met an author before,” said John Estes, the director of the Undergraduate Creative Writing program. “Publishing, working writers –– a lot of undergraduates don’t even realize that their teachers are that. When we go to a reading and hear this person coming in from out of town, it puts this writer in the spotlight…. You get to see this kind of animal you know exists but have never encountered. Here’s a person that through hard work, sacrifice and probably natural ability and a little or a lot of luck has made it.”

Wilson, whose first collection “Sacrilegion” was the 2012 selection for the Carolina Wren Press Poetry Series, said he believes the readings give undergraduate students a good feel for what’s happening in contemporary literature. He also said it gives them a rare glimpse into the minds of their department faculty.

“There’s no better way to test a teacher before you take his or her class then to sit in and listen to his or her work or ideas,” Wilson said. “And also I think it’s beneficial for students at large to come to these readings because, for me, there’s nothing better than to be awash with other peoples’ words…you’re just there as an audience member to take it all in and just to observe and to just be moved or try to connect with or be challenged intellectually.”

Outside of English students getting a deeper glimpse into their faculty, Wilson believes all students on the University’s campus can benefit from readings hosted by the department.

“You’re expanding your perspective on the world by inhibiting the world that is created by the person that is standing right in front of you,” he said. “Whether you like what they have to say or not, you’re expanding your intellectual acumen by being exposed to the ideas of someone else.”

Estes said in his experience, he’s watched students who come to readings find themselves surprised at how much they enjoy the experience. For the aspiring writers who come, the readings can be inspirational and motivational.

“You know that you’ve been enriched and that in some way you’ve been enlarged by this artistic encounter, this encounter with art and that i think is why we come to college, to have our horizons expanded,” Estes said. “You can not come to college and sit around and watch Netflix but what we need, and often what we want, out of college is to be held accountable and to be asked to go outside of what is our natural comfort zone to meet the larger world.”

That larger world can be found right here in Tuscaloosa according to Estes. As the first person to hold the position of director of the Undergraduate Creative Writing program, he hopes to encourage students to follow in the footsteps of famous UA alumnae like Harper Lee.

“My belief is that you come to college to develop your gifts and there are a lot of students who can write well, can read well, are good thinkers but being an English major or being a creative writing minor is one of those your parents tell you you shouldn’t do because it’s not practical,” he said. “I think that’s absolutely not true. What gets you a job or finds you a place in this world is honing your native talents… Wherever this mistake has happened in our culture where what your major is somehow determines your destiny, has to be revisited and undone to some extent.”

The English department will host its next reading on Oct. 18 at 7 p.m. at Band of Brothers Brewery. Both John Estes and Lamar Wilson will be reading then.

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