UA and Kansas students exchange poetry, ideas

Patty Vaughan

Twelve students from UA and the University of Kansas participated in a poetry and community exchange where they not only experienced new writings, but new cultures.

Joseph Wood, an English department lecturer and creator of the exchange, said he wanted to show undergraduate students that they weren’t alone in writing.

“It actually was just something that came about because I was planning to do a reading in Lawrence, Kan.,” Wood said. “I had a friend who teaches in the English department at the University of Kansas.”

Wood and Patti White, a professor in the department, run a small press called Slash Pine Press. Wood said he wanted to involve undergraduate students more and asked for their help.

“We have about 15 undergraduate student interns,” he said. “I thought why not take some of the interns up to Kansas with me, and let them read with other Kansas students. I contacted my friend and she put together a room for us to read.”

One of the students who went on the trip was Natalie Latta, a senior majoring in English and political science. She said that she was happy to hear the Kansas student’s readings as well as visit their community.

“The Kansas students were very friendly,” Latta said. “We had only communicated through email prior to the trip so they were wonderful, and they were very welcoming. We stayed with one of them in her house.”

While the students were there, each student got to read their work for eight to 10 minutes. “As far as the aesthetics of their writing goes, they were so striking and so beautiful,” Latta said. “I think some of our readers read more Southern Gothic pieces, whereas they read mainly poetry with no state identity or no regional identity. I think we all enjoyed getting to hear each other’s work.”

The students also got to meet with a publisher of a chapbook press, Mitzvah Chaps. Wood described chapbooks as limited-run books that only have approximately 50 copies that contain book art and typically run locally.

“The reason for the trip was to not only read their work, but to also understand more about what do chapbooks mean, how does this relate to the work they’re doing for us at the press and things like that,” Wood said.

After reading their own work, the students participate in listening to Wood’s readings where the students met with other writers. Wood then had another reading in St. Louis in a chapbook shop.

“In the afternoon, I scheduled a Q & A with the six students from Alabama,” Wood said. “They got to sit down with the owner of the chapbook shop and have a long Q & A with her about why she started the chapbook shop, what’s involved with chapbooks and why would someone extensively open a chapbook shop.”

In April, Slash Pine Press will be putting on a poetry festival, which is when the six Kansas students that the UA students met will be coming to the University to see the community and share some more readings. Wood described this as part two of the exchange.

“I think often when you write, you feel like you’re writing on for The University of Alabama,” Wood said. “There are so few times that undergraduates get to go out and meet other writers and just talk as writers. It wasn’t until very recently that I began to understand that there are people all across the country that are doing this. The necessity of poetry is really sharing it and communicating with one another however it might sound or write about.”

Latta said she feels that this experience was eye opening for her, and showed her that writing really does matter.

“I think liberal arts are largely taken advantage of,” Latta said. “They don’t have a lot of credibility as far as the career choice. It is a very important part of society and of history so I think that it is very important that we share with the younger generation that being an artist and being a writer is wonderful. It doesn’t have to be weird or fall into the stereo type of the struggling artist.”

As for Wood, he said was thrilled to be sharing and opening up undergraduate’s world of writing.

“After the reading, seeing the community that we brought together, and seeing the students interact and talk with one another about poetry or life in general, I felt as a teacher at this rare moment, I just felt awed,” Wood said. “This is what poetry should be.”