American author and poet Stephen Dobyns spoke about his life as a writer to students and faculty Wednesday at the Virginia G. Piper Center for Creative Writing on the Tempe campus.
His talk was the first installment of the center’s Distinguished Visiting Writers Series, a series designed to bring exceptionally talented writers to the Tempe area to share about their lives and works.
“We bring in writers, primarily fiction [writers] and poets, that we think will be of interest to students and greater community members,” said Peter Turchi, English professor and director of the center. “All of the writers in the Distinguished Series are well-known, published writers.”
Dobyns has published more than 30 books including mystery novels, short stories, essays and poems. He also occasionally writes features for various newspapers.
Although he writes in many genres, Dobyns said he considers himself a poet because it is by far his favorite form of language.
“When writing [other genres], I primarily see myself as trying to learn more about poetry,” he said. “I’m constantly learning more about it; I want to master my craft. It will never bore me.”
Dobyns has won several awards for his works, including a Melville Cane Award and fellowships from the National Endowment for the Arts and the Guggenheim Foundation, but said he has not always been a good writer.
“My third-grade teacher had a canary. If you were a good kid and a good writer, you got to take it home over the weekend,” he said. “I never got to take it home.”
Despite being kicked out of school “more than a few times,” Dobyns always harbored a love for reading, and said that’s where his love of writing was born.
“The world doesn’t exist for me until I put it in language,” Dobyns said. “And the language I like best is that of the poem.”
Jazz music also influenced Dobyns to become a poet.
“When I was about 15 I started hearing poetry put to jazz,” he said. “I hadn’t realized poetry could be written the way people talk, so that really caught my attention.”
Nursing freshman Bonnie Leman shares Dobyns’ interest in writing and attended the session in hopes of getting ideas from a fellow writer.
“One of my teachers told me about it, and I’m really interested in writing, so I wanted to get his take on it,” she said. “It was really interesting because he’s really passionate, and I thought he had really good ideas about how to go about writing and looking at why you’re writing a specific piece.”
In Dobyns’ case, he said there is no other way to fully communicate emotion than through poetry or writing.
“There’s no other way to have that special connection with someone else,” he said. “You can say ‘I’m sad,’ but the person you are talking to doesn’t really know. When you put that grief into a poem, you move out of isolation, even if just for a brief moment.”
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