Author and poet Alan Michael Parker visited the UConn bookstore in Storrs Center to share some of his recently-published poems, as well as some brand new projects of his. The near 70 person audience was also treated to an informative Q & A session in which Parker discussed his influences and gave tips for aspiring writers.
Parker is the author or editor of sixteen books, including “The Manifesto Project” an anthology released this year that he co-edited, “The Ladder,” a collection of poems and “The Committee on Town Happiness,” a novel. Parker is a professor of English at Davidson College and faculty members in the University of Tampa low-residency M.F.A program. His accolades include three Pushcart Prizes, two inclusions in Best American Poetry, the Fineline Prize, the 2013 and 2014 Randall Jarrell Poetry Prize, the North Carolina Book Award and the Lucille Medwick Memorial Award from the Poetry Society of America. Parker has also been featured in such publications as The New Yorker and the Yale Review.
Parker’s poetry, written in many different styles, including list poems, series, and fables, all highlight the profundity that can be found in ordinary objects and scenarios. “The Ladder,” especially, focuses on accepting and embracing the complex realities of daily experience. Parker is notable for his mastery of sound and metaphor. His poems are witty, sarcastic and relatable. While occasionally using a sense of dark irony, he makes a poignant and somewhat cynical commentary on the ills of society. Many pieces grapple with the search for identity in honest, relatable ways.
Parker clearly tries not to take himself too seriously. He was very humble and spoke conversationally with the audience, often cracking self-deprecating jokes in between readings. “That was a moment of self-loathing,” Parker said while introducing some of his fables, “I’m supposed to do that, I write poems.”
When asked about how he incorporates his sense of humor into his writing while still maintaining the ability to discuss serious topics, Parker owes that to his love of words.
“My poetics derive from a deep passion of the elasticity of the single word. I love words with multiple meanings and have an interest in the history of words. I really want that [accessibility of comedy] in my work through wordplay,” Parker said.
Parker did not get his start writing comedic poetry, however. Of his influences, Parker cites Shakespeare and his studies in Latin. Although he has a classic background and education, Parker believes that “if you think poetry is the language of beauty, you’ve inherited an idea that’s not yours.”
Parker does admit that his poetry is, at times, formulaic. He follows very mathematical, practiced patterns when it comes to form and meter. “My technique is the machinery of reader’s desires,” he said. But when beginning a poem, he is writing for himself.
“The first draft is for me. This is my art form, the way I make meaning in the world, the way I ask questions, the way I learn,” Parker said. Advice he had for other aspiring poets or writers was to read constantly and not get too caught up in trying to fit a certain form or mold. Parker expressed the importance of the message a poet is attempting to convey. He also calls writing a work in progress, claiming it is never finished and there is constant room for improvement and collaboration.
“I enjoyed the comedy. It was like watching a stand-up show mixed with beautiful art. It was interesting to see that he chose to share some of my favorite poems of his,” Mairead Loschi, an eighth-semester senior double-majoring in political science and communications in attendance at the event, said. “Hearing poetry is always different from reading it. Poets know their own work and I really enjoyed seeing his intentions.”
“If I do it right, I can spin you, and I love that,” Parker said as he wrapped up the discussion.
This event was sponsored by the English Speaker’s Fund and co-sponsored with the Creative Writing Program and the UConn Bookstore.
Julia Mancini is a campus correspondent for The Daily Campus. She can be reached via email at Julia.firstname.lastname@example.org.