“I’ll read quickly and awkwardly and hunch over the microphone and I hope that’s alright.”
So began Northern Irish poet and novelist Nick Laird as he took the podium in the Wilbur Cross North Reading Room. Invited as this year’s reader for the annual Gerson Irish reading series, an event organized by the Irish Studies and Creative Writing departments, Laird presented his conversationally-modern poetry to a well-filled audience of professors, students and community members Tuesday night.
Tall with salt-and-pepper hair and beard and an Irish accent, the author of novels like “Modern Gods” and poetry collections like “Go Giants,” Laird’s work all has a similarly crafted sound, while tackling a number of different subjects. With a poet’s cadence, Laird switched between introducing his work with anecdotes about his father’s smoking habits and ultimate triple bypass, and poems that reference the names of Wi-Fi networks, singing along to pop singles or graffiti he enjoyed, quoting lines like, “you’re beeswax and I’m birdshit.”
His poems varied between topics like his children, Irish fighters in World War II, history and love. Some were more serious, others sarcastic. Some were “found poems,” using bits of phrases he’d seen or read somewhere. Others were more like list poems, repeating a phrase like “go” in a number of different contexts.
While the event did bring in a number of interested listeners, a significant portion of the audience were students attending as a requirement for literature and creative writing classes.
“It’s definitely a different way to engage with an author,” sixth-semester digital media and design and English major Lauren Ciulla said, as a current student in an Irish literature class. “I’ve never seen an author I’ve read before.”
Laird’s work was full of references — to science fiction movies, historical figures and events, Disney movies, songs and sports teams — so some students were hoping that hearing him discuss his poetry could provide insight into some of the allusions they may have missed.
By incorporating a speaker into the class curriculum, many of the students in the audience had already read some of Laird’s material before the event.
“I really like the way he writes interactions between people,” sixth-semester English major Jordan Shaw said, also a member of Ciulla’s Irish literature class. “They come off as very genuine.”
Laird also met with three students earlier in the day to give them a mini creative writing workshop, according to Creative Writing Director Sean Forbes.
“I think a lot of students take the same professors in the creative writing department,” Forbes said. “It’s a great opportunity for them to get an unbiased response to their work.”
The event incorporated several other celebrations of work in Irish Studies. Laird was introduced by Geraldine Mills, a previous Gerson reader and the event began with the presentation of the Timothy F. Moriarty prize for Irish Literature to Ph.D. candidate Brian Sneeden. Laird also read a poem by renowned Irish poet Seamus Heaney in honor of the late writer’s 80th birthday.
Overall, the event gave students a new way to interact with an international creative writer in a number of ways.
Alex Houdeshell is the associate managing editor for The Daily Campus. She can be reached via email at email@example.com.