Brian Brodeur, a prizewinning poet from the University of Cincinnati, read selections from his work on Thursday night in the Muskie Archives for the semester’s first Language Arts Live, a regular event sponsored by the English Department.
Brodeur’s introduction reflected on the surreal unease that comes from hearing a poet laugh. Our contemporary notion of poetry, as Brodeur noted during a lively question-and-answer session following his reading, is rooted in its ambiguous and unreadable or approachable tendencies; therefore, laughter from a poet who writes strings of unconnected words with some completely opaque meaning is disarming.
Brodeur works hard to abolish that stereotype. After the recitation of several poems, it no longer seemed strange that this poet would laugh often. Brodeur claims that he searches “to write poetry that’s meaningful to people,” as we would hope all poets do, and to avoid the preachy opaqueness that some people fear characterizes poetry today.
To prove this point, Brodeur opened his reading with a powerful delivery of his poem entitled “Nietzsche in Love”—a re-imagination of Existentialist philosopher Nietzsche’s life were his first love to have accepted his proposal of marriage. Introducing subtle literary allusions to Nietzsche’s work and life, Brodeur’s poem spoke to the crowd of English majors and professors who tapped each other on the arm and smirked in response to his not-so-subtle references to Nietzsche’s strange biography and philosophy.
As the reading proceeded, however, Brodeur’s material turned slightly darker. Written all in first person, though not from personal experience, he explored the pain of families grieving loved ones lost at war. In particular, the poem “Kandahar” speaks of a father grieving his son and reflecting on their last phone call, in which his son had told him he was calling from Kandahar, and on another call during a visit to the Greater Boston Family Planning Center.
Brodeur introduced his other poems as his “attempt to connect to the youth,” showing his effort to appeal to the student-dominated audience in the Muskie room. He commented briefly on the confused sense of belonging and the questioning of what constitutes a home that he sees college-age students grappling with, though his introduction to the poem spoke more to that particular emotion than the actual poem did.
The question-and-answer session following the reading was lively, particularly after the somewhat grim readings with which Brodeur concluded. Speaking rapidly and jumping from one thought to another, Brodeur responded energetically to questions that focused primarily on the writing process. Predictably, the audience of college writers picked Brodeur’s brain about inspiration for beginning to write: How does a poem come to you? How do you start? Where do you revise? Workshop? Do you read aloud when you’re writing?
Though every question was thoughtful and interesting, no one—including Brodeur—has concrete answers. His main tip was not to wait for inspiration, just write. Even if it’s poor, find one trusted reader and beg them to read your work until they out right refuse. In the end, Brodeur summed up his response to all of these questions: “It’s different for every poem and every person. What works for me isn’t necessarily going to work for you; just write.”