Section: Arts

Lazer, Rodríguez-Núñez share their poetry with campus

Lazer, Rodríguez-Núñez share their poetry with campus

Emily Stegner

By Adelaide Sanvold and Elana Spivack

As evening sunlight drifted into the Cheever Room of Finn House last Thursday, poet Hank Lazer stood before the intimate crowd and began to read. The first poem he shared was not, in fact, his own, but one by Robert Duncan, who was the subject of the first poetry reading he ever went to. As he let Duncan’s “Often I Am Permitted to Return to a Meadow” resonate, Lazer gave off an almost tangible glow of peace and contentment with his surroundings before moving on to his own work.

Lazer was one of two poets to read and perform his work on campus this week; Kenyon’s own Professor of Spanish Victor Rodríguez-Núñez read his work in the Cheever Room on Tuesday. Although Lazer and Rodríguez-Núñez knew each other, they did not know they would be reading so chronologically close to one another. “He’s really a fantastic poet and person,” Lazer said of Rodríguez-Núñez.

Both Lazer and Rodríguez-Núñez believe that the performance aspect is the most important part of doing a reading. “I try to break out of the standard reading,” Lazer said, “which is when a person stands behind a podium and reads their work, which, except for learning the cadence, anyone could do.”

Rodríguez-Núñez read his works aloud in Spanish, followed by their English translation read by his translator and wife, Associate Professor of Spanish Katherine Hedeen. In a question-and-answer session after his reading, he described some of his insights on poetry, noting the importance of musicality. “I [pay] a lot of attention [to] rhythm,” he said.

Lazer involved the audience in his writing by assigning different words to different spectators. He then had everyone say the words aloud in order. Another hit moment occured when Lazer passed around three of his notebooks, each page full of unpublished work.

“The writing activity is an essentially fairly solitary one,” Lazer said. “But there is an immediacy to the reading occasion that gives a feedback loop on what’s happening with the writing … what people connect with.”

Likewise, Rodríguez-Núñez  considers how his poetry will affect his readers and how it may change in translation. He said that if Hedeen advises him to change a word because it will help the English translation, he will alter the original Spanish version. He also said that revising his own work can be difficult. “The person who I am right now was not exactly the person who wrote those poems,” he said.

This recent visit was Lazer’s first time at Kenyon, despite his knowledge of the College. “If you write poetry, you know about Kenyon,” he said.

Lazer’s audience at Kenyon, for its part, seemed to respond to the reading with enthusiam.

“It was using space as another dimension, as another way to experience poetry rather than on the page, and it was very engaging,” Caroline Sarkozi ’18 said.

“His reading gave people who were there a chance to experience the lyric moments that poetry can bring to us,” Assistant Professor of English Thomas Hawks said. “It felt like what was happening in the audience was reflecting what was happening on the page and that was really exciting.”

Lazer visited Hawks’s American Modernism class on Friday, as well as Professor of English Janet McAdams’s Advanced Poetry Writing class. McAdams was one of Lazer’s graduate students at the University of Alabama, where he still teaches today. “I’m really impressed with the [Kenyon] students’ desire to learn,” Lazer said.

Tim Jurney ’15 had the chance to work with Lazer one-on-one following Lazer’s visit to McAdams’s class. “You learn a lot from somebody who has been doing poetry for a long time, especially if they’re really in tune with their own process,” Jurney said. “[Lazer] doesn’t believe that there’s one right way to write poetry. He won’t make a statement about poetry like, ‘All poetry is this,’ or, ‘All poetry is doing this right now.’ He would say, ‘What statements can we make to characterize some poetry?’”

Rodríguez-Núñez is coming off of a fruitful 2013, in which he published three books — two in Spanish and one in English. Although a chapbook of Lazer’s was supposed to be released this month, the cover was misprinted, so the release date has been pushed back. He is also working on books of selected poems translated into French, Italian and Spanish.

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