Last Thursday in Lawrence Hall, the English Department hosted a poetry reading with the fantastic Jane Springer. Almost every seat was taken by students and adults alike, all of whom were enthusiastic and excited for the reading.
Jane Springer’s first two works were collections of poems: “Dear Blackbird” was published in 2007 and “Murder Ballad” in 2012. She matriculated from Florida State University where she received her PhD in creative writing. Springer won a 2012 Whiting Writers’ Award and was also a National Endowment for the Arts Fellow. Her work on “Dear Blackbird” won her the Agha Shahid Ali Prize. Springer currently teaches in the English Department at
Almost all of Springer’s poems tell vibrant, entertaining stories that encompass rhythms of coming of age, biblical references, fables and animals, particularly horses. She was extremely thankful for the multitude of people who came to the reading, expressing her gratitude for the fact that they took time out of their day of grading and writing papers to listen to her speak.
The poet read for just over 30 minutes. Not only did she read her own poems, but she also read a few poems by other authors, both famous and unknown. She spent a great deal of time speaking in between reading poems as well. Springer told stories, made comments and even explained the inspiration and reasoning behind certain ideas and poems.
During the reading, Springer made a point of connecting with the audience not only through her stories but also through the way she read. She looked up at the crowd often to secure her connection, while her beautiful reading voice captivated the audience. She had a carrying, lively voice that held hints of an accent. At one point in the reading she explained her Tennessee origins – although she has lived up north for five years now, she still is not quite used to it. She read an amusing poem that signified the many differences between the north and the south, often making use of witty stories and an undercurrent of nostalgia.
Springer read a variety of different pieces of her own work. She read from “Dear Blackbird” as well as “Murder Ballad” citing the second as a dictionary or a book of entries. One poem in “Murder Ballad” -was about the meaning of the word fair: “You Want Fair? The Fair Comes in the Fall” – she also read a poem about snow angels, which she dedicated to her husband, who shoveled snow for about 12 hours, as well as Philip Seymour Hoffman, whose death saddened her – and not just because she won’t be able to watch his next 50 films.
In addition to her own poetry, Springer read a portion of “Paradise Lost,” explaining how she took the poem’s themes and created a more modern version of the poem called “Forties War Widows, Stolen Grain,” which cleverly describes the murder of crows. She also read a poem about a toast to Bruce Smith, which was written by the Donald M. and Constance H. Rebar Professor in Humanities, Professor of English and Director of Creative Writing, Peter Balakian.
At one point in the reading, Springer explained a bit about the editing and writing processes of her collections. She wishes that she could see the entire book of poems in front of her before she writes them, but instead she writes one poem at a time, eventually fastening the individual pieces, often with minor changes, into one full collection. She likes to have a free feeling in her collections, and collections of poems that fit together perfectly make her feel claustrophobic.
Springer closed her reading with a poem by CA Conrad, which reads as follows: “ig says to Frank ‘this fence keeps you in your world.’ Frank says to pig ‘this fence keeps you in your world.'” This line was repeated three times, each time emphasized in a slightly different manner. Springer’s reading ended in a great, booming applause, as well as a chorus of laughter from her closing poem.