Spark, Sadoff present new works to the Hill
On Tuesday, April 3, the Visiting Writers Series had the special opportunity to celebrate two of its own. Ira Sadoff, poet and Arthur Jeremiah Roberts professor of literature, and Debra Spark, fiction writer and professor of English, read to their peers and students a week before the publication of their respective works. The event was held in the Robinson Room of Miller Library.
Associate Professor of English (creative writing) Adrian Blevins, who is currently heading the series, opened the evening with words of welcome for her peers in the English Department and the students in attendance. Peter Harris, Zacamy professor of English, took a moment to remember and reflect on the American feminist poet, Adrianne Rich, who died March 27. “She was the beacon for everyone in American poetry,” he said. “She was ‘the woman.’” With those warm feelings for a fellow American poet known for her strength and clarity, the evening began.
Sadoff opened with a reading from his new collection of poetry, True Faith, which, as he said in his introduction, can be met with resistance because “I want to talk about difficulty.” He urged the audience to “think about my work like music….It’s a journey…you walk away with a feeling.”
He started with his title poem, “True Faith,” and carried a cadence with him as he read through a handful of his poems. The images and feelings he evoked were at once calming and disconcerting; they resonate with the human experience.
"Down By the Old Mill Stream”—a poem he said was a reaction to the United States’ actions toward Iraq and Afghanistan—opens, “For instance,/ the shallow river was bronze, fish were breathing/ along the bank, swelling and deflating, but I don’t remember/ the green things—if they were natural/unnatural.”
“Most of my poems are feelings,” he said. “So there aren’t many facts in them.”
Sadoff has authored eight collections of poetry, as well as critical works, essays and fiction. True Faith has been met with early praise. Author Claudia Rankine wrote that it “both yearns for and calls into question the mechanisms for creating transcendence….These remarkable poems are ultimately profound and unflinching meditations on how to understand all that is lacking in a life remembered. This insightful and timely collection continues to secure his reputation as one of our preeminent poets.”
Debra Spark’s The Pretty Girl features a novella and six short stories on the theme of art and deception. She read from “The Wedding Story,” a tale of a woman in her late twenties. Rachel Rubenstein, who, when cleaning out her deceased grandmother’s apartment, comes across a surprise in her chocolate egg: a miniature rabbi. Although Spark read for 20 minutes, she did not reach the end of the story and left her audience curious, tickled and eager for more of Rachel and her rabbi friend.
Like Sadoff, Spark’s work has already been met with acclaim. Fellow Maine author Monica Wood reviewed, “Reading this book, I felt the world I live in melt away. Each story is so different from the next, each character a little code to be cracked, each time period and geographical location completely convincing, each life thoroughly absorbing. A strange, illuminating and compelling book. Like falling into a cloud.”
Spark, the author of three novels, is also an essayist and edited the 1996 best-selling anthology Twenty Under Thirty: Best Stories by America’s New Young Writers.
The evening was a wonderful way to remember and to celebrate the accomplishments of the English Department’s incredibly talented faculty.