Professor publishes book of poetry
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Leaning against her chair in her office in Miller Library, Assistant Professor of English Adrian Blevins reflects on why students need poetry. "Your poets are your bulletproof vests," she says. "Everyone who's my student, who's human has been a teenager, and has had to deal with the difficulties of being teenagers. And your twenties are not that much easier. It's so great to have your poet....You realize you're not alone."
Blevins brought along her Southern flair when she became a professor of poetry at Colby five years ago. The unconventional professor with a Virginian accent and a sense of humor has many stories to tell, such as the time she attempted to clear the snow off of her car during her first Maine snowstorm by getting "out my credit card. That's what you do in the South [is] push the snow out [of the way] with your credit card."
She also has a plethora of lessons to share, many of which can be found in her new collection of poetry, Live from the Homesick Jamboree.
Blevins describes much of her poetry as an investigation of the soul. "All life is failure but in that failure lives the catastrophe of my own personality. Really good essays and really good poems can actually investigate the catastrophe of personality with language," she says, quoting the theory of the legendary writer, Gore Vidal.
Jamboree delves into much more than the "self." Many of the poems address divorce and the difficulty of motherhood. Blevins says she writes the poetry not out of the anger or other painful emotions stemming from those experiences but because she understands that people can't be wise until they experience loss. "By the time the poems are written, I'm emotionally OK. I have to be objective in order for it to be a poem," Blevins says. "It's just a way of learning as we go."
While Blevins was in the process of revising and attempting to understand her collection, she renamed one of her poems "Live From the Homesick Jamboree." Blevins says the homesick jamboree is representative of the mood she is conveying inside the poems. "They're really kinetic; they're really energetic, but there's also a real sense that they have lost the south."
Blevins, who was born and raised in rural Virginia, cites southern writers William Faulkner, Flannery O'Connor, Gerald Stern and Eudora Welty as her influences. "I felt absolutely in love at the age of 13 with great southern writers," she says.
Her love of writing led Blevins to pursue an undergraduate degree in English and master's degree in fiction, only to later realize that poetry is her true calling. She recounts writing stories that take place entirely inside a person's mind. Stories "are about events; things have to happen in stories." Two days after receiving her master's from Hollins College, Blevins decided to become a poet.
She began incorporating the skills she accumulated from years of fiction writing into her poetry. "I put it in this container of a poem ending up with a narrative poem. I didn't have to resolve all the problems that [I] would have had to in short stories." Blevins became attracted to spoken tone and parodied the vernacular, laid back style of southern storytellers. Along the way, Blevins fell in love with the lyric poetry of Gerald Stern, Rodney Jones and C.K. Williams. She experimented with blending the two styles together and emerged with what she calls hybridity. The style is clearly represented in both of her books.
Live From the Homesick Jamboree is the follow-up to Blevin's 2003 collection, The Brass Girl Brouhaha. Though Blevins believes that the north has made her poems more lyrical this time around, she says her purpose for writing is the same. "I want someone who's never read a poem one day in their life, some mom who is sitting some place, desperate, she's alone, she's poor, [to] pick up this book and be able to understand it. I'm definitely writing in a sense for women. And hopefully they'll get some relief in reading the poetry."
Her poetry has also allowed Blevins to trust her intuition. She recalls standing up in front of Colby students and reading the line "stupid boy, stupid cock" from her poem "Wake-Up" when the spoken-word poet, Dana Gilmore, came to the College for a reading last March. "I still haven't gotten over that."
In "Wake Up," Blevins writes about a former favorite student of hers who was murdered by her brother and how Blevins intuitively knew that it was he who had done it. "I think it's just a process of understanding that I should trust myself or that I should not doubt myself so much."
Although Jamboree is "a little bit cussy," Blevins explains that it was done as a literary speech effect and, though she admits to fighting with it during the assembly and revision process, it is now a work she takes pride in.
Just as she accepts Jamboree for what it is, Blevins says she's come to love snowy central Maine, a place she calls the Appalachian north. "It's so north that it's south again. I come from the rural south. This is the rural north."
Her students have also helped Maine feel like home to Blevins: "The students have been amazing. I love them."
Editor's Note: Live From the Homesick Jamboree can be found at the Colby Bookstore.