Speakers & Events

Visiting Poet Stephen Dobyns gives reading

Feb. 1, 2011, 2:01 a.m.

Mohr Visiting Poet Stephen Dobyns gave a reading last night in Cubberley Auditorium. Dobyns, who received fellowships from the Guggenheim Foundation and the National Endowment for the Arts, read poems that explored human condition, the passage of time and the questioning of meaning.

Dobyns, has taught at the University of Iowa and Boston University, holds an M.F.A. from the University of Iowa.  He has published ten books of poetry and twenty novels.

He began with a comedic yet cynical poem entitled “The Gardner.” Written before the fall of the Berlin Wall, it explores human flaw and the ease with which humans are convinced wrong.

The next poem that Dobyns read, “How to Like It,” was a dark yet comedic dialogue between a dog and a man. The dog is characterized as living an escapist life, while the man desires to confront his difficulties and past through constant reflection.

The dog attempts to distract the man with idle actions and eventually succeeds in breaking the man’s reflection. The poem highlights another failure by man to achieve his full potential. Despite the dark nature of the poem, the audience picked up on Dobyns’ humor.

Communication and the impact made by its absence were central themes in Dobyns’ reading.

“Tenderly,” the third poem read by Dobyns, approached this theme in a light-humored, graphic way that was simultaneously disturbing and comedic. In the poem, the protagonist attempts to dismember himself with a butter knife in order to assuage his frustration. The way he chooses to articulate his pain contrasts with the reactions of those who witness his disturbing act, juxtaposing communication through action and communication through observation.

While “Stars” and “Morning Doves” also address the issue of communication in a humorous way, their tone was heavy.

“Stars” narrates a husband and wife’s long journey to a friend’s home. As the couple gets increasingly lost on their trip, the wife becomes frustrated and ceases to speak. Soon, both become filled with critical, negative thoughts of each other.

They consider the possibility of divorce, but forget their conflict once they find their way. The effects of silence are portrayed as a force that overdramatizes reactions and creates false thoughts. They highlight the importance of communication.

“His style of writing is really straight forward and easy to understand,” said Sharia Mayfield ’13, who attended the reading. “A lot of the meaning of the poetry came from his tone of voice.”

Mayfield also noted that Dobyns’ readings encompassed a wide variety of poetic genres.

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