Kellogg Writers Series welcomed award winning poet Kaveh Akbar on Feb. 28 in Schwitzer Student Center Trustees Dining Room. Assistant Professor of English Barney Haney thanked those who were involved in the Kellogg Writers Series and introduced Akbar incorporating references of his poetry.
“It gives me goose bumps to introduce our writer tonight,” Haney said. “We plunge into the soot, we lose our language, our ability to pray, we are shredded, jeweled, feathered narrowed past our scared necks—our bodies, our desires are insatiable, infinite and insufferable. We meditate on bones and trace elegance of throats of goats, one thing and then the next. we are about to witness an intimate performance—in likes in which we may never see again; and so I ask for this precious gift we offer kindness and courtesy to our guest.”
Akbar is a professor from the Purdue University MFA program and is currently teaching a 16 week course called “Writing the Divine.” Akbar’s work has appeared in various publications such as The New Yorker, American Poetry Review, Tin House and PBS NewsHour.
Akbar is also the founding editor of the Divedapper website that features in-depth interviews of other poets. Akbar is the author of “Calling a Wolf a Wolf,” published by Alice James Books in 2017 and is also the author of chapbook “Portraits of an Alcoholic.”
Akbar is the recipient of a Pushcart Prize and a Lucille Medwick Memorial Award from the Poetry Society of America.
“For me, it [ poetry] really does begin with sound,” Akbar said. “If you get the music right it doesn’t matter what you’re saying. The imagery will feel powerful. [It will] Hit you with gusto, with force. Regardless of what you’re talking about. It will sounds mighty.”
Akbar began his performance with his newer work, yet to be published. “Vine,” was the first poem of the night following additional poems out of both his chapbook and full collection including, “Calling a Wolf a Wolf,” “Do you speak Persian” and “Portrait of the Alcoholic Floating in Space with Severed Umbilicus.”
According to sophomore professional writing major Riley Childers, hearing Akbar’s performance was very different than her experience of reading it. She said that listening to Akbar read his work was very inspirational.
“At times, his voice would be aggressive and powerful at points where I read it soft and gentle and vise versa,” Childers said. “So being able to experience him reading[his poetry], I got to experience the full effect of his work.”
Sophomore professional writing major Shauna Sartoris said that listening to Akbar read his poetry helped create a connection to his poetry and that his vocal inflections gave her a clear sense of his work.
“As writers, we have to realize that our work may not be received in the way we initially thought,” Sartoris said. “Hearing him read his own work was truly insightful.”
Akbar explained that as a poet, it is his job to help people discover their own sense of wonder in their life and to metaphorically build architecture around their own wonder in their writing as well.
“We do that with trees [and] with stones and we also see it [wonder] in grief. We also do that with romantic love. We continuously say it is vital that we have the capacity to love each other or it is wild that people die and we don’t know what happens,” Akbar said. “So exploring and discovering wonder is the core of my entire interest in art in general.”
Both Childers and Sartoris said that it was an incredible honor to be able to experience the Kellogg Writers Series here at UIndy. They said that having the opportunity to meet other authors and experience their work is important.
“Not many people get to experience that,” Sartoris said. “Having the Kellogg Writers Series on campus is incredibly important and I just really want to see more. I just want to thank Akbar for taking the time to come here and speak with us…”
The next reading in the Kellogg Writers Series will be on Apr. 4 at 7:30 p.m. and feature poet David Tomas Martinez.