Award-winning poet headlines university Fall Poetry Series

Category:  The Arts
Friday, October 18th, 2019 at 11:10 AM
Award-winning poet headlines university Fall Poetry Series by Hazel Modlin
John Balaban was the featured poet in the university's Fall Poetry Series. | Photo: Hazel Modlin

Reeder Hall was packed.

Students and faculty alike flocked to the lecture hall to enjoy a fall poetry reading by two-time National Book Award nominee and Academy of American Poets award winner John Balaban at 7 p.m. on Oct. 10.

Balaban is a poet from North Carolina with a wide range of accomplishments. He graduated with a bachelor’s degree in English from Penn State University, while then going on to study English literature at Harvard where he received his master’s.

While he was completing his education at Harvard, he became a conscious objector of the Vietnam War, going so far as to travel to a university in Vietnam until it was bombed.

His time spent in that country has inspired much of the poetry he writes, some of which make up collections of Vietnamese pieces. One of the books he chose to showcase at the reading was actually a collection of Vietnamese oral poetry called “Ca Dao.”

He also transcribes Vietnamese poetry into English. He believes the obligations of transcription are as follows: “[You] have to make it sound as powerful in English as it sounds in its original language.”

In addition to being a poet, he’s also the founder and president of the Vietnamese Nôm Preservation Foundation. The organization was originally founded in fear that 1,000 years worth of Vietnamese heritage in poetry, medicine, history and religion was about to die as a result of the Vietnam War. The erasure did not occur as predicted, but the foundation is still working to preserve aspects of Vietnamese culture for future study.

In Balaban’s displayed poems, he used vivid descriptions, synecdoche, epigraphs and other literary devices. He currently has 13 books published, two of which he read aloud during the reading: excerpts from “Empires” and “Ca Dao Việtnam: Vietnamese Folk Poetry.” He touched on many topics that most writers tend to shy away from, including the Vietnam War, climate change and racism. In this selection, he hopes his readers are able to walk away from his poetry with the recurring themes of love and mutual respect in their heads.

Dr. Robert Hass, a professor from Edinboro’s English and Philosophy Department, organized the night.

When asked how he finds a speaker for the annual poetry event, Hass explained: “Most of the poets we host come out of friendship. I have built up a relatively large network over the years.” Balaban worked as a professor at Penn State and actually taught Hass.

As the reading came to a close, many of those in attendance surrounded the stage to ask Balaban more about his work or purchase one of his books.

More information can be found at

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