Poet David Yezzi comes to ‘Boro

Thursday, October 4th, 2018 at 9:09 AM

Poet David Yezzi visited Edinboro University on Thursday, Sept. 27, to do a reading of his work, spanning the elegiac to the dramatic. 

A professor at John Hopkins University, Yezzi has released 10 books and dozens of poetic works through publishers such as Carnegie Mellon University Press and Nemean Lion Press.  

Dr. Robert Hass welcomed everyone to the event while alumnus Raven Jones (class of 2017) introduced Yezzi with a short speech. 

During the event, Reeder Hall’s lower level was standing room only. Allegheny College’s English students and professors were also in attendance that evening for the event. 

The reading began with elegies, “to keep things light” laughed Yezzi. His first elegy was for Prince and was called “Dying the day Prince Died,” and the poem demonstrated the idea of how artists’ deaths may be more meaningful and moving than people we actually know in our lives dying. 

Yezzi read another elegy, titled “The Call,” before moving on to “Dirty Dan,” an elegy via dramatic monologue.  

“The Good News,” was then read, a poem that presents the idea of the “zero-sum game” that gets played when someone has good news and you don’t. 

Yezzi’s work is very much inspired by his surroundings, and he has lived in New York City, San Francisco, and now Baltimore. His book, “Black Sea,” is named after where Ovid was exiled and is inspired by the feelings of homesickness and wildness Ovid wrote of to Rome. Yezzi read the dark and solemn poems “Night Blind and “Living Room,” the latter of which is about his neighborhood in Baltimore from “Black Sea.” 

The end of the reading wrapped up with “Low Ceiling,” a poem inspired by driving anxiety and bad weather, and finally “Marina in Nervi,” a newer poem that Yezzi has been working on about Marina Tsvetaeva, a Russian poet. This piece is another dramatic monologue, written in Tsvetaeva’s voice and inspired by her life, which is part of a larger collection of work of this theme that Yezzi has been working on. 

Yezzi then led a short Q&A session for the remaining time he was there. 

The first question was, “How much research did you do for the poem, ‘Marina in Nervi?’” To which Yezzi replied: “An annoying amount! The biggest difference between writing fictional characters and historical characters is that I don’t want them saying anything that would be wrong — that they wouldn’t say or indicate a fact about them that wasn’t actually true to life.” 

Another question relating to that process was asked: “What drew you to that particular person?” 

“Marina Tsvetaeva? Well, I had always loved her poems!” said Yezzi. “I had a professor in graduate school who had translated some of her work and got me interested in her work. Tsvetaeva is a gorgeous lyric poet and of a particular moment that is also kind of amazing and sort of influenced by symbolist poetry, as so many people were at the time. Russian filmmaker Andrei Tarkovsky’s father was a poet. If you know his film ‘The Mirror,’ then you’ve heard some of Tarkovsky’s poems. She was friends with some really interesting 20th century poets,” continued Yezzi. 

He went on to explain some more personal inspiration for writing about Tsvetaeva. “Even when you’re talking through the most distant character voice, for me at least, there has to be a sort of emotional, personal key at the center of it....A personal experience I relate to, because like so many writers I have a kind of deep narcissistic tendency (crowd laughs) and only am sort of happy when I write about myself. But at the same time, I don’t want to be too forthright or bald about that, so when I write about other people, it gives the impression that I’m very selfless and have great negative capability. I think there’s something about me that’s at stake, that’s being worked out, and it needs that. If it doesn’t have that, it can go kind of stale and flat.” 

Dr. Paul Rovang commented on the title of Yezzi’s book “Black Sea” and brought forth some history of Ovid and discussion of Rome. 

For the final question, Yezzi was asked about his muse. “I’m writing a book review right now for a new biography of Robert Graves, and he wrote an amazing book in the 20th century called ‘The White Goddess’ and it’s all about the muse! The muse sounds so kind of dusty, remote and make-believe that it’s damned off, but there is something psychologically urgent about the muse, and inspiration, and where it comes to and what one owes to it. I think artists feel a sort of reverence and mystery towards whatever that condition is where you can emerge from a session of work having understood or expressed something that you didn’t know before. And that can be kind of shocking. It’s like, that isn’t something I knew or have experienced. It’s those little moments, rare moments of discovery in language, that is what it’s all about. So much of it is frustration or humiliation and rejection and defeat, but if you make a little discovery, you’ve expanded your realm of experience in life and that seems to be the muse for me,” stated Yezzi. 

For a full interview regarding music, Yezzi’s writing beginnings and advice, visit edinboronow.com. 

Livia Homerski can be reached at ae.spectator@gmail.com.

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