Poetry is both versatile and utilitarian, a poet told the crowd at his lecture last Friday.
Dean Rader, a professor of English at the University of San Francisco, headlined the premier of the fall 2013 edition of the Jimson Weed Thursday evening and delivered a lecture entitled “Can Poetry do Anything? And if So, What?” Friday in the Chapel of All Faiths.
Rader transitioned through his lecture by reading selections from his own and other’s poetry, both serious and light. Rader said the range of the poetry showed just how many uses poetry has.
“I think poetry is really versatile,” Rader said. “It’s utilitarian. You can use it. I think it can actually help people. I think in these times where we have less and less time they’re perfect. It’s short. It’s mobile. It’s quick.”
Rader said he first developed a passion for poetry working on a reading assignment in college.
“I was in our cafeteria and I opened it up and there was James Wright poems on one side, and W.S. Merwin poems on the other and I remember reading those poems and I felt like the cafeteria was literally moving away from me like I was sliding back,” he said. “I had this real feeling of this expanding universe. I remember thinking if there is that kind of stuff out there in the world, what else is there?”
Rader said poetry just had a different substance to it than other mediums.
“I felt more moved by poetry than I did by fiction, so I then started thinking, ‘I wonder if I can do that?,” Rader said. “I thought, ‘If it’s this much fun reading I wonder if I could write it.”
Rader said that his entry into poetry yielded a lot of bad poems initially, and that it took time to hone his craft. He admitted that even today not all of them are winners, and if he writes 12 poems in a year he thinks maybe three or four are even good.
Rader said while there is bad poetry out there it does all have its place.
“I don’t care if it’s good poetry or bad poetry. I don’t know what’s at stake on if something is good or bad,” Rader said. “I don’t care if people read poems that I think are bad, clichéd or whatever.”
Rader said he encourages students to dive into the world of poetry. He said there’s something out there for everyone, but he does understand that the initial dive is often the most difficult part.
Rader said a few good starting places online are poets.org, poetryfoundation.org, thebestamericanpoetry.com and The Writers Almanac with Garrison Keillor.
Rader said that while most good readers of poetry due tend to be poets or become poets, one size doesn’t fit all and everyone and everything has its place.
“I think increasingly as our world becomes more complex and technical the world is going to need people that are comfortable with language,” he said. “People are going to need writers to help explain the world to them. I think poetry is great vehicle for that.”
For more information about Dean Rader or to check out his work, students should visit www.deanrader.com.