“First, we have a face that’s been rather absent around Kochel as of late. We don’t really know what he’s been doing, just that we haven’t seen him –” began Dr. George Looney, director of the MFA program, at this year’s Behrend Reads event. A shout came from the audience, “Eugene Cross!” and those who understood the reference to the recent departure of Professor Cross burst out in laughter. Dr. Looney was actually introducing the event’s first reader, Dr. Gregory Morris, and after the laughter desisted, he continued “And here instead, you have Eugene Cross’s father, Greg Morris.”
As always, these nights carry a certain level of laughter, fueled by our good-humored MFA and English faculty that Behrend has thankfully retained over the years. Within that laughter however, the audience gets the chance to hear the power of nature, the divide inherent in every day relationships, stunning allegory, and even nostalgia, which all lie within the writing of these professors. Scheduled to read were Dr. Greg Morris, Dr. George Looney, Dr. Kim Todd, Dr. Elizabeth Fogle, Dr. Tom Noyes, and a new face to Behrend this year, Professor Aimee Pogson.
Many of them graciously shared their very recent writing with us, in two cases writing that was written over recent sabbaticals. As some may know, Dr. Noyes took this past Fall off to work on his writing and Dr. Morris has taken the whole year presumably to do the same, a second bit of information needed to understand Dr. Looney’s introduction.
Dr. Morris opened with what he deemed “flash nonfiction,” commenting in part on the nature of analgesic advertisements. Particularly, he focused on one ads use of the phrase, “acre of pain,” and relayed this to a broadened and powerful mental image of pain as an actual crop and commodity.
Following him, stood a new faculty member to the Creative Writing department specializing in fiction, Aimee Pogson. There was something oddly quirky about her story, but the allegory behind it was simply fantastic. Fueled by a discussion between friends about the “white space” in time between events in a book that externalizes itself as a gap or chapter marking, Pogson decided to personify that white space as an actual setting in the middle of a city. Because of the mystery inherent in confronting the unknown as it were, several onlookers and members of the town confess their own theories as to why it’s there, what it is, or what lies inside it. Easily broadened into a kind of riddle pertaining to the writing process itself and the active imagination, her story was as refreshing as it was funny and honest.
After her, Dr. Elizabeth Fogle read a pair of poems in a rather interesting way. They were entitled “The Mechanic I and II.” Both dealt with Medusa as the central character and the position of her dating several different men of different professions. Through a fantastic and poignant language of relationships and humor, Dr. Fogle sheds new light on the previously feared monster whose onlookers turn to stone. In her modernization, she also used a cut-up technique that I found very interesting; separating each poem into three separate readings, each one a little more minimalist in description and shorter in length. This decision added to the poignancy of the poem’s content in cutting the images down to single words in some cases.
Dr. Kim Todd was next in line, reading from her published nonfiction about the Pacific Coast Trail. She narrates a hiking experience with her friend on this Washington trail that’s tinged with rain, the threat of bears, and dueling survival ideologies between her and her friend pertaining to hoisting the food up at night to avoid a bear encounter. One of the many great images of nature that Dr. Todd brings out in her work was one of young girls waking up to bears licking off their strawberry lip gloss.
Then, Dr. Noyes began to read from his newest work that from the sounds of it required a lengthy amount of research. This new project seems to center around the great lakes area, specifically its fishing history and the recent threat of Asian Carp on the native fish and environment. Similar to the quick spread of the sparrow which Dr. Todd read about from her newest book at last week’s reading, Dr. Noyes has focalized the deemed “carnivorous spread” of Asian Carp. He narrates a story of a struggling fisherman and his languorous young fishing hand that shows us the wisdom hidden under the surface in all of our professions and experiences.
Lastly, Dr. Looney read two poems from his upcoming release “Monks Beginning to Waltz” which is set to release for purchase on March 1. The second of the pair was entitled “True North” which painted a glistening image of the heart personified as compass in the beginning and as a convent for nuns by end. Similar to much of Dr. Looney’s work I’ve heard, although these two seemed to have a darker edge, his language is a wondrous shadowy labyrinth that leads the audience from skin to spirit and continuously sheds light on what we think we know about ourselves. With themes of nature, the looming presence of death, and tinged with a sorrowful yet enticing aura, Dr. Looney’s poetic style never ceases to entrance.
Personally, I wanted the event to go on longer or to have it more than once a year, however, it’s great to get this sort of quick look at what these treasured professors are writing about in their own personal work. Since they teach us how to act on the page, we look to their work as a model, and I think there are outstanding voices behind these everyday faces.