On Thursday, March 24, the Smith Chapel hosted the annual Behrend Reads event, in which faculty from the Creative Writing and English programs read some of their own recent work. Every year, I wonder what they are going to read, and every year they get better. The panel generally consists of two poets, two nonfiction writers, and two fiction writers from our talented staff here at Behrend.
Dr. Gregory Morris, professor of English, read a piece of nonfiction that pertained to his early school days. It was as full of wisdom as it was very funny at points, and he covered just about everything from The Lone Rangers to King Lear. Listening to his creative nonfiction is great, because you can relate to what he’s writing about: the nature of youth and their perceptions. When he mentioned how his music teacher was trying to conduct a production of King Lear with third graders, I couldn’t help but near burst into laughter.
Professor Eugene Cross, professor of Creative Writing specializing in fiction, read a haunting story about a wrestler. Some high school guys are trying to give a scare to other high school girls. Whether or not the rest of the boys want to accept it, this rather socially awkward wrestler joins their group, and he has a plan that none of them will be able to forget. This story was as intensely haunting as it was extremely similar from the characterization provided.
Dr. Elizabeth Fogle, professor of English, read from a few of her poems, as well. Her poetry is like a modern but feminine trip into the mythological. So many of her poems deal with mythology, and she emphasizes the female characters that were lost or not recognized along the way. Her stanzas are as poetic as they are filled with story and bold description.
Following her was Dr. Kim Todd, professor in Creative Writing specializing in Nonfiction. Dr. Todd decided to expand on a previous reading that she gave at last year’s Behrend Reads event. Amidst the many changes she made to the original, I think her greatest improvement was changing the perspective. The piece still revolves around a young biologist, but if I remember correctly she used different descriptors in her first draft. While she used many biological descriptions in the first draft, it seemed that in this new draft, she focused much more on descriptions in nature. She expanded her topic to include the possibility of singing mice, and while it was obviously a funny aspect, it seemed real in her telling of it.
Dr. George Looney also read some of his poetry. As I failed to mention in dealing with Dr. Fogle’s poetry, it’s really hard to describe poetry outside of the poems themselves. In attempt to describe his readings, they were haunting and mesmerizing. In the poetry that I have read by Dr. Looney, he always seems almost mystical in tone, but bold where necessary. Much of the poetry he read acts within the loom between death, mortality, and the everyday fog that bands the two called life. He read some great new material and one of his older works, now finalized.
Lastly, Dr. Tom Noyes rounded out the reading with three pieces. The first two were flash fiction including a piece dedicated to Governor Corbett entitled “The Bitter Librarian Ties One On.” His words were as traced with truth as they were hilarity, mocking Corbett skillfully throughout. His last reading was a longer story dealing with the nature of ghosts and death itself. He had told of how he had been to a city that was supposedly still burning underground today. The fiction he read that followed was edge-of-your-seat. I don’t know if people generally think of books as edge-of-your-seat reads, but this story included what’s perceived to be the figure of Death, dragging a victim through the burning streets. His imagery and descriptions in the last story he read was haunting on somewhat similar terms as Joyce Carol Oates’ earlier short fiction, if I had to compare it to someone.
This year’s Behrend Reads event was amazingly thought-provoking, and as I haven’t missed on yet in my college career, I’m sure I won’t miss the next.