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Students and faculty packed into McCormack Family Theater Thursday evening for a special poetry reading by Keith Waldrop, professor of literary arts. "The more we look at his poems, the more the enchantment," said Forrest Gander, professor of literary arts and comparative literature, as he introduced Waldrop to the anxiously-awaiting audience.

Waldrop is the winner of the 2009 National Book Award for poetry for his book "Transcendental Studies: A Trilogy," which includes three poem sequences: "Shipwreck in Haven," "Falling in Love through a Description" and "The Plummet of Vitruvius," according to the Literary Arts Department's website. He is also the author of other books including "The House Seen from Nowhere" and "Several Gravities."

Though he is listed as Bernard Waldrop in the Brown directory, Waldrop goes by the name of "Keith," which he found in a book called "What to Name the Baby."

"‘Keith' meant ‘wind.' I thought it was curious," he said.

Thursday night's reading is part of the Writers on Writing course and event series offered by the Literary Arts Department.

Waldrop started the reading with some of his early poems and ended with newer ones, bringing smiles and laughter to the room with his amusing commentary.

He began with a piece from the late 1960s called "Conversion," which explains his idea of change. "There was always someone trying to convert me one way or another," Waldrop said, introducing the poem.

"Reality is what does not change — i.e., reality is what does not exist," he read, followed by laughter.

Waldrop explained that, once he started writing, he soon began a habit of picking out books, choosing words and phrases from the text and erasing them.

"I took a sentence every 100 pages," he said. An example of this is one of his poems, "an abridgment on Tolstoy's ‘War and Peace,'" he said.

Waldrop read another one of his early poems, which was written as a letter to his wife, Rosmarie Waldrop. The poem was written in the 1970s while the Waldrops were separated in Europe. In the poem, Keith tells Rosmarie that they are both "fallen between two generations: one drunk, one stoned."

Waldrop also read from his award-winning "Transcendental Studies: A Trilogy." "Transcendental Studies" uses "a great deal of other texts" in a collage style. "Flat. Dimmed. Everything tastes the same," he read, from his poem "Apparent Motion." A white page "turns red, the letters green."

Waldrop explained the start of "Transcendental Studies: A Trilogy," which began when he was appointed director of the graduate program in literary arts. He found that after several months, he "wasn't writing anything," he said. Waldrop said he decided to reserve midnight as a time to write, a time when "Brown disappears."

This was a difficult task for Waldrop as he could not forget about Brown. "The more you try to forget something, the more it's there," he said.

"So I got a batch of books. I took three books of three different kinds and put phrases down from each," he said. He then worked until he formed stanzas from these phrases, and when that become tiresome — which was "very soon," he said — he would "take it, type it up and rearrange it alphabetically."

"I love the alphabet," Waldrop said, in response to a student question about the order of "Transcendental Studies."

"I eventually had a book," he said.

The audience seemed to particularly enjoy these explanations of Waldrop's creative process.

"I usually like when he narrates how a poem came to be," said Andrea Actis GS, a third-year graduate student in English.

The Writers on Writing class operates in two-week cycles. During the first week, students read and discuss work by a writer, and the following week that writer presents his or her work to the class and answers questions.

"We invited eight readers this year, only one — Keith Waldrop — is Brown faculty. Each time the class is taught we invite a faculty member from the Literary Arts program to participate as a way to familiarize students with that professor's work, potentially offering them a new view of that person," Renee Gladman, assistant professor of literary arts, wrote in an e-mail to The Herald.

"The other seven we choose together, looking at the entire literary field, looking for writers in various stages of their careers, who we think are exciting, with a lot to offer, whose books we think will give students something to walk away with," she wrote.

Waldrop ended the reading with ten short poems entitled "And Poems," followed by a question and answer session.

When questioned about the reoccurrence in his poetry of words such as "gardens" and "walls,"  Waldrop said the image of walls "is something that is important to me."

Students also questioned Waldrop on his methods of writing.

"I always tell my students what Gertrude Stein said: ‘You need to write everyday.' I don't do it, and I'm sure she didn't do it either. Whatever I write is usually done after midnight, and I'm not sure why that is," he said.

Waldrop closed the discussion by explaining the change in his writing over time. "The early points were conversational poems. The poems sound as if I'm talking to someone in the same room," he said. "The poems get somewhat formal after that."


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