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Professor's latest book of poetry
addresses love in its many forms
Dec. 6, 2013
In “Sweet Crude,” his eighth and latest book of poetry, Professor of English Randy Blasing writes about two trees that have dotted the landscape of his experiences. In the second of the two poems that make up “Two Trees From My Past Life,” he writes about an olive tree where he sat each afternoon and “waited for something in the air to enter me / & march my Uni-Ball Vision Elite / the azure of the sea across scored paper / to tell me what I felt.”
These lines, though specific to a certain time and place, indubitably echo Blasing’s philosophy about the power and purpose of poetry – and certainly what attracted him to the art. On another, rainier afternoon, this time in his office CCRI’s Flanagan Campus in Lincoln, Blasing recalls how he came to succumb to the “curse” of writing poetry in the first place.
“I can still remember in high school saying that what poetry does is preserve the feelings that I have. My poems are really in memory of my feelings. And for some reason, that meant something to me. Feelings aren’t big in society; you’re supposed to hide them, keep them to yourself. And poetry does what society at large isn’t too keen on your doing,” he said.
Hearing him speak of poetry this way, it’s no surprise that Blasing identifies primarily as a love poet. For “Sweet Crude,” he said he wanted to take a different approach to the building of the book, noting that it was the first time he went into making a collection with a plan and a title before all else.
The title, a playful contrast, perfectly captures the essence of the bulk of the poetry in this volume, which contains love in its myriad forms: a father’s love for his son, a man’s love for a friend now gone from the world and, of course, the love shared by two people in the quiet dark of privacy.
“I wanted to write love poems that were not frilly or strictly romantic, but also down-to-earth. Crude, if you will,” he said. “But I don’t use any four-letter words. The only one I use is ‘love.’”
Blasing has been relying on literature and poetry to help him find the space for that expression his whole life long, and now works to impart those values to his students. Although his father, who had to give up on his own dream of medical school during the Great Depression, would have rather had him become a doctor, Blasing chose instead to cut his own path, studying first at Carleton College in his native Minnesota and then going on to graduate school in Chicago.
After teaching at the College of William and Mary in Virginia, he came to CCRI in 1969, where he’s been teaching poetry, creative writing and contemporary literature classes in addition to pursuing his own creative work.
He said there’s always been a healthy student response to his classes, where enrollment is always high. In Blasing’s classes, students are expected to complete high-level work, and he reaps the rewards along with them. “My reward is seeing people whose eyes are opened, people who are discovering a world that they had no idea existed,” he said.
It’s no doubt that Blasing’s sense of emotional adventurism is part of what draws these students in year after year. By encouraging his students to delve into life-changing literary realms, Blasing knows that he’s teaching them values that transcend limitations.
“You learn what it’s like to be in someone else’s shoes by reading poems, stories and novels. It teaches you sympathy for other people’s situations – and not just along the lines of politics, or race or gender. It’s just about what it feels to be a human being. It cuts against loneliness. Such work is essential to being an educated person, because you are a person who has gone places that other people haven’t gone if other people haven’t read those poems or stories or novels,” he said.
For his part, in addition to teaching, Blasing has done much to promote the empathetic literary form that he jokingly refers to as an “airplane conversation killer.” He’s translated nine books of poetry with a Turkish scholar from Brown University, published 45 books as the editor of Copper Beech Press and, of course, written eight books of his own.
At noon on Wednesday, Dec. 11, he will read from his latest book at the 30th anniversary reading of the Galway Kinnell Poetry Series in Room 1336 at the Flanagan Campus. Blasing, who has curated all 59 of the series’ previous poets (among them Nobel laureate Seamus Heaney and five Pulitzer Prize winners) said he feels fortunate to be a part of such storied company. “It’s a wonderful series,” he said. “Hands down, no other school in Rhode Island has a series close to what we have.”
Blasing’s reading, and all the readings in the series, are free and open to the public.
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