Last Thursday, the Branson Hall Theater on East Campus was filled with people who came to hear Ann Lauterbach read her poems. A discussion session with Lauterbach on Friday at East Duke building followed the event.
Organized by the English and Gender, Sexuality & Feminist Studies departments, the public reading was a part of the Blackburn Poetry Series, in which the English department invites talented poets and fiction writers every year to read their works and interact with students. This year’s Blackburn reader was Lauterbach.
On Friday, Lauterbach discussed her works with Duke students and faculty, many of whom were aspiring writers and poets. During the session, she introduced her prose works, including “The Given and The Chosen,” a reflection on art and her experiences, and “Counting the Ways,” in which she addresses the relationship between poetry and society.
“She is one of the best poets in English in our current moment,” said Joseph Donahue, chair of the Creative Writing Committee. “I think that got our attention.”
The public reading was Lauterbach’s first performance in the South. Having been Lauterbach’s fans for decades, Donahue and Kimberly Lamm, associate professor of Gender, Sexuality & Feminist Studies, were excited for the event.
Born in New York City, Lauterbach spent most of her life in cities. After graduating from the University of Wisconsin-Madison and Columbia University, Lauterbach moved to London, where she made a career in editing and teaching literature. Returning to the U.S., Lauterbach worked in art galleries until she began to teach.
Unlike some poets, Lauterbach said she did not have a definite source of inspiration for her works.
“I think it [inspiration] is overrated. But I do get words that come toward me for no apparent reason at all,” Lauterbach said. ”It’s like catching dust out of air. And if I’m lucky, I remember the phrase long enough to get to my computer and write it down. If I’m two times lucky, the phrase generates the next phrase.”
However, she said there are some world events which demand response.
“The current world that we are in, even beyond the recent election, the sense of helplessness in these events is huge,” Lauterbach said.
She said her poems are her reactions to those events, and added that she desired not to be polemical but to express her despair through her works. The ones she presented at the public reading were also notable for their references to paintings, music and other literary works.
“I live in a world in which what other artists do is of profound value,” Lauterbach said. “I don’t want my poems to be segregated into a bookshelf that calls itself poetry.”
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Currently teaching in an MFA program that incorporates six disciplines with literary works, she said that she is lucky to be engaged in such an interdisciplinary opportunity. She emphasized that she wanted to interact with a community of active and engaged people.
Talking about the relationship between her poems and prose works, Lauterbach recalled that not so long ago she found her poems turning into essays. She said she loved the ways in which prose gave her different kinds of aptitude, such as more room to move from one topic to another, that poetry did not give.
“I am interested in the associative field of language, so essays are places where that associative field might come more to the surface,” Lauterbach said.
Both the public reading event and the discussion were opportunities for Duke community members to interact with Lauterbach and understand the meanings of her works.
“To me, there are whole years of college that I don’t remember, but I remember when Allen Ginsberg came,” Donahue said after the public reading had ended. “I remember that one day more than the whole courses. It [interaction with writers] is one of the greatest things colleges can give.”