Arts & Culture / Mosaic / October 2, 2008

Poet inspired by New Mexico landscape

The first Caxton Club sponsored reading of the year featured poet Ray Gonzalez, who read from a variety of his work on Friday, Sept. 6 in the Alumni Room in Old Main. Earlier in the day, Gonzalez discussed his poetry with students in various English classes.

Gonzalez, the author of nine books of poetry and editor of 12 anthologies, read 15 poems from a wide range of stages in his career.

Gonzalez introduced each poem with some background about its setting or meaning. Gonzalez said the idea for the poem “Hit the Floor” came from an exercise he did with his students at the University of Minnesota. In the exercise, Gonzalez asked them to write about their earliest memories. Another poem he read, “The Eagle in the Ashes,” was inspired by a dream.

Much of Gonzalez’s work is set in the southwest, and reflects his personal experiences. Gonzalez said he draws a lot of inspiration from southern New Mexico, rather than tourist areas, such as Santa Fe. Many of his poems, including “Falling into a Face” are set in these “desolate” areas of New Mexico.

Freshman Zoe Foote said, “It was nice that he gave some background information about each poem. It made it easier to put everything into context.”

Gonzalez has also authored short story books and non-fiction. Throughout the reading Gonzalez talked about the different phases of his literary career.

“Although I write essays, I can never turn my back on poetry,” he said.

Gonzalez also discussed the different forms of poetry he employs.

“I can’t get away from writing prose poems. These come out very quickly, but good old traditional stanza poems call me back,” he said.

English professor Gina Franco, who sponsored the reading, said she had wanted to bring Gonzalez to Knox for while. Franco said she is drawn to Gonzalez because of his affinity for prose poetry.

Senior Scott Offutt, a veteran of Caxton Club readings, said that Gonzalez’s was “the most enriching reading I’ve been to at this school.” He said he normally has a hard time interpreting poems in such a short amount of time, but that Gonzalez’s poems were “crystal clear.”

English Professor Beth Marzoni echoed Offutt’s positive sentiments.

“You know you are in the presence of a good poet when you still think about his poems days later,” she said.

Marzoni described Gonzalez’s poetry as “dreamlike and haunting.”

Foote also said she enjoyed the imagery in his poems.

“I appreciated the way he used language; the poems could put a clear image in my head,” she said.

Jenna Temkin

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