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Professors share published work

04/20/2010
By:

Jeff Nowak

Staff Writer

Already the author of five published books, Steve Almond likes to get under your skin, because once something is under your skin you have to do something about it. At least that’s what Tim Parrish, Southern English professor and coordinator of creative writing said of Almond, in his introduction at a public reading last Thursday.

“He’s highly entertaining,” said Parrish. “He’s been to Southern twice before. Once he gave a reading and another time he just visited classes.”

Almond joined Southern English professor Jeff Mock, who read several poems, including some from
his new book of poetry “Ruthless,” published in December 2009.

Mock said he would try to read some “disheartening and utterly discouraging” poems in honor of the long tradition of “sober, solemn, sullen, melancholy, morose poets.”

Mock began with the first poem from “Ruthless,” titled “Soirée for Socrates.”

“In case you haven’t met [Socrates] personally,” said Mock in his deep, serious tone, “they didn’t like him.”

Other poems read by Mock were “Self Portrait as a Noxious Weed,” “Bloodberry Jam,” “Hummingbird,” and the poem that brought eruptions of laughter from the audience, “Self Portrait Running With Scissors.”

This poem, of which Mock was the subject, involved Mock, “living life to its most reckless fulfillment,” and running with scissors. Mock, in the poem, runs around his house and out through his neighbor’s yard with reckless abandon and what turns out to be dull, gator-toothed scissors.

“When the police cruiser passes by, Jeff Mock sees and whispers, ‘danger is my business,’” said Mock to applause and laughter.

As Mock finished his readings, Almond stepped to the podium and began the introduction to his own readings from his newest book “Rock and Roll Will Save Your Life.”

Almond said it’s “wonderful” reading after poets because they usually depress everyone, which in turn makes him seem quite comical.

“But in fact Jeff’s a very funny poet,” said Almond, “so this might be really depressing.”

Almond chose to play music while he read his excerpts, which he said was to distract people from how bad the writing was. Almond began with his belief that everyone is born with the “basic tools to become rock stars.”

“Making or rendering of popular songs is more a matter of determination than aptitude,” said Almond. “The central allure of American Idol, a show I have not actually seen, resides in the powerful fantasy that a divine voice lurks within all of us, ready to obliterate all of our liabilities and doubts, and transform us into the rock stars we know ourselves to be.”

Almond played, and humorously analyzed several songs, including Lynyrd Skynyrd’s “Sweet Home Alabama,” AC/DC’s “Back in Black,” and MC Hammer’s “U Can’t Touch This.”

Almond read how he, at age 19, worked as a music critic.

“I was dispatched by my hometown newspaper to write a review of Bob Dylan,” said Almond, “despite the fact that I had no musical training and did not know who Bob Dylan was.”

Almond continued from there and finished with his eventful and drug-influenced 700-mile trip to Graceland.

Matt McGarry, a junior English and philosophy major, said the two readings were a lot funnier than he expected.

“They didn’t really sugarcoat anything.” said McGarry. “A lot of the examples were great, and they just had a certain way of describing things in a really raw funny, controversial way, without stepping over the line.”

After the readings concluded, Mock and Almond stayed to sign copies of their books, which were on sale at the event.

“I can’t be the rock star that Steve was talking about,” said Mock, “but the readings are fun.”

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