Volume 75, Issue 9
November 7, 2003

Poet Suzanne Cleary shares her work

Gina Ralston

"It is a wonderful thing for a poet to know that they have an audience."

This was one of the sentiments of poet Suzanne Cleary as she visited with Professor Mooney's Living Writers' Poetry students to discuss her book of poems, "Keeping Time", and to give the students some insight into the process of writing poetry.

In the early afternoon, Cleary's audience only consisted of students; however, later in the afternoon she read her poems in the Sophie Kerr Room and there her audience stretched to include anyone in the WC community.

Cleary is the third poet to visit campus this semester as part of the English Department's Living Writers course. Earlier in the semester WC hosted poets Antonio Vallone and W.D. Snodgrass.

The final poet to visit will be H.L. Hix who is scheduled to give a reading on November 20th.

Cleary is originally from Binghamton, New York. She earned her Master of Arts in Writing from Washington University and her Ph.D. from Indiana University of Pennsylvania. She still lives in New York and teaches at SUNY Rockland University in Suffern.

Since her time as an undergraduate, Cleary's poems have appeared in many journals including "Poetry" and the "Massachusetts Review"; however, she was forty-six years old before her first book of poems, "Keeping Time",was published.

Cleary emphasized this point to Professor Mooney's students as a means ofadvising them not to get discouraged with writing and to never lose sight of the beauty of poetry.

"Being a poet is really not about publishing poetry," said Cleary. "What really matters is living the poets life and continuing to love poetry and to read poetry. Feel yourself engaged in a large community of poets."

Even though her poems are personal and seemingly confessional, she does not consider herself a Confessional poet. "I always want my poems to be more interesting than my life," she said.

The students spent a week and a half prior to Cleary's visit reading and discussing her poetry; therefore, their questions for her regarding her work were very specific.

One student asked why she used many questions in her poetry. At the end of her poem "All At Once" Cleary asks: "In the past 24 hours the maple has blossomed, impossibly green. How do the buds know to bud all at once, I've wondered. How does the tree know exactly what to do?"

"I like poems that ask questions," replied Cleary. "I feel a poet opens a door and invites the reader in to wonder about something. I also like the way that questions sound."

Another student asked about her frequent discussion of art in her poems.

"I write poems to show other people my experience. I treasure the experience of standing in front of a painting" Cleary replied.

The students received answers to their many questions during class; however, they had to wait until the 4:30p.m. reading to hear Cleary's poems read in her own voice.

Before beginning her reading before the packed Sophie Kerr Room, Cleary said she felt honored to read at a College with such a great literary tradition and where so many famous authors and poets had visited. The poems that she chose to read were what she called the "anchor" poems of her book. These poems included "Glory," "Bird Figurines," "Tag Sale," and "Acting." She then read three new poems that she is considering including in a new manuscript that she is currently working on.

She read, "Echo Cardiogram," "What Was It," and "Anyways."

Cleary's visit was celebrated and brought to a close with a reception at the Literary House following the reading.

Editor's note: Check out Cleary's poem "Acting" below.