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all self-deprecation aside...

i'm a poet who knows that poetry ain't that big a market. i poke fun at myself for wanting to be a poet, wanting to get an mfa in poetry, wanting to make a career out of this stuff. cuz i know poetry is hard.

1) poetry is hard to write, because if you pick the wrong word, or form, or punctuation mark, just one little mistake, can make the whole work fall apart.

2) poetry is hard to love cuz it can be hard to understand. of course, it's being hard to understand (and therefore hard to love) goes back to #1, picking the wrong work, or form, or punctuation mark, something that is not exactly suited to stating what the poet is trying to state or evoking the reaction the poet is trying to evoke.

poetry is not hard cuz it's irrelevant. when folks think of love, they often think of poetry. when folks think of religion, they often think of poetry - all those holy books contain a large amount of poetry. and so on. all the big things in life have poetry attached to it, but that unfortunately makes poetry seem like it's too big to be enjoyed by mere mortals at normal times.

so i was pretty well thrilled when i found this little gem of an article about poetry in a place one might not expect.

Making poetry safe for engineers
Georgia Tech students encounter new discipline

The Atlanta Journal-Constitution
Published on: 09/24/2006

Poetry at Tech.

Say it slowly, rhythmically, without irony.

Poetry at Georgia Tech.

Amid all the courses in bioinformatics and global economics, algorithms, combinatorics and optimization — look it up — the next generation of engineers and computer scientists is reading, even writing, poetry.

That makes perfect sense to Wayne Clough, president of Georgia Tech and a Ph.D. in civil engineering.

"The pursuit of science and technology is just as creative a process as poetry and the arts," Clough says. "Both require intensely creative people who can think outside the box, look at the same things everyone else sees and imagine something more, and put the pieces together in new ways."

For alumni who still might be wary of such right-brain activities, Thomas Lux, director of the Poetry at Tech program, offers a presentation every year called "Engineering a Poem."

"We're trying to diminish the stereotype of the poet as some dreamy bozo who wanders around and then all of a sudden gets struck by inspiration," says Lux. "Poems are made things. They have everything to do with intense emotions ... but poems are made things. They don't just happen."

Lux, 59, is an unlikely character on the Tech campus, a self-described "literary oddball" among engineering scholars. A native of Massachusetts, the longhaired son of a dairy farmer and a Sears & Roebuck switchboard operator taught for 25 years at Sarah Lawrence College in Bronxville, N.Y., where "everyone was an oddball."

In 2001, Lux came to Tech as a visiting professor and found himself permanently lured by the newly endowed Henry C. and Margaret Bourne Chair in Poetry (which he holds), a good college baseball team (which allowed him to sit in the dugout and watch games) and Deep South winters.

Lux is something of a rarity in academia in that he has no advanced degree. After earning a bachelor's in English from Emerson College, he became poet-in-residence there and published his first full-length book of poetry in 1972. He has published more than a dozen books since, including the 2004 collection "The Cradle Place," and won numerous awards, including the prestigious Kingsley Tufts Poetry Award for his 1994 collection, "Split Horizon." (An unpublished poem of his, "A Clearing, a Meadow, in Deep Forest," accompanies this story.)

"Writing is my job," Lux says. "This is my profession, teaching, but writing is my job."

Soft-spoken and self-deprecating in conversation, Lux virtually ignites in front of a crowd. He is a showman and a salesman, a pop star among poets.

"There is nothing more stultifying than a bad poetry reading," Lux says, shaking his head. "There is nothing more painful."

He uses every weapon in his teaching arsenal. In one recent class, for instance, he drew comparisons between hip-hop lyrics and the work of 19th-century poet Gerard Manley Hopkins.

And unlike many academics, he is quick to embrace all the self-styled poets of spoken word and slam fame.

"I give them a great deal of credit for bringing poetry back to its roots," Lux says. "They're always clear, their poems are lucid, they have no interest in obscurity or obfuscation. They're one of the main reasons the audience for poetry is growing."

In poetry, as in all the arts nowadays, growing an audience is paramount. In Lux's five years at Tech, 73 major poets have visited the campus near downtown Atlanta, beginning with a blockbuster bill of Billy Collins, Rita Dove, Lucille Clifton and Stephen Dobyns in the fall of 2002.

More than 1,200 people showed up for that event at the Ferst Center for the Arts, and the core audience has expanded exponentially in the four years since. Poetry at Tech sponsors five or six big reading events a year, open to the public, and typically all seats are filled, with latecomers taking positions on the floor, leaning against walls, wherever they can fit.

Every semester, 30 to 40 Tech students take a poetry class, and Lux's office — a compact little corner of the Skiles Classroom Building on the east side of campus — is open for individual conferences with any student who asks.

And on Saturdays every spring, Lux and company — including visitors the likes of Collins and Dobyns — offer free workshops to 15 aspiring poets in the community.

"It is quite a bargain," says Travis Denton, associate director of Poetry at Tech and editor of the literary magazine Terminus. "A lot of places charge quite a bit for a full day like this."

Community outreach has been a component of Poetry at Tech since the beginning and has grown to include workshops in public schools throughout metro Atlanta.

"We will go to any school that asks for us," says Denton, who is looking to push the program to the next logical level, exploring ways to attract an ever-younger, ever more multimedia audience.

"Poetry is a human thing," says Lux. "I never understood how it got usurped into an elitist thing — something you had to be initiated into and only a small group of people were smart enough to get it."

He sees the pendulum swinging back, with poetry being less of "a riddle, something to be solved," and much more inclusive and open to easy — or at least painless — interpretation.

"There are all kinds of poetry," Lux says. "If something is good, it will stick around. That's just a fact of history. If something is not good, it will dry up ... "

Long, long pause for dramatic effect.

"And it will blow away."


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