Pulitzer Prize Winning Poet Vijay Seshadri Visits CLC, Fall 2016

Quote of the Day: As Poet Vijay Seshadri introduced his poem “Road Trip,” he said it is about that impulse you have to run away from it all. “I feel that,” he said, “About three times a day, but only six days out of the week.” The poem takes you on a road trip down the coast, along the shores of the ocean, where the poet describes the scene, Look at the clouds, look how close they are. I think poetry teaches you to take a closer look.

What a great honor it was to have Pulitzer Prize Winning Poet Vijay Seshadri visiting us here in the Brainerd lakes area for a reading at Central Lakes College. English instructor Jeff Johnson has taken on the task of writing grants to bring in the top poets of our nation, and the attendance at yesterday’s reading prove the community’s appreciation. The house was packed and overflowing. We were met at the door by the usher who was guiding people to a satellite room where they would be projecting the event. Fortunately, Jeff had reserved seats for us. 

Vijay Seshadri and Jeff Johnson, poetry reading at Central Lakes College, Verse like Water series, Fall 2016
Vijay Seshadri and Jeff Johnson, poetry reading at Central Lakes College, Verse like Water series, Fall 2016

When I listen to poetry readings like this, I know I won’t catch every word. It is one of the few times I take notes as I listen because so much comes at me at once. I pull out the words and phrases, the introductions to the piece, the comments from the poet. This time, I relaxed about it even more. Perhaps it’s because Seshadri has such a pleasant, soothing voice, like a grandpa reading the grandkids a bedtime story. And, yet, there are surprises, a few colorful words that made the crowd giggle, especially the high school students that were in the audience. I decided that when I listen to poetry readings like this, I don’t need to catch every word and nuance. I can sit back and listen to the cadence and flow of the verse. Verse like Water, as Jeff has named this series of visiting poets to our little college near the Mississippi River, in the heart of lakes country.

Overflow audience for Verse like Water reading by Pulitzer Prize Winning Poet Vijay Seshadri, Fall 2016, Central Lakes College.
Overflow audience for Verse like Water reading by Pulitzer Prize Winning Poet Vijay Seshadri, Fall 2016, Central Lakes College.

Seshadri threw out the word ephemeral. I paused a moment, trying to put it in context. He was referring to a poem he challenged himself to write about being in the moment called “This Morning.” And, although it sounds like the things he observed that particular morning, he confessed to us that when he sat down in front of his computer, nothing really happened, so he made most of it up. Ephemeral is the concept of things being transitory, existing only briefly. The picture on Wikipedia shows a drawing in the sand, slowing being erased by a wave of water. It goes on explain the word as “a quality caused by the ebb and flow of the crowd’s concentration on the performance and a reflection of the nostalgic character of specific performances. Because different people may value the passage of time differently, the concept of ephemerality is a relative one.” That’s the feeling I had of being in the audience for this reading! You can buy the book and read the words to yourself, or out loud to a partner, but it will never be the same as hearing the poet himself first introduce the poem, set the mood, and hear it from his own voice, alongside an audience of multi-age and interest in poetry. 

Vijay Seshadri, like most gifted poets, takes out the magnifying glass and gives us clarity about the small things in life, and flips it around to give us manageable slices of the big things. His poem, “Bright copper Kettles” is a reflection on grief, and the first line is “Dead friends coming back to life.” The title comes from the famous song from The Sound of Music, and inspired by John Cotrane’s cover and interpretation of it. You can hear the poet reading it on his page on The Poetry Foundation website.

Thank you to Jeff Johnson for all the work you put into bringing these famous poets to the Brainerd lakes area, and for inviting me to the brunch meet & greet, and reserving a place for me in the audience. It is truly an inspiring event, ephemeral, yet lingering long in my psyche like the strains of beautiful music.

A few photos from our visit by Vijay Seshadri. You can see more on my Facebook page for Play off the Page.

Vijay Seshadri and some of the faculty at Central Lakes College, Fall 2016
Vijay Seshadri and some of the faculty at Central Lakes College, Fall 2016
It was Bring your Twins to the poetry reading day!
It was Bring your Twins to the poetry reading day!
Poet Vijay Seshadri had a book signing after the reading. Several local poets came to meet him, hear him read, and buy his Pulitzer Prize Winning book 3 Sections.
Poet Vijay Seshadri had a book signing after the reading. Several local poets came to meet him, hear him read, and buy his Pulitzer Prize Winning book 3 Sections.
Karen Lundblad proudly displaying her copy of 3 Sections by Vijay Seshadri
Karen Lundblad proudly displaying her copy of 3 Sections by Vijay Seshadri
CLC faculty members Adam and Heidi with Pulitzer Prize Winning Poet Vijay Seshadri, Fall 2016.
CLC faculty members Adam and Heidi with Pulitzer Prize Winning Poet Vijay Seshadri, Fall 2016.

Go. Create. Inspire!

And, thank you, Vijay Seshadri, for visiting our little spot in the world.

Journaling Prompt: If you were to “get away from it all” for a weekend, where would you go?

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