English professor offers night of poetry, storytelling

Elin Johnson, Staff writer

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English professor Joe Wilkins began his Wednesday night lecture by jokingly saying, “I don’t do a lot of lectures.”

Indeed, Wilkins’ presentation seemed more like spoken poetry than a traditional lecture format. The first of this semester’s faculty lectures demonstrated the interconnectedness of language and memory in the creation of stories regardless of genre.  

In what was described as a lecture-reading hybrid, Wilkins informed an eager audience about his own journey with language through the realms of fiction, poetry and nonfiction.

Wilkins wove in his own personal experience with his works all while educating the audience about the intrinsic power language and memory have when they intertwine.  

“Much of my poetry as you may have noticed is rooted in memory,” Wilkins said after reading several poems that were based off his own life.  

One of the pieces he read told the story of the land in rural Montana he grew up on. He described how it shaped not only his life but the lives of those around him.

Wilkins described the “slow, psychic violence” a changing, modern lifestyle brought upon the people of that region. Through his work he realistically portrayed a part of the world that is either forgotten or romanticized.

Language, like geography, shapes people early on. Wilkins told the audience about how he spent his formative years finding ways language and the world shaped each other. He advised the audience to listen to the language and see where it fits with the memory.

“Poetry is about the language. Even when it’s about the narrative it’s about the language,” Wilkins stated. He later said that poetry for him was the connection between language and the world.

He went on to outline the differences between poetry, fiction and non-fiction especially when it pertains to language and memory. Wilkins said that non-fiction exemplified the relationship between language and self as it stays loyal to the memory and experiences of the author. He contrasted this to the power of fiction to connect people and make them feel less lonely.

When asked if it was hard for him to transition between genres Wilkins replied “I get bored a little bit easily so it’s important to move around,” he said.

Wilkins said that with most of what he writes he starts by paying attention. That is what he tells his students: pay attention.