The topic of Neil Shepard’s Brown Bag takes its inspiration from the “great-grandparents” of American poetry — Emily Dickinson and Walt Whitman.
But even these literary kin have their differences. According to Shepard, Dickinson famously advised writers to “tell it slant,” meaning to tell the truth with a twist. Whitman, however, struck a more journalistic tone, urging writers to simply “tell it straight.”
“Our grand-forebears, then, have set us on a course ever since,” Shepard said, “tacking between what I’ll call lines of poetry that conceal and lines that reveal.”
Shepard is the Week Nine Chautauqua Writers’ Center poet-in-residence, and he will deliver his Brown Bag, “The Art of Concealing and Revealing in Poetry,” at 12:15 p.m. Tuesday, Aug. 21, on the front porch of the Literary Arts Center at Alumni Hall.
Shepard was most recently a poet-in-residence in 2016, and he has authored multiple poetry collections, including Vermont Exit Ramps and How It Is: Selected Poems.
Shepard is also the editor of an upcoming anthology on poetic craft, which is one of the experiences that inspired his talk.
“I noticed that the arguments in many poets’ essays seemed to center on whether a poem should be accessible and educative — serving a moral, political or ethical purpose — or whether a poem had no other obligation than to experiment and play in the fields of language, (which is) an art-for-art’s-sake aesthetic,” he said.
In this example, the first poem, the one that is accessible and educational, is a poem that reveals itself. Written in “common language,” Shepard said this poem is easily digested and understood.
The other type of poem is “experimental, oblique and perhaps difficult in its unfolding,” he said, denoting a poem that conceals itself.
But rather than attempt to “champion one poem or the other,” Shepard said he “thought it more interesting to explore why both poems are necessary to the world of poetry.”
Shepard also said his presentation will include examples in the form of contemporary poems. Through these artists, he hopes “the audience will be introduced to exciting new poems, as well as to whatever new ideas accompany them.”
“I hope that listeners take away a greater appreciation for the many styles of poetry that are written in our contemporary period — not just poems written in the ‘plain style’ with an overt message,” he said, “but also poems that challenge and extend the limits of the English language.”