SARAH VEST – STAFF WRITER
The source for a writer’s inspiration can come from anywhere or anything. For Week Eight’s writers-in-residence for the Chautauqua Writers’ Center, inspiration can be found through playing with phonics and in a barroom boxing ring.
The writers-in-residence will be giving a reading of their work at 3:30 p.m. EDT Sunday on the CHQ Assembly Virtual Porch.
Jaed Coffin is Week Eight’s prose writer-in-residence, and the author of Roughhouse Friday and A Chant to Soothe Wild Elephants. He is a regular contributor to Down East magazine and his work has appeared in The New York Times, Nautilus and The Sun, as well as The Moth Radio Hour and TED Channel. He has served as a fellow at the Bread Loaf Writers’ Conference and currently teaches at the University of New Hampshire.
Coffin will be reading from his memoir published in 2019. On the surface, the book is about the year he spent fighting in a barroom boxing show in Juneau, Alaska. Eventually, he became the middleweight champion of the show, from which the book gets its title — Roughhouse Friday.
“It’s really about identity, ethnicity and the role that violence plays in allowing an individual to access oftentimes suppressed feelings about cultural identity that get kind of erased by a dominant culture,” Coffin said about his book.
In many ways, he finds that fighting in the barroom helped him work through confronting the reality that his origins grew out of a “regrettable conflict” in Southeast Asia. Though he grew up in Maine, Coffin’s father had been a soldier in the Vietnam War and met Coffin’s mother in Thailand while it was occupied by the United States.
“The way that I understood myself as an individual was largely based on some really strange myths about not only Asian Americans and Southeast Asian people, but about what it meant to be a man, and inherited from my dad ideas about masculinity,” Coffin said. “I went to Alaska hoping to figure that stuff out, maybe not totally aware of it.”
Despite his interlude as a barroom fighter, Coffin had wanted to be a writer since his high school years, when he read A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man, by James Joyce. He found that while he did not understand a lot of the cultural elements of the book, he identified with Stephen Dedalus. According to Coffin, he read Dedalus as a young man “who was kind of alone, and wanted to claim his story.”
In addition to the reading, Coffin will be teaching a workshop titled “Time and Memory, Memory and Time” over the course of the week about memoir writing and the importance of the relationship between time and memory. He will also be giving a Brown Bag at 12:15 p.m. EDT Friday on the Virtual Porch.
The poet-in-residence for Week Eight is Dave Lucas. He is the author of a book of poems titled Weather, which received the Ohioana Book Award for Poetry. From 2018 to 2019 he served as the Poet Laureate of Ohio, where he wrote a column called “Poetry for People Who Hate Poetry.” He is the co-founder of Cleveland Book Week and Brews + Prose at Market Garden Brewery.
Lucas will be reading a mix of poems from Weather, which contains works from the first 20 years of his writing career.
According to Lucas, one of the easiest ways to distinguish what poetry does — especially in the 21st century when many poets have stepped away from the traditional use of rhyme and meter — is to think about its relationship to “ordinary speech.”
It’s an idea that he stole from his teacher Charles Wright, but both Lucas and Wright think that poetry — and by extension poets — is either trying to maximize or minimize the distance between itself and ordinary speech.
In his own writing, Lucas works toward maximizing the difference between his ordinary speech and his poetry. He was trying to use diction that pushed the English language to its limits, specifically in terms of sound.
“There’s a lot of big, dramatic continental clanging sounds in those poems,” Lucas said.
Lucas will be giving a Brown Bag at 12:15 p.m. EDT Tuesday on the Virtual Porch, as well as a workshop over the duration of the week. His workshop is titled “Verb, Pure Verb” where he wants to push writers to explore the full range of what poetic language can be.