In Brown Bag, poet Repp to encourage ‘finding paths to joy’

A key question John Repp wants to ask his Brown Bag lecture audience is this: How does one find the willingness, and ability, to speak praise during hard times?


“And especially when things are as they always are: difficult, confusing, painful,” said Repp, a poet, fiction writer, essayist and the Week Eight poet-in-residence at the Chautauqua Writers’ Center. “It’s a necessity to find paths to joy, and to find things to praise.”

At 12:15 p.m. today on the porch of the Literary Arts Center at Alumni Hall, Repp, the author of poetry collections Cold-Running Current and The Soul of Rock & Roll: Poems Acoustic, Electric & Remixed, 1980-2020, will give a Chautauqua Literary Arts Brown Bag lecture on “Willing to Praise in Hard Times.”

For the writers participating in Repp’s week-long poetry workshop – and for emerging writers in general – Repp said his advice was simple: read.

“There’s a Polish poet and essayist, Adam Zagajewski, and in one of his essays he says: ‘Young poets, read everything,’ ” he said. “And then he lists everything. Read cereal boxes. Read your critics. Read history. Read philosophy.”

Repp said that for him, reading is primary, but that writing as much as possible is essential, too.

“It’s important to make sure you don’t worry about what other people think, especially for those writers in MFA programs,” he said, “which is ironic, given the realities of being in a graduate program in writing – not worrying what other people think is pretty counterintuitive when you have a class like a creative writing workshop.”

A key to growing as a writer, Repp said, is to “take what is useful and let everything else go.”

“Sometimes you find out years later that what you didn’t think was useful comes back to you,” he said. “You remember something somebody said, or something you read, and you think, ‘Oh jeez, that was actually really useful.’ ”

It’s essential to let go and not worry about “finding your own voice,” Repp said.

“Try out different things, be an experimenter,” he said. “I would tell my students, later in my career when I was teaching entirely writing students: ‘If you’re really bored by a writer who lived and wrote before 1980, that’s exactly the people you should make time to read.’ Like I say: Be curious.” 

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The author Chris Clements

Chris Clements is reporting on literary arts during his third summer with The Chautauquan Daily. He has previously written previews for the Interfaith Lecture Series and Sacred Song Services and covered literary arts digitally in 2020. Chris is a second-year grad student at The University of Alabama in Tuscaloosa, Alabama, where he is a Master of Fine Arts candidate in creative writing, specializing in fiction. He’s passionate about all things related to literature, music and film, especially author David Foster Wallace, jazz singer Cecile McLorin Salvant and the films of Paul Thomas Anderson.