By MacKenzie Brady
The Rose O’Neill Literary House’s ongoing Writers as Editors Series continued with a reading and generative workshop with poet Rick Barot on Tuesday, April 20, and Wednesday, April 21.
Barot is “one of America’s leading poets,” according to Dr. James Hall, associate professor of English and director of the Rose O’Neill Literary House.
According to his website, “Barot was born in the Philippines, grew up in the San Francisco Bay Area, and attended Wesleyan University and The Writers’ Workshop at the University of Iowa.”
Barot is also the poetry editor of “New England Review,” teaches at Pacific Lutheran University, and is the director of The Rainier Writing Workshop, the low-residency MFA in creative writing program at PLU.
During Tuesday’s reading, Barot read several poems, including some from his fourth book, “The Galleons,” published by Milkweed Editions in 2020, and from his chapbook of “pandemic poems,” “During the Pandemic,” which sold out of all 165 copies in less than eight hours.
“I was most captivated by his ability to write so eloquently about the [COVID-19] pandemic and the turbulence of it while we’re still more or less in the middle of it,” freshman Sophie Foster said about Barot’s poems on the pandemic. “A lot of writers have stepped away from writing about the circumstances of COVID-19 out of exhaustion or reluctance to dedicate any extra time to it, but his straightforward and honest consideration of what the pandemic has meant for him was refreshing, interesting, and a little reassuring.”
Junior Teddy Friedline attended Barot’s reading and said they were “so entranced by how he grounded much of in place absent of specific characters or people — each action was taken on by ‘someone.’”
After reading, Barot talked about the function of subjects and recommended that writers who are having a hard time writing about what they’re “looking at,” should write around the subject instead.
He also said that observations were the catalyst for the “poetic dream-state,” that allows poets to explore “what’s under the surface.”
“I have always really loved your poems,” Dr. Hall said. “It’s amazing how you push on your thinking.”
Friedline first encountered Barot’s work this past summer when they interned at the Literary House.
“I did some research on him and his work…and I totally fell in love with his work, so I knew I couldn’t miss his phenomenal reading,” they said.
At Wednesday’s generative workshop, Barot began by reading some of his poems before instructing attendees about the kind of poems he wanted them to write.
“Since [Barot] teaches, too, it was definitely very well-run and had clearly been orchestrated with a lot of care on his part,” Foster said. “He talked a lot about the coexistence of structure and form and the difference between the two and built on that comparison in his analysis of a couple of poems.”
“Something else he touched on was the idea that different lines and sentences have different temperatures and boiling points, and he encouraged us to do heat maps of our poetry to map out its intensity,” she said. “He had a lot of unique insights into poetry, and the whole event felt very collaborative and welcoming.”
Barot said poetry was a “common effort to express, record, and take account of what is going on in the world around us” and that while it was “comraderic,” it can feel “isolating to do the work, but [it’s] nice to know lots of people are doing it.”
“I’m so glad that even though I personally am far from the Literary House right now, things like the Writers as Editors series and other writer visits can continue in another format, and we all still get to hear the wonderful words of these writers,” Friedline said.
Featured Photo caption: Poet Rick Barot reading some of his popular “pandemic poems.” Photo by Mark Cooley.