The Mind of David Wojahn

Megan Pociask
Staff Writer

PC: Megan Pociask

On Thursday, March 21 at 7 p.m., the UNC Greensboro MFA program, in collaboration with the Greensboro Review, hosted a poetry reading at Scuppernong Books with David Wojahn, reading from his latest literary endeavor, “For the Scribe.”

David Wojahn has been granted high accolades, including a Guggenheim Foundation fellowship, four Pushcart Prizes, the George Kent Memorial Prize and the William Carlos Williams Book award. Amongst other honors, he was also a Pulitzer Prize finalist for his book, “Interrogation Palace.”

Wojahn now serves as an English professor at Virginia Commonwealth University, and works with the MFA in Writing Program at Vermont College of Fine Arts.

Emilia Phillips, a poetry faculty member of the UNC Greensboro MFA Program, had nothing but endless praise to offer David Wojahn. She admitted, “David is probably the most important mentor in my poetry life… David was the very first poet who gave me permission to take risks, experiment and to push myself further as a poet, as well as a reader of poetry.”

Phillips continued on by saying, “He also, in many ways, encouraged me to pursue my obsessions on the page…and with that, I think that across his work, we see a kind of archeological investigation of both culture, personal memory and world history.”

She goes on to add, “I think it taught me that everything is connected, or can be connected, through the point of view of the speaker of those poems, and so “[through]” marrying and wedding very disparate elements, we can see the vast ethical approach to his poetry. We see that the subject matter is one that is going to take to task the ways in which violence disrupts and interacts with our lives, especially if we’re not paying attention.”

Phillip’s statement was proven to be true as soon as David Wojahn began reading his first poem of the night, “Animula”. This poem serves as a translation of a piece written by Roman Emperor Hadrian on his deathbed in which he says farewell to his soul.

Notably, dark, grim explorations are not something David Wojahn is willing to shy away from. The audience was given a first hand experience of this just as Wojahn read the final lines of his translation aloud. As he read, “there everlasting, your mouth stitched shut,” a tangible silence was felt throughout the room.

From one grim piece to one of equally dark taste, he introduced his next poem, “My Father’s Soul Departing.” Wojahn explained that after writing the translation for “Animula,” he began, “a kind of mini autobiography of [his] father, so the two are very folded together”.

As David Wojahn continued his readings, it became increasingly clear that he could bring history back to life, relate personally to the reader and confront topics in a way that would challenge most.

To gather more insight and delve further into the mind and writings of David Wojahn, be sure to check out his latest work, “For the Scribe.”

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