Friday, February 26, 2010

Up Close and Poetical: Bruce Weigl

Welcome to the second in a series of profiles of featured poets here at Blog This Rock. The series, titled "Up Close and Poetical," aims to introduce you to our featured poets and their body of work. Other profiles can be found here. This profile was written by GMU student and Split This Rock intern Michael McGrath.

I’m often reminded of the difficulty many of us experience when trying to find the words to express what we’ve been through. This can be especially true when such experiences forced us to act in ways that were so overwhelmingly transformational; the person staring back from the mirror can look like a stranger. Someone who has found a way to make this type of experience accessible to others is poet Bruce Weigl.

The work of the Split This Rock Festival featured poet, Bruce Weigl, gives voice to the darker side of existence that often emotionally isolates us from society and even the humanity within us. As a veteran of the Vietnam War, Weigl was exposed to the demons of humanity through firsthand experience with horrors of war. In today’s modern America, the ghost which followed Weigl home from Vietnam are etched into the faces of modern warfighters returning from the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. For these individuals, Weigl’s work and subsequent career demonstrates hope for the future that even though their lives have changed, they have not lost that which makes them human. For those whom have never lived through such atrocities, Weigl’s work creates a vivid moment of accessibility that guides an audience to share in the emotional experience within his words.

Those new to poetry will find Weigl’s work quite different from the poetry they once dread from high school English classes. Rather than using abstract constructions, Weigl’s words flow off the page in a familiar manner that resembles the way thoughts flow freely through our minds as we experience the events of our own lives. Speaking about poetry, Weigl has said, “The poem itself, means that no matter however horrible the subject, we can somehow go beyond it as people, as human beings.” This connection with the average individual speaks to the importance of his work and the promise of poetry to empower every man, woman, and child.

While introducing Song of Napalm at the College of Southern Maryland’s 1991 Literary Collection Series, Weigl spoke of his struggles to reconcile the horrors he experienced as a Vietnam Veteran through the his craft as a poet. He said, “You learn that as a poet you want to make the words beautiful, yet your subject is so dark and terrible. I think the salvation comes in the belief… that somehow in the act of writing the poem, is an affirmation of life.” This notion of redemption is not unique to warfighters, and serves as a beacon for anyone struggling with the unique demons of their own pasts.

Bruce Wiegl will be a featured poet at the upcoming Split This Rock Festival in Washington, DC, March 10-13, 2010. Weigl is currently a Distinguished Professor of Arts and Humanities at the Lorain County Community College and has been an active member of the poetry community for quite some time. He has won multiple awards for his work which include such honors as the Lannan Literary Award for Poetry, the Poet’s Prize from the National Academy of Poets, as well as two Pushcart Prizes. He was nominated for a Pulitzer Prize for a poem he wrote in 1998, "Song of Napalm," which drew from his experiences as a warfighter during the Vietnam War.

Michael McGrath has recently come to appreciate poetry after he was dragged kicking and screaming to a live reading. His postings on this blog will be from the perspective of someone completely new to poetry, so he asks that he be forgiven if his views seem under-informed. Michael is a native to the DC Metropolitan area and has been involved in the LGBT community for more years than ought to be said publicly. He is senior at George Mason University majoring in communication with a minor in conflict analysis and resolution. And, if everything goes as planned, he will graduate in May 2010.

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