In what could have been a meeting of the Dead Poet’s Society, students and professors met at the end of the day in the Science North building to hear the prose of a Central Coast native.
Poet Christopher Buckley read from his newest book, “Rolling the Bones,” Tuesday night as part of the Writers at Work series.
Literature instructor Kevin Clark introduced Buckley. Clark called Buckley one of the best poets to capture the essence of California in his work.
“He’s the leading lyrical poet in the U.S. and California’s best contemporary poet,” Clark said.
About 25 people, mostly students, came to listen to works from the author’s 18th book and enjoy slices of pizza. The collection of poems released this month won top honors from literary magazine Tampa Review.
Buckley said “Rolling the Bones” is about chances in specific moments of life. The title references the slang phrase for taking risks. He said it was an exploration in the contrast of his understanding of science and a Catholic upbringing.
“It might be chance, it might not. I go back and forth all the time,” Buckley said.
His religious experience goes back to elementary school days. Eternity, as explained to him when he was 6 years old by nuns at Catholic school, is a giant steel ball where a million years was less than one second. They told him that’s how long he would be in hell if he didn’t behave.
The poems were laced with pieces of Buckley’s childhood memories in 1950s Santa Barbara and humorous, sometimes dark, musings on existence. Buckley kept the audience laughing throughout the readings with his image-invoking struggle during what he called his “dark period.”
English lecturer Amy Wiley found out about the reading from a department announcement and said she hadn’t heard of Buckley before. Wiley said she enjoyed being able to sit back and not have to think about deconstructing the poems for classes.
“I liked being able to just have the words wash over me. I spend my time taking works apart and explaining their meaning,” Wiley said.
Buckley’s visit was part of a program that brings writers to interact with Cal Poly students.
The Writers at Work series is an intimate setting in which students have up-close access to the visiting speaker. Clark said he frequently works with the program to bring in writers.
The series is the spin-off of WriterSpeak that began 30 years ago by retired English professor Al Landwehr for whom the creative writing contest is named. Both series are currently run by English instructor and author Todd Pierce.
Writers at Work will hold its next reading with Jim Cushing, San Luis Obispo’s poet laureate and English lecturer, and Los Angeles poet Tony Barnstone, May 18 in the Bio-Resource and Agricultural Engineering building, room 215 at 7 p.m.
Clark said Barnstone will be reading from his book “Tongue of War.” He said his poetry is about World War II and its effect on society.
Clark also said they direct the Writer’s series toward students so they have an opportunity to learn from people in the field.
Part of the interaction is a question-and-answer session with the writer. Students are given time to ask the writer’s about their inspirations and how they work. Buckley joked with the students about what it takes to be a good writer.
“The only way to write is after midnight by candlelight, wearing a cape with a raven on your shoulder,” Buckley said, laughing.