Cornelius Eady to speak at Gannon

Pulitzer Prize-nominated poet Cornelius Eady realized how  important poetry could be in his life when he captured the instantaneous anger and sadness of his fellow students after the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. He wrote a poem for his high school literary magazine directly after it happened.

“I understood that I was speaking on behalf of people,” he said. “I found that poetry could be useful in that way to a reader.”

Eady is this year’s featured speaker at Gannon University’s English Awards Night, which wil be held 7:30 p.m. April 13 in Yehl ballroom and is free and open to the public.

Eady – a profesor of English at the University of Missouri-Columbia – said he continues to draw inspiration from ordeals of African-Americans in society, but he said his source of inspiration comes from anything he notices.

“Poetry is the art of living life,” he said. 

Because his work comes from what he sees, Eady said it covers a variety of styles and themes. “You can’t necessarily get one theme in my work,” he said. “The theme of writing poetry is experience.”

He said his earliest exposure to poetry came when he was 12 or 13. He said he still enjoys reading the work of other poets. “I am a writer, poet and a fan of poetry,” he said.

Avid reading is the most important thing a poet can do, Eady said. “It gives you the wherewithal to go forward with your own work,” he said.

Eady said sometimes it’s helpful to have a peer group to share work with to make the writing process easier, but the best way to become a better writer is through practice. 

His advice to poet hopefuls is to simply write. “Writing is the art of sitting down and doing it,” he said.

Every moment in the process of writing is fulfilling, Eady said. “The presumption you make when you start a poem is that you have a good idea,” he said. “The second thing you do is try to get a shape for it.”

This part of the process is the most exciting, he said.

Eady said he also believes in the art of the re-write. His experience working in theater – when he had to learn to writenew dialogue quickly and change it often – taught him everything can be fixed. He said younger writers should learn to love the draft. “They will lead you to your finished version of your poem,” he said.

Eady is as relaxed about where he writes his poems. He said he can write anywhere and is used to distractions because he teaches poetry as well.

His students face much more stress than he did at the beginning his career, he said. “At many universities, there is pressure to get published as soon as possible,” he said. “Poetry is much more a professional occupation than it was in the ‘70s.”

Berwyn Moore, an associate professor in the English department, said Gannon should feel honored to receive Eady. “His poems are important not only because of their art but because of their social awareness and sensitivity,” she said.

Her first experience of his work came several years ago when she worked with him at a conference in California. After reading his work “Hardheaded Weather” she said she thought it would be nice to bring him to Gannon.

“I think he will appeal to a wide variety of people, from the high school students who participated in the Gannon writing contest to college students and community people,” she said.

Eady said he looks forward to seeing new faces interested in poetry.

“Everything I do is about the art of poetry,” he said. “It’s good to be able to shape your days doing something you really love.”

TESSY PAWLOWSKI

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