Talking Poetry

N.C. Poet Laureate Joseph Bathanti speaks to seventh-graders in Arnetta Lucas’ classroom about poetry and creative writing during a recent visit to Warren County Middle School. During his time in Warren County, Bathanti discussed poetry and led creative writing exercises with six classrooms at the middle school. He also took part in a poetry reading at Warren County Memorial Library.

Joseph Bathanti, the 2014 N.C. Poet Laureate, made a stop in Warren County in April. In between a Reading and Conversation session at Warren County Memorial Library and teaching poetry to students at Warren County Middle School, he and his wife, Joan, enjoyed visiting spots around Warren County, especially those significant in the life of Reynolds Price.

As the seventh N.C. Poet Laureate, Bathanti serves an ambassador of North Carolina literature, past and present. He has authored six books of poetry, two novels, a collection of short stories and has won numerous awards and accolades.

He is currently the professor of Creative Writing at Appalachian State University in Boone and is also director of Writing in the Field and writer-in-residence in the university’s Watauga Global Community.  

A request last year by Library Director Cheryl Reddish brought Bathanti to Warren County Memorial Library for a Reading and Conversation on April 16. Reddish said the library was excited and honored to have the Poet Laureate here and that it was a perfect fit, as Warren County is filled with a rich literary history and current authors and poets.

During the session, Bathanti read a selection of poems about his family and friends and talked about life growing up in Pittsburg, Pa. He also read from works devoted to his time in the VISTA program, teaching creative writing to inmates in North Carolina prisons and 25 years working in the North Carolina Community College system.

When asked about his writing process and his path to becoming a writer, Bathanti said that his process is messy. He carries a notebook wherever he goes and takes notes as life happens.

Bathanti is a narrative poet, meaning that his poems tell a story. He said he was supposed to be a lawyer, but inspiration came through great teachers who always made sure he had books in front of him that led to a different path.

During his visit, Bathanti spent time at Warren County Middle School working with students in six classrooms on creative writing and poetry, while encouraging them to find their creative process.

“If it’s your life, write about it,” he told students.

In Bathanti’s visit with Arnetta Lucas’ seventh-grade class, students talked about their favorite authors and poems. The writer and students agreed that one poem in particular, “Annabel Lee” by Edgar Allen Poe, was a great one. Bathanti recited the poem and expressed how it and other poetry could be equated to music in the ebb and flow of words. He said that he was introduced to this poem at roughly the same age as the students and that this was the first poem he really read and liked.

Bathanti later blogged about his time spent with students.

“I’ve found the children at Warren County Middle thoroughly prepared by their teachers. They had read poems and throw around familiar terms like free verse, couplet, cinquain and haiku. They, like their teachers, are warm, engaged, talented and most hospitable,” was among many positive entries.

Future plans for an anthology of the students’ poetry have been proposed to the teachers in order to the save the work of the students in a lasting and memorable way.