Beall Poetry Festival guest performs poetry, speaks about evolving writing style

The Beall Poetry Festival featured guest poet Lisa Russ Spaar read some of her original poetry and discussed the evolution of her writing style Wednesday at the Armstrong Browning Library. Nathan de la Cerda | Multimedia Journalist

By KJ Burkley | Reporter

The Beall Poetry Festival featured guest poet Lisa Russ Spaar, who read some of her original poetry and shared the evolution of her writing style Wednesday in Armstrong Browning Library.

Spaar, a University of Virginia English professor, engaged discussion over her personal journey and inspiration for writing. She said coming to Baylor allowed her to read more poems that deal with spirituality.

“I feel safe at Baylor,” Spaar said. “I feel it’s a place that I can talk and read poems that have to do with the soul and spirituality that often my colleagues that are secular humanists don’t relate to. I feel it’s a safe place to try out poems about faith and God.”

Spaar read excerpts from books of poetry she has published throughout her career, including “Satin Cash,” “Vannitas Rough,” “Orexia” and “Glass Town.” Spaar said poets can write for years and create several bad poems with the occasional good poems, but eventually they get to a point where they can compile the good poems into a book.

Spaar said that her relationship with the Baylor English department grew after her first visit on campus as a finalist for the Robert Foster Cherry award for Great Teaching, an award granted by Baylor University.

“I didn’t win the Cherry award, but I met the English department here at Baylor,” Spaar said. “I fell in love with the people here. They invited me to come back and be part of the spring poetry festival. I did that, then they invited me to come back again last year, and now we have this wonderful arrangement where I’ve come to campus and have a presence here. Baylor has become my home away from home.”

Spaar also spoke about style and how poets may face backlash from critics and fans if they change their writing style. However, Spaar said exploring styles may become another powerful way to communicate to readers.

Matt Turnbull, an English Ph.D. candidate and first year writing class professor, attended the poetry reading and said he enjoyed that Spaar is cautious about her word choice when writing poetry.

“I think she really cares about the words she uses,” Turnbull said. “She likes the properties of her words. Lots of her poems are the kind of poems you read and think about for a long time because she is choosing her words so carefully, not only for the meaning they have, but also the sound quality they have. She’s really inventive.”

Regarding this year’s reading, Turnbull said he liked how Spaar read poetry from books that addressed her journey through time and how each book shows the evolution of Spaar’s style.

“I enjoyed hearing the development of her style from when she was younger until now,” Turnbull said. “I also liked how she said she dismissed sonnets as being archaic until she wrote one and she realized that she loved that form of poetry. That just shows you that people who write are constantly growing, which is a really beautiful thing.”

Spaar, a full-time professor at the University of Virginia for 24 years, said she is looking forward to her visit at Baylor again to work with English students and share more of her work.

“I worked with undergraduates this time, and I loved it,” Spaar said. “I really loved it. Such smart and really creative students. We did a lecture and a reading this time, so we’re thinking of possibly doing a panel or work with grad students. But whatever it is, I know it’s going to be really rewarding.”