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Students captivated by Daniel Tobin’s poetry reading

A photo of Daniel Tobin during a poetry reading in the Ecumenical Center.
Caroline Gordon / THE GATEPOST

By Caroline Gordon

The FSU English department welcomed poet Daniel Tobin to the Heineman Ecumenical Center to begin the Alan Feldman Week of Poetry Oct. 19.

Tobin is the author of eight poetry books. He has won many poetry awards such as The Massachusetts Book Award in Poetry, and the Robert Frost Fellowship.

His poems have been featured in international journals such as the “Harvard Review,” the “Paris Review” and “The American Scholar.”

The New York Times named his poetry book, “Blood Labors,” one of the best poetry books of 2018.

In addition to his work as a poet, Tobin is a writing professor at Emerson College.

Lisa Eck, chair of the English department, began the reading by noting her excitement to be hosting an in-person event.

“Prepare to be transfixed,” she said.

Tobin started by reading a few poems from his poetry book, “Blood Labors.”

The first poem from the book is titled, “Blood Labors.” He said during Professor Samuel Witt’s poetry class he visited, they discussed John Donne, a famous English poet.

He said “Blood Labors” is influenced by Donne.

After Tobin read the poem, the crowd snapped their fingers. Witt furiously clapped.

Tobin discussed one of the first instruments created by humans – a flute made from the bone of a bird’s wing.

He said when he learned about the instrument, he wanted to write about it – “The Bone Flute” was born.

Next, Tobin read “The Origamist.”

The poem begins with the line,“The Cat’s Eye Nebula – one could begin there as a way of showing how being folds upon itself, always to form new configurations.”

He said all of the end words are composed of acronyms. The words are folded like origami.

“It [“The Origamist”] was meant to be a sestina poem, but I chucked that. I thought the acronym thing would be cooler to do,” Tobin said.

He discussed the meaning behind his poem “Corpse Flower, Luna Moth.”

Tobin said he has never seen a corpse flower in bloom because they bloom once every 14 years.

He noted he had to research the rare flower in order to write the poem.

Tobin touched upon how the poem was originally two different poems, “Corpse Flower,” and “Luna Moth.”

“It seemed right to put the two of them together,” he said.

The poem begins with the lines, “The deep wine of it risen tall above the buried corm, it’s ornamental spathe furrowed thoughtfully, to human warmth. O un-branched inflorescence, amorphophalos, misshapen swelling, with its allure of rotting flesh for the scarabs to follow, hollow, to the sun-lit trove, as though all dark were light unbidden by our parsing eye, and love itself hidden inside the word.”

Tobin then discussed the influence Wlms had on his poem “Of Gods and Men and Monsters.” He said the poem ties the films “Of Gods and Men” and “Gods and Monsters” together. “Of Gods and Men”concerns a group of monks who encounter terrorists. “Gods and Monsters” concerns the life of horror film director James Whale.

He noted the similarity between the two film titles and his curiosity of combining them.

“Of Gods and Men and Monsters” starts o_ with imagery of monks marching alongside a snowy mountain guarded by terrorists. The poem touched upon James Whale and his character Frankenstein. There are religious undertones as monks, Christ, and the Eucharist are mentioned throughout.

Tobin read poems from his poetry book “The Net.”

He read “Late Bloomer.” The poem began with the lines, “Something whispered, I wanted more of myself. That’s how I turned into the fleur of myself. The lake. The ripple’s shimmer. That lilting face. I’ll guzzle the infinite pour of myself.”

Tobin said “Late Bloomer” is written in an Arabic poetry form called a ghazal.

He read “The Turnpike,” which was another poem influenced by John Donne.

“This one [“The Turnpike”] nudged into being like Donne,” Tobin said.

The poem contains the lines, “You away, and me on the Peter Pan heading home from my own required remove. I’m drawn by the window’s broad reflection, the traffic passing along it, like a nerve.”

Tobin joked about the Peter Pan bus, “We were obviously going to a Patriots Game.”

To wrap up the event, Tobin answered questions from the audience.

A hand shot up and an audience member asked, “When you read a poem, how important is it to read the words out loud?”

“I think it is essential. Some people write for the page, and I certainly do. But, I write for the voice too,” he said.

He added, “I am very much wedded to the long, long tradition of poems that can be spoken.”

Tobin said he wants his poems to have a distinct rhythm. Therefore, readers could read them correctly.

He was asked if religion influences his poetry.

Tobin said, “Indelibly so.”

He said as he grew up Catholic, religion has impacted his thoughts while writing poetry.

One audience member noted the incorporation of physics and stars in his poems. They asked, “Are those big inspirations for you?”

He said, “I would never call myself a physicist. But, I am fascinated by the interplay between physics and metaphysics.”

Tobin discussed the lengthy poem, “From Nothing,” by George Lemaitre, a Jesuit priest who was the first to mathematically understand the Big Bang. He said physics is a theme throughout the poem.

He touched upon his interest in Lemaitre because he was a Jesuit priest, scientist, and mathematician.

Another participant asked Tobin to discuss his poetic process.

Tobin said he has an “architectural temperament” and that he can’t continue to write a poem until he knows the “cadence of the lines.”

Someone asked if he wrote other kinds of literature.

Tobin said he does write essays with a “memoirish quality.” However, he did write one story when he attended Harvard Divinity School.

He jokingly said, “I thought it [the story] was awful. I was kind of in poetry land after that.”

[Editor’s Note: Editorial Staff Emma Lyons contributed to this article.]


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