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Georgia State professor celebrates the music of poetry
0221POET Theodore Worozbyt

Words are music, and they are the notes poets use to write.

“Poetry begins in music,” said published poet, Theodore Worozbyt an assistant professor of English at Georgia State Newton, formerly Georgia Perimeter College. “That’s how poets write.”

There is a flow to the words of a poem that transform language.

But for most, poetry can be intimidating.

Worozbyt understands. “I hated poetry in high school because I was always told you have to look for the abstracts symbols. I tell my students to read [a poem] aloud and not to worry about the meanings.”

Though he’s spent his adult life teaching and writing poems, as well as fiction and nonfiction, he didn’t start off with a passion for poetry. Instead, like many other young men, he began writing poetry to impress girls.

“The girls I was interested in were interested in poetry, so I thought I should give it a go,” he said. “I was lucky enough to have that one teacher who had a passion and didn’t teach poetry like anyone else.”

And then he read Dylan Thomas’s The Force that through the green fuse drives the flower.

“I thought, Whoa! What’s this!” he said. “That’s the coolest thing I’ve ever encountered; Thomas was a wild man with language.”

He had, he said, been looking for a means of creative expression. He’d tried painting, music and other art media, but “when I tried poetry, it just seemed to be a thing I needed to do.”

Today, he’s the published author of The Dauber Wings (2006), A Unified Theory of Light (2006), Letters of Transit (2008), and have been included in The Chapbook (2011) and other anthologies. His most recent work is Smaller than Death (2015).

It is not, he said, an ordinary book of poems. It’s a mixed media collection of prose and poems, and half of the 130-page book are abstract illustrations by Texas artist Cheryl McClure. McClure, he said, has been creating his book covers since he began publishing. A collaborative work, Smaller than Death will be published in three versions: a black-and-white paperback edition, $15; a color paperback edition, $35; and a hardcover color version coming this spring.

Despite working together for over a decade, Worozbyt said McClure and he have never met in person. Thomas Stuart, who has edited Worozbyt’s books, suggested the Texas-based abstract artist create the cover for The Dauber Wings. And while the poet and the artist have never met in person, they have been working together ever since.

He will be reading from Smaller than Death March 25 at 2 p.m. in Building CL-1000 at the Clarkson campus of Georgia State University. Despite enjoying reading his works to an audience, Worozbyt has only had the opportunity to read to audiences twice.

That’s because, while training his dog, Appa, he broke his leg in two places just before the fall semester at GSU started. “He came barreling at me,” he said. “I knew he was going to run into me, and I didn’t stop him.”

He is looking forward to more readings. “I really enjoy giving readings,” he said. “I think that poetry should be an oral and public activity. I like the immediate response with the audience.

“Writing is a very lonely task,” he said. “When you can share the task with others, you get the immediate gratification.”
He had the same satisfaction during the decade he worked as a chef while completing his education. “There was a sense of instant gratification that [came because] you made a whole room full of people happy.”

He is aware that, for the most part, poetry has been consigned to the halls of academia. “Poetry has become very much estranged in society.”

“These days, by virtue of the technology, reading poetry is more and more difficult because [people] have no training in reading text,” he said. “If you’re going to read a poem, you have to take your time. A poem doesn’t want to hide from you. All you have to do is sit down and realize you’re in a race you can’t win. You really have to stop, look and listen. It takes a while, but sooner or later you get it.”

Even though it can be more demanding than a poem, the least threatening form of poetry is the prose poem, he said. “When someone looks at a prose poem they see a paragraph and think ‘oh, I can handle that.’ Prose poem works as a subversive engine that draws people in. It has all the elements of a poem, just no line breaks.”

Poems, no matter the format, need to be read slowly, repeatedly and often aloud. “To be a writer, you need to be a great reader,” Worozbyt said. “It doesn’t mean you will be a great writer; but all great writers are great readers.”

Poets he would recommend reading include Philip Larkin, a writer Worozbyt turns to when “my soul is weary and sick. I might send them to Larkin, tell them to go read ‘Faith Healing.’ I love his uncanny ability to take very ordinary language and invest it with incredible pathos. He writes in rhyme and meter, but I don’t think you really notice, it’s so subtle, so artfully done. There’s nothing sing-song about it.”

Of his own poems, he says his favorite is always the newest one. “You always like the thing you just finished.”
The market for poetry is difficult. “It is so incredibly saturated and competitive,” he said. “There are lots and lots of books out there that should be published.”

He tells his creative writing students that the odds of getting published are liking winning a lottery. However, he continues, that shouldn’t discourage young writers. Persistence is necessary.

“The Dauber Wings took 300 submissions before it was published, though it had won every major award,” he said.

Recipient of grants from the National Endowment for the Arts (NEA) and the Georgia and Alabama Councils for the Arts, he has also won prizes for his work, receiving the Mississippi Review Prize in 2007, the John Williams Andres Poetry Prize in 1994 and the Rose Lefkowitzh Poetry Prize in 1993.

Born in Columbus, Worozbyt was raised in Atlanta. He has a bachelors in English from Georgia State University, and a doctorate in American and British Romantic literature and MFA in Poetry from the University of Alabama.

The assistant professor teaches five courses in the fall and four in the spring. In addition to workshops in creative writing, he also teaches literature and composition.