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Style & Culture |

Inspiration key for Boston-based poet Bill Corbett

MIT professor shares poems and insights at New Writing Series

Bill Corbett (right) and Ben Friedlander at the New Writing Series. Corbett performed original works and read letters and poems from other poets.
Courtesy photo
Bill Corbett (right) and Ben Friedlander at the New Writing Series. Corbett performed original works and read letters and poems from other poets.

It is not often that Nomar Garciaparra and James Schuyler are mentioned together. But those are just two of the topics poet Bill Corbett touched on at the New Writing Series in Soderberg Auditorium on Thursday.

Wearing a baby blue sweater, green Oxford shirt and thick, red-framed glasses, he performed original works, poems and letters by other writers and shared interesting tidbits about his life. Corbett currently lives in Boston, teaching at Massachusetts Institute of Technology. He has been a professional poet for 45 years, since he was 22.

According to Corbett, he was contacted by University of Maine English professor Jennifer Moxley because she was teaching a class on American poets, focusing on John Wieners, James Schuyler and Robert Duncan. Corbett has studied these poets closely and even compiled a book of Schuyler’s letters. He spoke at Moxley’s seminar the day before his new writing series appearance.

Schuyler’s poems and letters came alive with Corbett’s voice. In “The Day Gets Slowly Started” Schuyler makes even the most mundane scenes into beautiful snapshots of life.

“He could make a poem out of anything,” remarked Corbett after reading the poem.

Corbett’s originals paid homage to his influences, some of which he called documentary poems. Phrases such as saying that an artist’s brushstrokes sounded like ice skating showed his rich imagry.

“It’s the people you attach yourself to, they define you,” Corbett said about why he writes about his influences.

He shared works from “Save As,” a collection of poems he has written for friends and occasions.

“I used to write them and give them to people,” Corbett said. “Then with computers I could give them away and save them.”

He also performed some politically charged poems, blasting the Bush Administration and crying for peace. His poems reflected the turbulent times of the ’60s he is inspired by but gave them a modern twist.

Perhaps the strongest part of his performance was when he gave the audience a glimpse into the lives of working poets. He read “Letter From Philip Whalen to Troy Rawonil” and showed the audience the struggle poets face to get published in excruciating detail.

Building off that, Corbett fielded questions from young writers in the audience. One writer asked him about his career as a poet.

“Follow your nose and you will find a way,” Corbett said. “Getting published will come.”

He also mused on how poetry has changed over the years giving his views on the two things all poets need. He told student-writers they cannot fear rejection and must enjoy solitude. He said he, along with many great poets, enjoys being alone but still said he loves people.

“I’m a social being,” Corbett said. “I think poetry is a social act.”

An earlier version of this article referred to Jen Weiners where it should have referred to John Wieners