Students and faculty members streamed into the recital hall, buzzing with anticipation. Members of Hope’s jazz ensemble contributed to the atmosphere.
This past Thursday in the Jack H. Miller Center for Musical Arts, Hope College welcomed the first authors to visit for the Jack Ridl Visiting Writers Series for the spring semester: Lauren Haldeman and Randall Horton. Haldeman’s latest book, “Instead of Dying,” was a recipient of the Colorado Prize. She also has two other books: “Calenday” and “The Eccentricity of Zero,” and has been a finalist for the Walt Whitman Award and National Poetry Series.
Horton has two books: “Hook” and “Pitch Dark Anarchy.” He is also the recipient of the Gwendolyn Brooks Poetry Award, the Bea Gonzalez Poetry Award and a National Endowment of the Arts Fellowship in Literature.
Haldeman was the first author to present, reading selections from “Instead of Dying.” While many of the poems she read were reflections on the death of her brother, Haldeman engaged with the audience in a more lighthearted fashion. She even included some audience participation.
In exchange for an art print version of the cover of her book, an audience member was invited to partake in a poetry game. Haldeman’s book contains a section of lines that she had recorded of sayings from either her daughter or her therapist, which she used in the game.
She gave the participant two cards, one that said “adult” and another that said “child.” As she read each line, the participant made their guess. The results were often surprising.
Haldeman also shared some of her “mirror poems,” a form of poetry where she reflected the words from one page onto the adjacent page. She said earlier in the day at the Q & A session in the Fried Hemenway Auditorium that this creative form had helped her uncover some of the deeper parts of her grief.
While Haldeman explored the process of mourning through her readings, Horton shared his story of incarceration and recovery.
Horton spoke momentarily about his introduction to drugs and the addiction that followed, but left the rest of his story to be shared in his prose.
As Horton began his reading, the lyricism and rhythm of his prose were brought to life. He shared selections from his memoir entitled “Hook.”
At the Q & A session earlier in the day, Horton spoke about how he was heavily influenced by the work of Etheridge Knight, who is known for his book “Poems from Prison.” He also drew inspiration for his lyrical prose from Ed Roberson’s experimental poetry.
At one point during Horton’s reading, music began to play in one of the rooms adjacent to the recital hall. While it was not a planned part of the event, it seemed to fit with the rhythm of Horton’s reading. In fact, after the end of the reading, Horton said that he was working on creating pieces that involved a combination of words and music.
Both Haldeman and Horton shared vulnerability in their work and searched for the hope in humanity through it.
The next event for the Jack Ridl Visiting Writers Series is on March 1, featuring Nate Marshall and Karen Russell.