Creative Writers Reading Series Welcomes David Shumate

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Tuesday, April 1st, 2014 at 12:26 PM
Creative Writers Reading Series Welcomes David Shumate by Mareesa Schepis

On Thursday, April 3, poet David Shumate will be reading as part of the Creative Writing Reading Series at Penn State Erie, the Behrend College.

Shumate has won the Agnes Lynch Starrett Poetry Prize and the 2005 Best Books of Indiana competition with his book of prose poetry, High Water Mark. His second collection of prose poems, The Floating Bridge, appeared in 2008, and his most recent, Kimonos in the Closet, in 2013. His work has been featured in North America Review, Mid-American Review, Missouri Review, Mississippi Review, Maize, and Prairie Schooner. His poetry has also been anthologized in Good Poems for Hard Times and Best American Poetry 2007.

Mareesa Schepis: When did you first find yourself interested in writing?

David Shumate: I started writing early on. But I’m not sure I developed a sense of myself as a writer until I started writing random, personal letters to dear friends, to my brother, and others. In that context I learned a lot about developing voice, a unique sense of myself as a writer. I took a lot of risks because I trusted my audience. Later I took a class or two in college, and then I set out to write every day. When you read something wonderful, it’s natural to think, I’d sure love to write that like, isn’t it? And then you give it a go.

MS: Why did you decide to write prose poetry?

DS: I first stumbled upon the genre of the prose poem back in the seventies when I read a collection of Juan Ramon Jimenez’s poetry translated by Robert Bly. He had a number of prose poems in that book that intrigued me. So I started trying it out. It seemed like a good fit for me since it allows me to draw both from the narrative side of fiction and the lyrical side of poetry.

MS: Given the way contemporary authors have been trying to compose all kinds of poetry, how would you “define” poetry?

DS: I’m not sure how to “define” poetry. It is certainly compressed language that, in its highest form, leads us to the essence of its subject. It places a frame of words and images around silence. But it can take on many forms, from Issa’s haikus to Homer’s epic poems.

MS: What author do you find yourself getting ideas and motivation from?

DS: I’m inspired by all kinds of writers. Issa, the great haiku poet, is a favorite. The Tang Dynasty Chinese Poets Wang Wei and Tu Fu and Li Po. Federico Garcia Lorca, the Spanish surrealist poet. Gabriel Garcia Marquez, the Colombian novelist. Jim Harrison and Cormac McCarthy are two great American writers whose work I’ve learned much from. The poet William Stafford has been a strong influence on me. The novelist/poet Richard Brautigan was an early influence, as was Kurt Vonnegut.

MS: Have you ever attempted to write in other genres?

DS: Yes, I’ve written lots of traditional poetry using the conventional line breaks. And I work frequently in fiction. I hope to publish a collection of short stories in the next year, though I haven’t yet begun offering it for publication.

MS: Do you have any advice for aspiring poets?

DS: The best advice I could give to aspiring poets is to pay attention to everything.  And each day sit down to write, and see what part of your world seeps out of the tip of your pen.


The reading will be held in Behrend’s Larry and Kathryn Smith Chapel at 6 p.m. A reception for the author will be held at 5:30 p.m. Behrend will also host student senior thesis readings on Thursdays, April 10 and 17. All events are free and open to the public.


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