Lia Purpura, the writer in residence here at UMBC, held a presentation of her work, sponsored by the Drescher Center, on March 1 in the AOK Gallery. In front of an audience of students, fellow English professors and other faculty members and peers, she read several poems from her fourth collection of poetry, “It Shouldn’t Have Been Beautiful.” Recently published in October of 2015, this collection of poetry includes lighthearted titles like “Ice Shelf,” “Belief” and “Red Bird in Snow,” that hold impressive and stunning meanings below the surface. The poems in this collection, as she explained beforehand, are compact and have a way of leaving readers and listeners in suspense.
With great interaction and responses showing interest in her presentation, Purpura gave the audience an insight into her topics, including those of man’s mark on nature, technology, desire, and really being able to look around those obstacles to see the world, whether meant to be beautiful or not. After reading each poem, sometimes repeating them a second time, she gave comments that effectively explained her purpose. Her second readings and accompanying comments added to the meanings of the poems and allowed listeners to delve a little deeper into the topic, while still allowing for that very important audience interpretation.
In response to an audience member’s question of how to identify who is a writer, she said something – despite the statement’s humility – that some people might disagree with. She said, “I’m not a writer personally, unless I’m doing the work.”
Purpura continued on in the same response of who is a writer to say, “there is a combination of having to walk through the world as a writer, which is something I really want to give to my students – not a sense that you must become this as a viable job option – but that there are ways to walk through the world that are artistic and allow for a deeper, grander, more intense experience of being alive. That’s sort of what I teach toward.”
Although she may not always be in that specific thought process or engaged in the physical act of writing, being a writer is not a characteristic that can disappear when it isn’t being used. Her readers and students, especially if they aspire to be writers as well, will see her as a writer, and an influential one at that. As a writer and professor, she has the opportunity to teach others to really “look,” and not just at the world and its accidental beauty, but at the “act of looking, itself.”
Seeing professors in the same element that we oftentimes experience in our own class presentations – an element with hesitation and nervousness that no person is willing to let show through – is a relief to say the least. It not only shows aspiring writers that they can do the same, but it also lets them know that they can look up to professors and writers, like Purpura, who openly and graciously share their experience of how they got to where they are today.
Editor’s note: Kaitlyn Blanch is currently in a class taught by Professor Lia Purpura.