David Mason 

Organizer for the Visiting Writers Series at Colorado College

click to enlarge SCOTT LARRICK

When he's not teaching, or writing himself, CC professor David Mason is working to bring all of us a little bit closer to the word masters of our time. Together with other committed Colorado College professors (Jane Hilberry and Jonathan Lee to name just two), Mason has taken on the Visiting Writers Series, a program with a long tradition of drawing the finest contemporary authors to the campus. And the caliber of this year's participants is enough to make you run to the nearest bookstores or library. Larry Watson is the featured speaker tonight (Sept. 14) and Pulitzer Prize-winning poet Richard Wilbur will be speaking Monday night (Sept. 18). And that's only this week.

What are your intentions for the Visiting Writers Series? Really, the main thing I want to do is I want to make sure, not only at this college but in this community, that the writers who are coming through don't end up reading before 10 or 15 people. I want to build an audience for all writers whether they're famous or not. We're still bringing in very, very famous writers who cost us a lot of money, but we're also bringing in a number of writers who people probably haven't heard of before. And in many cases those writers are just as good. They deserve just as big an audience and we'd like to give it to them.

What's the value to the general public to go hear poetry read? Well, the truth is that it's possible for poetry readings to be quite boring. (I don't think that any of the readings that we're going to have this year are going to be boring. All of the readers are particularly interesting in one way of another.) But I believe that the art is best understood when it's heard aloud, when it's performed.

I noticed that, in the spring, you'll have one poet, R. S. Gwynn, who is described as "a great comic poet." I was wondering whether, with so many people viewing poetry as dusty and serious, you think enough contemporary poets are incorporating comic devices in their work. Not enough of them are. We had a wonderful poet here last year. She's from England and her name is Wendy Cope. And she's one of the funniest poets I've ever heard in my life. She had the audience just in stitches. One of the things she does, in some of her poems, is to make fun of serious poetry. She turned T.S. Eliot's Wasteland into five limericks. And they're just hilarious. R.S. Gwynn, who lives in Texas, is kind of America's Wendy Cope. ... He's like a cross between Richard Wilbur, Wendy Cope and Willie Nelson. He's got a countrified, down-home way of dealing with things, but he's a very sophisticated poet. He's publishing, finally, after about 16 years of silence, new and selected poems, and I'm going to do my damnedest to get that book known by people.

Other highlights from the lineup? Two of the most obvious highlights are Michael Ondaatje, author of The English Patient, who considers himself first and foremost a poet, but is best known for his novels. ... Also [Nobel prize-winning poet] Seamus Heaney has been a hero of mine since the '70s and luckily Jonathan Lee had the chutzpah to contact him and the money to bring him in.

Of the writers you have lined up, who would you say is the most timeless -- the one that will be read in 50 years, 500 years? I think they all have a shot at it. I'd have to name two or three. Wilbur and Heaney would be on my list. ... There's also a woman named Marilyn Nelson coming at the end of the year, an African American woman, who has not only a lot of fire, political fire, but a lot of grace as a writer and as a person.

Colorado College Visiting Writers Series

2000-2001 Calendar of Readings

All events are free and open to the Public

Larry Watson, Colorado College John Ebey Visiting Writer, reading selections from his works, including In a Dark Time, White Crosses, Montana 1948, and Laura. In Gates Common Room in Palmer Hall on the Colorado College campus. Free, 389-6607. Thurs., Sept. 14, 7:30 p.m.

Richard Wilbur, Pulitzer Prizewinning poet, reading from his most recent collection of poems, Mayflies, in Shove Chapel on Colorado College's campus. Free. 389-6607. Mon., Sept. 18, 7:30 p.m.

Joan Stone reading from her books of poetry in the Gates Common Room in Palmer Hall on the Colorado College Campus. Free. 389-6853. Thurs., Sept. 21, 7:30 p.m.

Mary Crow, Colorado Poet Laureate, will lecture on poetry in Colorado Colleges Packard Hall, southwest corner of Cascade and Cache La Poudre. Free. 389-6853. Wed., Oct. 4, 7:30 p.m.

Conrad Hilberry, award-winning poet whose books include Sorting the Smoke and Player Piano. Date, time and location to be announced.

Frederick Morgan, poet and founding editor of The Hudson Review whose books include Poems for Paula, in the Gates Common Room in Palmer Hall on the Colorado College campus. Free. 389-6853. Thurs., Oct. 12, 7:30 p.m.

Ted Kooser, poet whose books include Sure Signs and Morning Walks: 100 Postcards to Jim Harrison, in the Gates Common Room in Palmer Hall on the Colorado College campus. Free. 389-6853. Thurs., Oct. 19, 7:30 p.m.

Padma Hejmadi, fiction writer whose books include Room to Fly and Dr. Salaam and Other Stories, in the Gates Common Room in Palmer Hall on the Colorado College campus. Free. 389-6853. Thurs., Nov. 2, 7:30 p.m.

Pam Houston, essayist and fiction writer whose books include Cowboys Are My Weakness, in the Gates Common Room in Palmer Hall on the Colorado College campus. Free. 389-6853. Thurs., Nov. 9, 7:30 p.m.

Michael Ondaatje, poet and novelist whose books include Anils Ghost, The English Patient and The Cinnamon Peeler, in Armstrong Hall Theater on the Colorado College campus. Free. 389-6853. Thurs., Nov. 16, 7:30 p.m.

R.S. Gwynn, a great comic poet whose books include No Word of Farewell. Date, time and location to be announced. Seamus Heaney, Nobel Prize-winning poet whose recent books include Beowulf and Open Ground, in Shove Chapel on the Colorado College campus. Free. 389-6853. Mon., April 16, 7:30 p.m.

Marilyn Nelson, prize-winning poet whose books include The Homeplace and Fields of Praise, in the Gates Common Room in Palmer Hall on the Colorado College campus. Free. 389-6853. Thurs., April 26, 7:30 p.m.


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