Example poetry

Poetry opens the door to the whole world


Photo courtesy of Joe Heithaus.

Sitting in the sun on a Friday morning, English teacher Joe Heithaus noticed the chewing gum outside the Memorial Student Union Building. He spoke to a first year about the magical scent of leaves, as well as the art of poetry. “Poetry has a way of enabling humans to look at things and explore the things around them,” Heithaus said.

Heithaus sent ten sonnet-inspired poems by poisonous plants which he began to write around the turn of the century, and which ultimately won the prestigious Discovery / The Nation Prize. The award came with his first book, “Poison Sonnets,” published in January 2012.

Heithaus was given many other opportunities which he described as “bizarre”. “I have a glass-lined poem at the Indianapolis airport, a poem in a barn on the west side of town… There are some weird ways for my poems to find the world without me pushing really hard and some things just happened, ”Heithaus said. .

His most recent book published in 2020, “Library of My Hands,” dedicated to his wife and children, was presented to DePauw at the recent Kelly Writers Series event. The book was designed and executed by DePauw art teachers Cindy O’Dell and Jerry Bates, which makes it more special to our community.

O’Dell shared her collaboration with the two colleagues when she said: “I loved helping Jerry Bates in developing his vision for the cover of Joe’s new book of poetry. Jerry had a vision of what he wanted the cover photo to look like and tried to create a photograph that matched his vision. The cover of the book is Heithaus’ hand holding water in a flashlight, the process which O’Dell described as “a little chaotic, but a lot of fun.” ”

It was a collaborative and creative experience – poet, photographer and painter. I am always honored to be around such talented artists. Joe is a gifted and prolific writer and one of the best teachers I know, ”added O’Dell.

The title of the book, in Heithaus, was a way to bring together a lot of poems that were published in small journals here and there, but never saw the light of day as a group.

For Heithaus, writing poetry is a way for him to interact with the world. “Poetry has no rhythm, it could be pretty much whatever I want it to be, it opens up a world to me. Ever since I grew up I’ve realized that everything feeds poetry, ”Heithaus said.

Heithaus shared how he viewed the world around him with dedication and a simple mind. “I’m just sitting outside, and I’m looking at a scent gum tree, and I know that if I just pull one of the leaves, I can open it and it would have that fabulously interesting smell.” I think if I wasn’t a poet I wouldn’t be interested enough to read, learn this or do it, ”Heithaus said.

Writing in one form or another is part of his daily routine. “I will try to write every day. I will write before I go to bed, I will make sure there is something in the journal, ”Heithaus said. “But I think sometimes I wrote poems. I think about the discipline of writing everyday, I wrote things that at the time felt really deep or gave me insight.

Heithaus said he wanted to write more about the devastation of the planet, the death of species, the relationship with the environment, who people are in terms of race and how humans perceive themselves. Poetry always opens new worlds for Heithaus to discover despite his long career as a writer.

“I have the impression that poetry is a way, almost every day, by reading a poem, by trying to write a poem, by trying to think poetically, the world opens like a small door. You open a door every now and then by reading poems and seeing someone else’s experiences, which makes you notice something as silly as a leaf, ”Heithaus added.

According to Heithaus, writers are supposed to make us aware of who we are and the structures that hold us in place. “I think writers have a role to play in opening our minds and our eyes to the injustices around us and how all of these injustices are linked to history. The world is a hell of a mess and we have a responsibility to pick up at least a few small parts of it, to rejoice in what we can but also to write at least without conscience, ”Heithaus said.

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