“Persist. If it’s what you believe what you want to do, then do it.”
Eric McHenry, a poet from Topeka, visited Emporia State to kick off the spring semester’s series of visiting writers. McHenry is an associate professor of English at Washburn University who specializes in fixed form poetry, but said he writes some free verse poetry as well.
“It’s more often I find the form as I’m writing,” McHenry said. “We’ve had way too many poems that don’t rhyme that are good, so I would hate to say ‘goodbye’ to those poems if I said free verse wasn’t poetry. I just love the use of fixed verse. It’s a really neat tool.”
McHenry read a wide range of his poems, including the “At The Baptist Mission” and “Five-Legged Spider,” “How to Steal the Laptop of Your Childhood Nemesis” and “The Hole” and “Gil Carter Correspondence.”
“I say to my students a lot, you may not think you’re a fan of poetry, but if you’ve ever heard anyone say anything a certain way and wish that you said that in that way, then you are a fan of poetry,” McHenry said.
McHenry recently sold out copies of his latest poetry book Potscrubber Lullabies, from which he read the last poem, “Here I Am, Standing at My Kitchen Window, and I Am Important.” The poet also read, among others, a poem he wrote three days prior to his visit to ESU, titled “Copying the Masters.”
“The best thing I did as a parent is when we were living in Seattle, I kept a blog of funny things my kids said called Evan Said,” McHenry said. “It was great fun, and after awhile, I thought maybe I could turn these into funny poems. The challenge of having the humor translate into poetry was interesting.”
McHenry said he is working on a free verse poem that’s “around 35 pages” long. He also writes children’s poetry.
Waywiser Press released a book of children’s poetry titled Mommy Daddy Evan Sage, the latter two names being his children.
“Some of it is made up, but it’s all based on how my kids behave,” McHenry said. “I don’t speak in rhymes, so I have (to) change some stuff here and there.”
“If a poem comes to you at one in the morning before you go to sleep, get up and write it down,” McHenry said. “Persist. If it’s what you believe what you want to do, then do it.”
Tyler Sheldon, junior English major, said he was particularly excited to attend the event since he is a fan of McHenry’s work.
“I heard about Eric McHenry’s work from my father,” Sheldon said. “It’s really refreshing to meet him to kind of see the engine behind his creative genius. I’m looking forward to seeing what he comes up with next.”
Reading at ESU was a “pleasure,” McHenry said, because the students have “really smart things to say” and have great questions for him.
“We’re very excited to have Eric (McHenry) here,” said Kevin Rabas, associate professor of English. “(He is) definitely one of the great local poets of our day.”
Robert Frost and Phillip Brook are two of McHenry’s biggest poetry influences. He also said he loves “all kinds of music except classical” and that he’s “a sucker for a good power pop ballad.”
“Whether it’s the great lyric in music or political rhetoric, poetry is everywhere,” McHenry said.
Amy Sage Webb, professor of English, will be reading from her recent book of short stories, Save Your Own Life, 7 p.m. on Monday, February 18 in Plumb Hall, room 303.