Poets Voice Their Pain and Heartache to CSI Students at Writers Workshop

Students Gather at Library for Live Readings

By Victoria Priola

Poet and Professor Cate Marvin curated the event, featuring Robin Beth Schaer and James Hoch and their recent work.

Schaer told the crowd she received her MFA from Columbia University and currently teaches at Cooper Union. Hoch is a professor at Ramapo College but, according to his online biography, worked as a dishwasher, dock worker, cook, social worker, and shepherd in 14 different cities.

Schaer began by reading from her latest book “Shipbreaking”, about her time on aboard a ship called Bounty that sank during Hurricane Sandy. Schaer claimed that a recurring theme in her book is wreckage and “disasters of the heart.”

She read half a dozen poems from her book but Schaer’s poem “Disturbance” became a topic of conversation during the Q&A section of the workshop.

“I wrote it to convince someone they were still in love with me,” said Schaer as she flipped the pages of her book to Disturbance. “I’m not sure why.”

She later confirmed that it worked. The poem was triggered by a previous romantic relationship Schaer had. She wrote a prolonged response to an accusation that there is no “electricity in their relationship.”

Another central theme of Shipbreaking” was domestic unrest. Schaer’s poem “Breakfast” contained the line “No one is there to hear// but breakfast will be perfect.”

Hoch, who was notorious in the room of students for his poem “Round”, had two books he could’ve read from. Instead, he said “you’re gonna hear some new stuff.”

“These are gonna be very depressing,” said Hoch reading his poem “Dedication”. “It’s been a pretty rough year.”

Hoch lost his mother this year and centers a lot of his writing about coping with her vacancy.

Hoch read from a manuscript about his brother fighting in the service. He joined after 9/11 and was a sniper in Afghanistan, but is home now.

Hoch refers to his brother as his “polar opposite.” Hoch told the crowd of students his brother is a “complicated man.” Marvin responded with, “And you’re simple?” That made the students, and guest speakers laugh.

One of his longer poems “This Drink Tastes Like History”, and one of the last ones Hoch read, was about Larry Levis. Hoch applied to study with Levis in 1996, but did not get accepted because Levis passed away. The poem brings readers back in time. Hoch also mentions a woman he was snowed in with for four days on their first date.

“We went through a full relationship in that time,” said Hoch. “After that, she went her way and I went mine.”

A majority of the questioning was geared toward Hoch and Schaer’s personal lives. Students questioned Hoch on why his brother has not read any of the poems written about him and how he can love someone that does what his brother does.

“Make what you’re compelled to make,” said Hoch, when talking about why he writes so honestly and openly about his life.

When asked about what they were like in college, Schaer referred to herself as an “angry feminist”, while Hoch called himself delusional about his success. He recounted memories of himself pitching the book he never wrote to highly respected people in the publishing business in the hopes of selling his work.

The Banner asked the writers about how they tackled publishing process and if they had any advice for young writers. The writers looked puzzled, being that the previous questions from the half hour session were about their personal lives.

“I didn’t have the confidence delusion to make my dreams a reality,” said Schaer. “I never thought I can actually do this.”

Schaer shared her experience with book publishing, saying that she waited long periods of time and heard nothing back and was confused on how to move forward in her career.

Hoch and Schaer’s response was to be confident and understand the audience. Before they can elaborate on their responses, the workshop ended.

When Marvin said students can come up to the writers and ask questions individually, a student got up and said “Thank God for that, I raised my hand the whole time and didn’t get picked.”


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