In the Big Scheme, a poetry reading by an ASU professor normally wouldn't rank as a major event. But when the poet is Norman Dubie, and it's his first public reading in a decade, and he plans to read from his newest book, well . . . "This reading is a very big deal to many of us," says Dana Weimer, an ex-student of Dubie's and a poet. "Norman isn't a star, he's a legend. I mean `star' in the sense of glitter, of flash. That's not Norman. There's a mystique about him. He's personable, but he's still a very private, mysterious person."
The oft-published Dubie says he plans to read from his latest effort, Radio Sky, during his anticipated April 27 reading at Tempe's Changing Hands Bookstore on Mill Avenue. But he doesn't plan to tour with Radio Sky and his new book of aphorisms, Clouds of Magellan.
The admission proceeds from Dubie's reading will help cover the costs of a series of poetry workshops to be taught by Arizona State University graduate students at local public schools.
"Years ago," he says, "I used to do readings because of the money. But I finally decided I couldn't do a good job as a writer and as a teacher and be on the road as well. Writing is a pretty solitary business, even now, and I thank God for that fact. The way I've been doing business is healthy for me as a writer, and readings aren't part of my life. It's just my way."
Dubie's way as a teacher is to hold long office hours during which students regularly wait their turn to mull over a misplaced metaphor with him. He doesn't make appointments, the 46-year-old prof says, because he gets more accomplished that way.
"If I had a very hermetic life as a writer and wasn't teaching, I probably would have been a failure as a human being and as a poet," Dubie says. "I just wouldn't know what to do with myself if very many days went by and I wasn't able to make myself somehow concretely useful to people."
Teaching in the department of English at ASU since 1975, he says, has stirred up his creative juices.
"A lot of writers," he says, "are superstitious about teaching. For some reason, I'm not that way. In avoidance of cliches, I won't say, `the more you give, the more you get,' but it's secretly true. Some of my friends who have made very controlled lives for themselves and don't teach--their poems seem to be lost in mid-century or something. You get challenged as a teacher all the time."
A prolific poet, Dubie has a disciplined method. He says he writes exclusively at night during the school year. "That's the only way you can teach and do the job you're supposed to do," he says. "There's a poet in the Northwest, William Stafford, who gets up around six in the morning and he works 'til about ten in the morning. He loves the first hour of his writing because he feels like he's stealing from the dreams of most of his fellow citizens in that small town up there."
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Often, though, a rush of poetic verse will intrude on Dubie during daylight hours. "If I find myself walking some distance and I'm not distracted," he says, "rhymes will emerge in my head. I can carry twenty, thirty lines in my brain and work on them later. I've been doing this since I was eleven, so I've had some practice."
The title selection from his new collection Radio Sky is at heart an adventurous country-western-tinged love poem: A rural, middle-aged man is speaking to his middle-aged wife. She's unhappy because she can't bear children. They live in a remote area, surrounded by high-tech radio dishes pointed at distant constellations in search of alien life. Somehow, it all makes sense. Dubie describes Radio Sky as "a poem teetering between the centuries, just like we are."
Some of Dubie's poetry has an underlying jazzy feel, whether he's writing about fellow poet Randall Jarrell or about a frigid winter's night in his native Vermont. "The feel for composition that you get in contemporary American poetry, an awful lot of it has its roots in jazz," Dubie says. "Most of the language that arrives on a page for a poet comes through carrying rhythms that are hard to describe--they're very mysterious. It's a kind of a trance that's extended over a period of three, four, five, six hours that seem to pass in twenty minutes. Poets commonly will have things carried to them over the rhythms of the language that they didn't even know they knew. Rhythm is inseparable from magic, is what I'm saying."
"I can carry twenty, thirty lines in my brain and work on them later.