Current Poet Laureate of Virginia Tim Seibles hasa bit of a fascination with ants.
In "One Turn Around the Sun," the 10-page title poem of his newest collection, which came out in February, he mentions the six-legged critters five times, even going so far as to try and anthropomorphize them — to get inside their itty, bitty heads and read their tiny minds.
"I ... like the idea of this presence that is virtually invisible being all around us all the time," says the 62-year-old poet, who will take time away from his teaching post at Old Dominion University to hold a reading at Lynchburg College on Oct. 25 as part of the school's Thornton Reading series.
"Ants outnumber human beings by trillions, but we don't think about that. Generally speaking, we are under the impression that the world is really for people. ... And I was asking some other people recently, 'Do you think the ants think that?'"
All this talk of insects speaks directly to Seibles' point of view and is one of the central ideas he has tackled through several collections worth of poems written from the varied perspectives of a lobster, a virus and Bugs Bunny and covering subjects as disparate as sex, basketball and race in America.
"Part of becoming conscious," he says, "... is to recognize that we are one line of the narrative, one line among thousands of narratives that are being expressed in the world. And it is our job, given the intelligence we have, to make sure there is room for the other narratives."
A Philadelphia native who now lives in Norfolk, Seibles says he first realized he wanted to write poetry at the age of 19 when he took a college creative writing workshop and saw how much the art form moved his instructor, poet Michael Ryan.
"I thought if poetry makes him feel like that, I want to feel that too," he remembers. "I want to feel this ferocity and this tenderness, this compassion, this empathy that seemed to be driving him when he read or talked about poetry. ... I've probably ever since then thought, 'I'm going to be a poet some day.'"
Since that class in 1974, Seibles has had work featured in the 2010 and 2013 "Best American Poetry" anthologies. His collection "Fast Animal" won him the Theodore Roethke Memorial Poetry Prize and was a finalist for the 2012 National Book Award. Last July, Gov. Terry McAuliffe named Seibles Poet Laureate of Virginia, a position he will hold through June 2018.
"He's a poet who wants to speak to people, to appeal to their own thoughtfulness," Lynchburg College English professor Laura Long writes in an email. "He does what artists do best, ask people to reflect a little deeper-and he does so with generosity, grace, and with charismatic performance."
Before his reading in Lynchburg, Seibles talked about reading aloud, his 10-page mini epic and the value of poetry.
You've called poems the "sharpest edge of language."What would you say is the power of poetry that makes it different from narrative writing?
"All writing is related. I think you can have marvelously powerful novels and short stories and plays and movies, for that matter. What makes poetry perhaps different, and the reason there is poetry, is that it's intensely focused. Poems, even a long poem, [are] shorter than a short story. Generally, poems are one page, maybe two pages in length, maybe three. ... It's the intense focus on a certain idea or set of ideas. An intense look at a certain feeling or set of feelings related to a particular incident or incidents. So often, our sense of things, be it emotional or intellectual, is watered down just by the sheer volume of all we experience. There's just so much going on, we don't have time to sit with our sorrow. We don't have time to sit with our happiness. We don't have time; we're moving to the next thing. We're busy, busy, busy. And so, poems, I think, by the way they are made just demand that we slow down and pay attention in a way that we usually don't. That may be what makes poems powerful."
Do you have a writing process you follow?
"One of the first things I try to do most days is to sit and write. Sometimes I'm working on a poem that I've already started and may be I'm just refining it and other times, I'm inventing. I imagine my process isn't that different from other writers, whether they're novelists or poets in that I spend a lot of time rewriting. .... If there's anything particularly distinct about my process, it may be that I often read my work aloud so I can hear how it moves.
IF YOU GO
+ What: Thornton Reading: Tim Seibles
+ When: 7:30 p.m. Wednesday, Oct. 25
+ Where: Lynchburg College, Sydnor Performance Hall, 1501 Lakeside Drive
+ Info:(434) 544-8820 or www.lynchburg.edu