Listen to Bach’s St. Matthew Passion, conducted by Rene Jacobs, this Friday evening at 7, on Classical 101.
Capital University Professor Brings Passion to Poetry
Listen to the Story
Somewhere between his father’s two jobs and his mother’s insistence he “go outside and play,” Kevin Griffith became a poet.
Growing up on what he calls the poor side of Adrian, Michigan, Griffith often cared for his younger brother and the two played games they made up while prowling the streets of town. We caught up with Kevin Griffith recently at Capital University where he now teaches creative writing and poetry. Perhaps the least popular of the arts, we wanted to learn more about the passionate that drives his work.
It was in Adrian, where Griffith says forty years ago many people had no indoor plumbing, that he learned to nurture his imagination and savor his solitude. Griffin says he and his brother played imaginary games as they wandered around the town.
As he grew older, Griffith’s parents gave him the choice of having his teeth aligned or learning how to play the organ. The now-English professor at Capital University chose the music. Griffith says he thinks his mother imagined him playing the organ at the local mall. He says he was a terrible organist.
Later, in college Kevin Griffith discovered creative writing and poetry. He determined then he wanted to be a poet. When Griffith told parents he wanted to become a poet they quickly enrolled him in a series of business courses – a move he calls a complete disaster.
As testimony to his strong will and passion, Griffith has since published four volumes of poetry. Labors of love which need to be financially supported by a second career such as teaching. Griffith laughs when he says he has only realized one-hundred-fifty dollars in royalties.
Writing poetry is Kevin Griffith’s passion, what he loves most to do. And while his poetry may not have a big financial pay-off it has attracted the attention of some the nation’s best poets. A couple of year’s ago, then u-s poet laureate Ted Kooser reprinted Griffith’s poem “Turning Forty.” Kooser described the work as accurately reflecting the conflict one feels on the occasion of this milestone.
At times it’s like there is a small planet inside me. And on this planet, there are many small wars, yet none big enough to make a real difference.
The major countries–mind and heart–have called a truce for now. If this planet had a ruler, no one remembers him well. All decisions are made by committee. Yet there are a few pictures of the old dictator–how youthful he looked on his big horse, how bright his eyes. He was ready to conquer the world.
Griffith says a good poem should be original. As he writes in his poem “Optimism,” “A poem has to offer promise. Even severed heads dream a little.” Griffith says good poetry should have popular appeal and yet be nuanced.
Department Chair and colleague, David Summers describes Kevin Griffith as a cynic who looks like the boy next door. Indeed the poet bristles at corporate clutter such as matrixes, metrics, stakeholders and meeting at which minutes and taken and hours wasted. Mention National Poetry Month coming up in April and Griffith produces a poem gleaned through the prism of a cynic’s eye.
When it comes to teaching, Griffith’s tough cynical shell breaks away yielding a sensitive mentor who nurtures and gently guides students in his poetry and creative writing courses. Senior Sara Wells is one of the students who has benefited from Griffith’s constructive coaching. Well has taken several classes and says he’s very helpful. Colleague Reg Dyke agrees. After working with him for fourteen years he says Griffin is “an inspiration”. Dyke says he hears students in and out of Griffith’s office throughout the day looking for help with their poetry and freshman compositions.
Colleague David Summers cites Griffith’s strong teaching skills and fabulous sense of humor. He also commends Griffith’s efforts to teach contemporary poetry in the context of traditional literature.
Colleagues in the English Department at Capital were not surprised when Griffith won the University’s highest teaching award in 2006 an honor is bestowed by students.
Still Griffith still believes his career choice has not pleased everyone. He says if you look up disappointment in the dictionary, you’ll find his mother’s face.