Alex Grant once wrote that “if you’re going to give a public reading, then you should bloody-well be worth hearing.” Readers will discover his public reading is definitely worth the trip when they arrive at the Lazy Lion this Friday evening.
So what does Grant have to offer a working stiff at the end of a long day? “The duty of a poet is to bring people to poetry or back to poetry, he says.”Poems offer “a connection with the wider world—a connection out.”
Though he resides in Chapel Hill, Grant is no stranger to Fuquay-Varina.
Fuquay-Varina resident writer Laura Towne, co-host of the event, looks forward to the occasion. Towne says, “Alex Grant is one of the most down-to-earth and interesting poets we’ve had the pleasure of hosting, and we’re thrilled to have him back a second time.”
Grant, who frequently reads to standing-room-only crowds, has written several acclaimed poetry collections, including The Poems of Wing Lei, The Circus Poems, Fear of Moving Water (finalist for several awards), and Chains and Mirrors (winner of the 2007 Oscar Arnold Young Award for best NC poetry collection and the 2006 Randall Jarrell Poetry Prize).
A North Carolina Poet Laureate nominee, Grant stands apart. “Alex Grant is one of my favorite poets to hear read,” says award-winning poet Malaika King Albrecht. “Not only are his poems rich in language, image, and meaning, but he’s also a gifted reader with a good sense of humor. With his accent, he could read the back of a cereal box, and I’d listen.”
Grant hails from Scotland and describes Scots, including himself, as “lusty, irreverent, and ribald,” qualities that also occasionally creep into his poetry.
Any reader of his work notes the vivid imagery (“the thump of snowfall,” “the heart’s iambic thud,/ like steps on maple floors”) and rich figures of speech (“soft as guilt, skin like confetti”), but his latest publication takes a sparer approach.
In The Poems of Wing Lei, Grant assumes the persona of a ninth century monk and relates his imagined experiences in direct, restrained, yet evocative verse.
“It’s celebratory and sad … a love poem to the world,” Grant says, “with some fragmented fireworks.”
And it’s pure poetry, which he believes is clearly different from prose. “A poem is not prose broken into lines. There is a difference … [in] the language, the essence.”
So what makes a poet successful? “The first thing you’ve got to pay attention to is the work.” Grant despairs of poets who, like raw wine, are served up before their time.
Through the development of all his collections, he has learned a great deal from the writing. The Poems of Wing Lei allowed him to accentuate his spirituality and thus grow as a poet.
In his first thematic collection, The Circus Poems, Grant leaves behind the more formal style of earlier work. The Fear of Moving Water reveals his voyage as a poet, since it was eight or nine years in the making. This book opened the flood gates for him creatively.
“A collection should always astonish me or surprise me,” Grant says. A successful poem, he believes, should also harbor a surprise. “If the end doesn’t surprise me, it doesn’t work.”
His new collection lives up to that standard. When he tested its impact at a recent reading at Longwood University in Virginia, a number in the crowded theater were so moved by the lines that they cried, letting him know the poems were a success.
But Grant’s not resting on such laurels. Two additional collections are parked with a publisher, and he’s at work on yet another, unified around the theme “Absurd.”
For years, he has balanced between the world of work (an IT specialist) and the world of poetry. Both, he says, demand similar qualities: “rigor, imagination, creativity, and attention to detail.”
Now he has rooted himself solidly in one world, digging into writing. He is also branching out as a teacher, offering one-on-one critiques and mentoring for all levels (alexgrantpoet.com).
Most of all, Grant wants his work to be heard and read. That opportunity is just around the corner at 601 E. Broad Street. The social hour begins June 22 at 5 p.m., followed by the reading at 6 p.m. and an open mike.
After all, who among us doesn’t want a connection out?