Poet and educator David Hassler of Kent State University, admires his art for its conversational quality, it’s ability to communicate one's “inner voice” to that of another. Hassler, who has published two books of poetry – one, called Red Kimono, Yellow Barn, which won him the title of Ohio Poet of the Year in 2006 – is fascinated with the discovery of words that provide a new perspective.
I’m struck by that 'aha!' moment, that moment of surprise, when someone makes a leap of thought, a new understanding. And That leap of thought is like a spark, when, like you rub two sticks together, you can rub two words together in a new way, words that may not be normally be put side by side to make a new meaning, and you feel that spark.
Hassler’s poetry itself demonstrates this “spark” also between Chinese and American cultures, and how a new understanding of each can unfold through colorful comparison. This can be something as simple, Hassler says, as juxtaposing two commonplace dishes of food, like American sunny-side up eggs and Japanese full-moon soba, and “naming that connection” that lies beyond the words and phrases we use.
As Director of Kent State’s Wick Poetry Center (since 2000), Hassler has made great leaps in bringing the conversation of poetry to a new generation, “using the newest technology,” he says, “and connecting it to the oldest technology.” Wick’s “Traveling Stanzas” can be spotted all over Kent’s campus, in its 12-story library, its coffee shops, buses, and, in due time, in Wick’s own outdoor gathering place for poets. These "Stanzas" can also be found via the Wick web app, along with animated versions of poems from Wick authors.
Yet it’s the work that Hassler has done “in the schools” (also a semester-long course that he directs), that has given him his most immediate “aha” moments. Describing one of these moments, he tells of an experience in an Akron elementary school with a student who “had not found his voice” until he had the opportunity “to play with language.” It’s as if, as Hassler tells it, the boy’s “inner voice” had come alive, just because of this spark of language — something as simple as redefining the clouds in the sky. Or flowers that bear resemblance to something familiar...
But poetry is not just about naming, Hassler says, but renaming the commonplace objects in our daily life, and seeing them in a whole new perspective. This, he says, is why poetry was so fascinating to him as a student.
I came to poetry because it gives us that ability to tap in what is forever young in us that youthful sense of play in ourselves of exuberance, of play, of experimentation […] If we keep up that conversation with ourselves and with the child and our youthful sense of play in ourselves, we can make our world anew by naming our world anew — by renaming, we renew our relationship to ourselves and to each others and our world.
“Once you can name something, you're conscious of it. You have power over it. You own it. You're in control,” says writer and designer Robin Williams. And with Hassler’s outlook, once you can find a new way of looking at something — a shopping cart in a Walmart parking lot, the sound of a pigeon on the piazza, the eggs you fry on a Sunday morning — you have made it personal, and yourself a poet.
Watch the full TEDxTalk for more of Hassler's thoughts on the "conversation of poetry":