By Daniel Biegelson, '01

I first came to poetry through music—Bob Dylan led to Charles Baudelaire, Neil Young to Emily Dickinson, Sam Cooke to Robert Hayden, Otis Redding to Gwendolyn Brooks. Which is really just to say that over time, I learned that the difference between poetry and music is minute. Poet Angela Ball visited Richmond in 1999 during the spring semester of my sophomore year, and she came bearing a music all her own.

At that time, I wanted my poems to sing, to scat, and, oh yeah, to bop—and Angela helped me to hear my song more clearly.

She brought a jazz-infused ear to her writing workshop, and we were encouraged to bring the arias, solos, and free-form improvisations contained within our poems to the surface. Angela also emphasized revision, and urged us to knock down our own poems in order to rebuild them. Not only were we asked to write responses for fellow students, we were also required to construct our own manual for revising poems. This was an important lesson for me. Every poem in her workshop had to go through at least four drafts (a small number now, a big number then). I often turned in first drafts consisting of only a handful of lines. With Angela’s help, this draft could balloon to three or four pages on the second try. And yet, my final draft might be, again, only a handful of lines. This process of winnowing away the chaff, of saying more with less, seems to me to lie at the core of the poetic endeavor.

Although my primary area of interest was and is poetry, Angela’s class required us to craft one act plays. Writing a play was a daunting and exciting experience.  In retrospect, constructing a play with its emphasis on dialogue, scene, and character dovetailed neatly with the dramatic monologues of Browning, the soliloquies of Shakespeare, and the shifting voices of Berryman that I was simultaneously encountering in literature classes. In a coup de grace, Angela invited students from the drama department to perform our plays. As authors, we were able to play a role in directing our own work, and to make our visions visual. This kind of creative overlap so common at Richmond was extraordinarily valuable to me as a poet and a scholar. Writing a play challenged me to devise poems with various voices. In the long run, and perhaps more importantly, studying with Angela helped me turn cacophony into syncopation.

Daniel Biegelson, '01, holds an M.F.A. in Poetry from the University of Montana and was a Poet-in-Residence at the Solomon Schechter Day School in 2007 and 2008. He is currently working on his Ph.D. in American Studies at the University of Massachusetts-Amherst.