When English professor Brian Henry gives writing advice to his students, it’s not just coming from a teacher: it’s coming from an editor, a literary critic and published author. “Students interested in writing should share their work with others--in a creative writing class, with a writing group, with literary-minded friends,” Henry said. “They should also read a lot, particularly contemporary work, to get a sense of the possibilities.”

The importance of living writers is a key component of the creative writing program at Richmond. And with his fifth and sixth books of poetry, The Stripping Point and In the Unlikely Event of a Water published in 2007, Henry’s own writing is an example of contemporary possibilities.

The Stripping Point consists of two longer poems: "More Dangerous Than Dying" and "The Stripping Point." "More Dangerous Than Dying" revolves around a troubled romance in the office of a paper mill.

“It juxtaposes the narrator's take on the relationship with other bits of text, which creates a polyphonic atmosphere," Henry said.

“The Stripping Point" is a kind of love poem originally conceived as hypertext. Of the book’s title, Henry said, “This second poem recycles 13 6-line sections and gets stripped down in the process.”

In the Unlikely Event of a Water, a limited edition book published in England, is composed of shorter poems that deal mostly with surveillance.

“I wanted to deal with what it means to live in a surveillance society and what happens to language and human interaction when everyone is a potential perpetrator, a victim and a bystander,” Henry explained.

Besides teaching creative writing classes and writing poetry, Henry has edited two books and is co-editor of Verse magazine, a print journal largely devoted to poetry, criticism and interviews with poets from around the world. It also publishes some innovative fiction and hybrid work.

In 2004, Henry created a blog for the magazine where he posts original content, such as poems and reviews, as well as news and announcements.

“We just published a triple issue devoted to contemporary French poetry and poetics. Our next issue will focus on the poetic sequence,” Henry said.

Henry will take a writing sabbatical in the spring, but he leaves creative writing students with what he feels is another important writing resource at Richmond—a Distinguished Visiting Writer. Through this series, students have access to living writers who give readings, visit classes and meet with students. Henry is particularly excited about the writer coming during his sabbatical.

“We're very fortunate to have Tomaz Salamun as our Distinguished Visiting Writer in spring 2008,” Henry said of the Slovenian poet who has published more than 30 books of poetry and has been translated into over 20 languages.

Salamun is teaching a poetry workshop and a European-style poetry tutorial, both of which Henry claims, should be amazing. Salamun’s 10th book in English, Woods and Chalices, will be published while he is in Richmond.

Of his own personal writing process, Henry said, “I tend to write quickly and then spend a lot of time revising. I might write a short poem in half an hour and then spend several years messing with it until I feel I can't improve it any more.”

As for Henry’s literary future, his seventh book of poetry, Lessness, has been accepted for publication and he has already started another, which he hopes will turn into a book-length poem. “So far, it's concerned with vision, the visionary.”

Photo by Travis Fullerton  © Virginia Museum of Fine Arts