Charles Rafferty reads his brief and humorous poems

Kevin Leon

Poet Charles Rafferty stopped by the Bear’s Den on Thursday, October 3 to give a poetry reading. Rafferty has had works published in “The New Yorker,” along with several published books such as “The Smoke of Horses” and “A Less Fabulous Infinity.” He previously read at Ursinus a few years ago, in October of 2016.

Rafferty got his MFA from the University of Arkansas. He currently directs the MFA program at Albertus Magnus College in New Haven, Connecticut. Prior to the reading, he attended John Volkmer’s Anthropocene-centric creative writing class where he gave students feedback on their poetry.

Volkmer gave Rafferty’s introduction at 7:00 p.m. and Rafferty proceeded to read poetry for about 30 minutes. He read various poems, some from his earlier works and a couple that he had just finished a day before. A few of the works read included “The Man Who Bled Wine,” “The Pond,” and “The Problem with the Colosseum.”

His poetry straddles the fence between self-deprecation and self-pity, with passion and vibrancy being important factors that keep it on the right side of that fence. The brevity of each poem highlighted the seeming non-sequiturs that his poems appear to build themselves around.

He later pointed out, during a 15 minute session of questions after the reading, that his style relies on these non sequiturs. This method of taking two lines that may not appear to go together and molding them into two that do is important to his writing style, he said.

Also during this Q&A session, Rafferty stressed the importance of revising. “I think if you are a writer, you are more properly called a reviser. I don’t know anyone who gets it right on the first try.”

Rafferty explained that he also struggles with getting started with writing. To alleviate that issue, he forces himself to write during his commutes. He’ll later go back and pick out sentences or lines that stuck out, and add those to a fragments document on his computer. These become the non-sequiturs that he enjoys working into a poem. Trial and error.

He warns against people trying to be original. He says that young poets should dedicate time to reading the canon, to fully take in what makes the great works so great. A pursuit of being original, of doing something so different from everyone else, he believes, isn’t the wisest choice.

Charles Rafferty reads his brief and humorous poemsThere’s a reason the canon is heralded for what it is. Rafferty thinks people should look towards that for inspiration. That’s what poets should be trying to write. “We shouldn’t be trying to do something strange for the sake of strangeness,” says Rafferty. “There are certain principles that never go stale.”