English professor waxes poetic, draws colleagues
Karen Holmberg shares ideas about her latest
Published: Tuesday, January 30, 2007
Updated: Tuesday, July 24, 2012 20:07
The usual line of division between students and professors was absent as both waited Monday night for a presentation given by Karen Holmberg, OSU English professor and poet.Hosted at the Autzen House, attending students came in hopes of becoming more poetically savvy.
"I'm interested in creative writing," said Christie VanLaningham, a senior in history. "This kind of opportunity provides a good venue to research more about poetry. More students should come to these."
Colleagues, however, attributed their attendance to interest in Holmberg's work in particular.
"[Holmberg] is an exciting poet," said Anita Helle, fellow English professor at OSU. "She has a wide range of language interest in her work."
Helle admitted her reason for attending before the presentation with excitement.
"Poetry reaches its fullest expression in its delivery," Helle said.
Amid the dcor - brick fireplaces and contemporary artwork - Holmberg poured out ideas regarding her newest work, a collection of poems titled "Black Pansies: A Novella in Verse."
Holmberg has already made a name for herself in the field of poetry. Her work has been published in The Paris Review, Slate and The Nation.
Holmberg is the two-time winner of the Academy of American Poets Prize, and one time winner of the Vassar Miller Prize, a distinguished honor in poetry.
The author's most famous work is a book of poems published in 2002 titled "Perseids."
Unlike some of her previous work, "Black Pansies" will favor spontaneity over rigid structures. It will be a lyrical novella with no narrative involved.
The idea for Holmberg's new compilation of poems came from a photograph taken of her great grandfather, Adolf Holmberg.
"I felt like I was receiving messages through the photograph," Holmberg said. "It showed a person very passionately attached to a place. Even though some of the work I've done hasn't been good, I knew I had to keep writing to tell the story."
The book will include pieces written about family history and the long-range impact of immigration on a person's well being.
Poetry is known to be a presentation of feelings evoked by experiences, a kind of outlet of expression. Ironically, "Black Pansies" will contain poetry inspired by family members Holmberg has never met, making it difficult to express emotional details.
To aid her research - and gain more information - Holmberg made a pilgrimage to the land of her heritage, Sweden. There she learned about her "crofter" class family, one plagued by low status and a desire for land that eventually drove them to the United States.
However, her great grandfather did not move to the western United States like many other immigrants. He began to cultivate a farm in Connecticut, an area now known to local residents as "Holmberg Hill."
Upon her return from Sweden, Holmberg realized the immense similarities between the old land in Sweden and her family's Connecticut farm. The love extended so deep that even when forced out, Adolf Holmberg strove to keep a part of it with him in his new surroundings.
"This [novella] is largely about love of place," Holmberg said. "Immigrants like my family were attached to the land as much as they hated it because they were pushed away."
Even after her voyage to Sweden, Holmberg knows little about her Swedish heritage. It wasn't spoken of in her childhood. Their "Swedishness," as Holmberg put it, was stifled. Adolf Holmberg eventually committed suicide. This lends support to her theory that immigrants who deny their true identities can become extremely depressed, she said.
After sharing samples of "Black Pansies" with her anticipatory audience, Holmberg shared her evolving idea for the book. She plans on making the subjects more universal, editing out parts of her family and using different names. Holmberg wishes to project the image not simply of her own heritage stifled, but of those that are smothered around the world.
The captivated listeners seemed awed by Holmberg's indecisive attitude toward her work.
"These works are virgin poems," said Holmberg. "I might throw away some pieces and start over."
For now, students and colleagues will continue to wait for Holmberg to finish what she deems a complete version of "Black Pansies.