English professor Dr. Javier Ávila moved his audience with his poetry on October 28
From a frog in a bathtub to a professor's wry chronicle of aging, poetry written and read by Professor of English Dr. Javier Ávila kept a roomful of listeners fascinated on October 28. His verse evoked laughter, tears and the unity of a shared experience.
The thoroughly bilingual poet, novelist and essayist read mostly from his dual-language anthology, Vapor: Selected Poems, (Poesía selecta/Selected Poems) a compilation gathered from four previously published, award-winning collections.
In "Weak Spot," a frog interrupts and may or may not avert a bathtub suicide. Naturally, the poem arouses unfailing curiosity; it propelled a reader in Puerto Rico to drive two hours to ask the poet about its meaning. Likewise, the poem prompted an intrigued question from the audience on October 28.
With humor and pathos, "The Full Professor" series traces an academic's eager first day of teaching through his gradual disillusionment and post-retirement death and obscurity. In "Now" the poet writes
"I imagine myself
in the distant future
the very things
I am not doing
In "Album," Ávila glimpses our inevitable future:
"You will also be the dead relative
of some young stranger who will ask:
Who was that, Grandpa?"
And he will turn the page
in less than a second."
He read "Certainties," dedicated to one of his mentors, the late poet and NCC English professor Len Roberts.
Ávila, who read in Spanish and English, also introduced some of his newest poems, which are not included in Vapor. And, as a surprise, the event premiered a video: the poet's four-and-a half-year-old son, Oscar, emphatically reading "You Seem."
During a question-and-answer period, Ávila discussed writing, reading and translating poetry. Many of his poems concern time, a subject that impressed itself on him when he underwent heart surgery at the age of seven. "All people are obsessed with time," he said. "We hate and love time. We say that time heals, but we also know that it leads to our end," he said.
He recalled writing stories in verse at age eight, encouraged by his teachers at an English-language school in Puerto Rico. "Sometimes you don't know the power of a teacher," he said. As a teacher himself, Ávila learns from his students. "It's a two-way process."
When translating his work from one language to another, he strives to capture emotion. "Poetry is first an emotional experience and then an intellectual one," he said. This approach also applies, he said, to reading verse.
His advice to student writers is: "Don't write unless you cannot help it. You have to do it for yourself, not for money or fame."
After the event, listeners formed a long queue to have copies of Vapor signed.
Ávila joined the NCC faculty in 2006 and teaches a variety of courses such as poetry and creative writing. In addition to being a poet, Ávila is an essayist and a bestselling novelist.