Writer evokes nature through poems

Gabriella Canales By Gabriella Canales

April 27, 2017 at 11:06 p.m.
Updated April 28, 2017 at 6 a.m.

Duane Niatum

Duane Niatum   Contributed Photo for The Victoria Advocate

Though University of Houston-Victoria master's student Josette Looft was sitting in the Alcorn Auditorium, she felt as if she were in a picture-perfect scene of nature while hearing the verses of Duane Niatum.

"He is an observational poet," Looft said. "He has something for everyone."

The university's American Book Review reading series hosted Niatum, a writer who lives in Washington, on Thursday. He marked the 99th speaker for the reading series and the last one for the spring semester.

He has written more than 20 books with themes including the traditions and legends of his ancestors.

Niatum began the presentation by reading the poem "Passing Through" by Stanley Kunitz.

It is a tradition of his to begin readings with the work of another poet, he said.

"Kunitz wrote the poem on his 79th birthday, and since it is my 79th birthday, I thought it would be appropriate," Niatum said.

Painters have influenced his writing, he said.

Niatum's favorite works are the ones grounded in the Earth and reflect what it means to be part of nature, he said.

Poems have to convey an image, he said.

"The earlier poets of the 19th century did abstracting through nature," he said. "It has many faces, but everything in nature is like that; we're like that."

Niatum enjoys writing about the changing seasons.

"With the changing seasons come the different characters, animals and plants," he said. "Every season has an expression."

An aspect of nature that is difficult to portray is the sea, Niatum said.

"Like everything else of nature, it has many faces," he said. "It's always being transformed by weather, sunlight, moonlight."

Knowing when poems are complete is difficult, Niatum said.

"A poem is never finished," he said, explaining he spent about 30 years revising his longer poems. "Most poets feel the same way."

Niatum's poems also extend to politics and human rights.

"You need to engage in the politics of your time," he said. "It's part of your world; we are political persons. We need to speak out about it."

Niatum recommended a variety of authors and poets, including Elizabeth Bishop and Sylvia Plath, for the audience to read.

"These are poets you could live with through the rest of your life," he said. "Start as a youth and read until you are 90 and get something out of it. These are authors for any age."


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