Author uses wordplay, humor in poetry, prose

Author Paul Ruffin shares a laugh with his audience at the University of Houston-Victoria's American Book Review reading series.

Paul Ruffin brushed his chin softly as he read to a jovial audience, which was bursting with laughter in reaction to his risque poetry and prose.

Ruffin, former state poet laureate and Sam Houston State University professor, read as the American Book Review reading series' 65th author at the University of Houston-Victoria's Alcorn Auditorium on Thursday afternoon.

Ruffin, 72, was introduced by university English lecturer A. J. Ortega, who lauded the poet's past achievements and founding of the Texas Review, a biannual literary journal.

"He writes about landscape as if its a supporting character," Ortega said. "... And uses humor to view tragedy from a different angle."

The author approached the lectern resting his weight upon a walker and began with a few poems from his collections.

Ruffin opened with a poem about a sudden chill that took hold of Mississippi, his former home, called, "Frozen Over."

"I recall only once how the cold came down like a lid of iron clamping the landscape and stilling the trees, and all the poems froze over," read Ruffin while spreading his fingers out for expression. "... I move like a bird coming to terms with glass."

In between poetry readings, Ruffin talked about becoming the state's poet laureate in 2009.

"I think it was divine intervention," Ruffin said. "I don't know how it happened."

From necrophilia to an intimate encounter with a women's negligee catalog, Ruffin prodded humor into ordinary, uncomfortable experiences.

"His feverish hands stroked her length, he sang soft tunes of love, and in the silence of that lonely room, rose whispers and sounds of passion," Ruffin read. "Months later, someone discovered her carelessly re-wrapped body and noted her bulging belly, a doctor found a heart, determined she was with child."

Eileen Koliba, 68, sat in the front during Ruffin's reading.

"I really liked his style a lot," Koliba said. "It's real, very genuine. He talks about real people, and I enjoy his word play."

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