Returning poet-in-residence Armstrong to transcend link between news and poetry


Jennifer Shore | Staff Writer

People need permission to write as much as possible, which means permission to write “a lot of crap,” James Armstrong said.

Armstrong, Week Two poet-in-residence, said people shouldn’t stress about the quality of writing instead of the process itself, which should be as productive and happen as frequently as possible.

“Everyone who is successful, I think, will bear that you just have to get up every day and face that sheet of paper and not expect it to be wonderful every time you put the pen to paper or finger to keyboard,” Armstrong said.

He returns to the Writers’ Center at 12:15 p.m. today on the Alumni Hall porch to help Chautauquans connect to poetry and news.

Clara Silverstein, director of the Writers’ Center, originally discovered Armstrong’s poetry when she received one of his books as a gift from her son, and thought he seemed to be a good fit at Chautauqua.

For Armstrong’s second visit, he will once again add to the morning lecture. Week Two’s theme is “The Lehrer Report: What Informed Voters Need to Know,” which pairs with his Brown Bag lecture, “Informed Voters Need to Know — About Poetry.”

“The last time he was here, he really made an effort to have his workshop and his talk fit in with everything else going on at Chautauqua,” Silverstein said. “I think he enjoys that and is really looking for ways to connect, and that’s something we encourage.”

As a teacher at Winona State University in Minnesota, Armstrong brings more than 15 years of experience to the Writers’ Center, and he encourages Chautauquans to write as much as possible to improve their writing — something he does every morning with a cup of coffee in one hand and a pen in the other.

Armstrong, who published two collections of poetry — Monument in a Summer Hat and Blue Lash — will discuss in his lecture how poetry has the ability to teach readers and to report the news.

“We have to make poetry out of language that we swim in,” Armstrong said. “There have been times when poetry has a special refined language that’s only for poetry, but I don’t think that’s what people want now.”

The PEN-New England Discovery Prize recipient said poetry isn’t just a reflection of the present — it is also a reflection of all time and deep time.

“The wonderful thing about poetry is it puts you in touch with the deepest resources with language and culture, which has a much longer reach than the 24-hour news cycle,” Armstrong said.