By Kevin Gray
Translating inspiration into art involves a bit of magic, says Anthony Caleshu ’92.
“For a poem to be outstanding, I’ll echo Harold Bloom’s idea that there has to be a ‘strangeness’ about it,” says Caleshu, professor of poetry and manager of the master’s program in creative writing, University of Plymouth, England. “An outstanding collection needs to be more than the sum of its parts.”
An English graduate, Caleshu is blending experience with research as he creates The Victor Poems, his most recent title about the search for a long-lost friend. The first five poems in the book-length sequence were awarded the 2010 Boston Review Poetry Prize.
“Old friends from Lafayette and various antics that occurred during my college years figure in—fictionalized, of course,” he says. “And then there’s the research into friendship ‘theory’… Aristotle, Montaigne, Emerson. Reading them inspired the book as much as any life I’ve lived. Research gives me the opportunity to import things into the poetry that wouldn’t have been there without it.”
Caleshu also has written the critically acclaimed Of Whales (featured in the summer 2011 Lafayette Magazine) and The Siege of the Body and a Brief Respite. For Of Whales, he spent a month reading Herman Melville’s archives at Harvard University, New York Public Library, and New Bedford Whaling Museum in Massachusetts.
“My son, Parker, had just turned two, and being away for that month was odd for both of us,” Caleshu says. “I hadn’t imagined a son would figure in the poems. But, after a couple of weeks away, the father-son dynamic became a functional part of the book.”
At Lafayette, Caleshu was assistant editor of The Marquis, Lafayette’s literary journal. He says, “The willingness to entertain ‘practice as research’ allowed me the room to develop as a writer. I truly learned to read and write there. The English Department was, and I’m sure still is, a progressive place where researchers teach their scholarship and art.”
His passion for poetry was stoked by Lee Upton, writer-in-residence and professor of English. “Professor Upton has been one of the most supportive teachers, writers, and critics of my work, and I’m incredibly grateful. She introduced me to contemporary poetry, and her own writing—some 10 books of poetry and criticism—set a benchmark against which I continue to measure my own work.”
Caleshu holds a master of fine arts in creative writing from University of Alabama and a doctorate in English from National University of Ireland. His time in the classroom feeds his creative process.
“There’s a symbiotic relationship between teaching and writing,” he says. “It’s about getting the balance right, which is tough. I’ve taught some poems for 15 years and still enjoy those poems and find something new every time I read them. Helping students with their work and watching them build on that work to the point at which they’re publishing and successful is a real joy.”