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Poet tells about experience-related writing

The cover of Rob Gray's latest book about the death of his brother
The cover of Rob Gray's latest book about the death of his brother
Negative Capability Press

A poet and University of South Alabama Director of the Program for Enhancement of Teaching and Learning will teach a workshop for the Pensters writing group on Sat., Jan. 9 at the Fairhope Public Library--the subject will be 'Writing What You Must,' a device the poet uses in his own work.

Rob Gray has written a book of poems, I Wish that I Were Langston Hughes, and a verse novel, DREW: Poems from Blue Water. In both, he uses his theory about writing what pours out of you. Both are available at

"I've never been somebody who tries to write something everyday," he said. "I just write what tells me it has to be written--I didn't write any poems from May to October, for example."

"It has to be important for me to dig the time out--it isn't an exercise, it's sort of an imperative."

His first book features 30 poems with each poem paying homage to a poet Gray admires. This goes along with his theory about writing what can't stay kept within you; he said that the poets, among them--Nikki Giovanni and Wallace Stevens--tell something about what poetry should be, and therefore, helped him decide what poetry meant to him.

He will bring these aspects into the workshop, he said.

"It's important to be sure that you have a firm idea of what poetry is and what it means to the writers--what it is and what is should be and how to communicate that to their audiences," he said.

Also in DREW, a book about his brother's death, he found subject matter coming before craft, though the latter, he said, is also very important in writing.

One way to realize what poetry is and what subjects are important to you is by, "reading other people's poetry and a lot of it," he said.

"I had to wrestle with all those issues about what poetry should do; after going through all that, it gave me an idea of what my path was," he said.

His upcoming book, Jesus Walks the South Land--a political commentary, is, like the previous two, very different when compared to his other works, but keeps true to the importance of subject matter, he said.

Pensters Member Larry Sampson feels Gray's experiences will help the group.

"The Pensters spotlight a variety of writing and perspectives during their season," he said. "Rob is well traveled in academics and reading venues and can speak to what he has seen be successful and necessary and what has been less helpful."

P.T. Paul, the group's president, agreed.

"As a poet, I am interested in Rob's process; how he approaches his projects and what organizing principles he uses to accomplish his goals, she said. "The obvious common thread connecting Rob's two books is a theme, and I am curious as to which came first--the impulse to write, or the theme, itself."

" In my own work, I find that I frequently write to a theme, even though it may not be apparent at the time, and my constant goal is to inform my own writing, to approach the creative impulse from an overview, to write with purpose to a specific end without sacrificing the element of discovery that is the beating heart of poetry."

"According to our bylaws, the purpose of the Pensters is to improve craftsmanship and to promote marketing of member's works, and to that end we invite speakers from various walks of life who have succeeded as authors in various genres and disciplines," she said. "Rob Gray is a successful poet and educator whose experiences can inform not only the poets in the group, but also the memoirists, as his poetry embraces his experiences and engages the historical influences that have formed his perspective."

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