I often self-cannibalize,” Joseph Bathanti said during his evening reading at the Bowers Writers House Thursday, Sept. 15. By this, Bathanti meant he often writes about the same subjects through poetry, fiction and nonfiction.
Director of the Bowers Writers House Jesse Waters described Bathanti as a “triple threat,” or someone who possesses three skills crucial to success in a certain field.
During the reading in the Great Room of the Bowers Writers House, Bathanti read five poems: “Anson County,” “Leaving Anson County,” “How to Bury a Dog,” “Shoplifting” and “Certainty.”
Before “Shoplifting,” Bathanti asked the audience who had shoplifted before. To those who didn’t raise their hands, he said he did not believe them and that everybody has shoplifted at least once in their lives.
Bathanti also read a personal essay, “Shuffletown,” and a short story, “Driving.”
Although Bathanti writes in many genres, his first impulse is to write poetry because it is the shortest and therefore seems the easiest. His skills as a poet also affect his writing in other genres.
“I’m always striving for compressed language, compressed musical language that is very germane to poetry, but I think it [poetry] is an important influence for the diction in nonfiction,” Bathanti said. “I still want to hear that language in prose.”
First-year Tasha Lewis noticed this musical quality to his prose when Bathanti read “Shuffletown.”
His word choice made it sound like a poem, according to Lewis, who had not heard non-fiction like this before and therefore found it interesting.
Six members of the Elizabethtown College community attended a craft talk in the Four Seasons Room three hours before the reading to learn from Bathanti’s diverse writing experience.
During this time, Bathanti read “Hod” from his collection of short stories, “The High Heart,” which won the 2006 Spokane Prize. It was one of several linked stories, or unconnected short stories about the same characters, in the collection.
His inspiration for this story came from his own memories and ancestry. For example, Bathanti combined elements from his own personality and from the personality of his cousin to create the main character Fritz Sweeney’s personality. Fritz’s mother, Rita, was likewise based on the personalities of Bathanti’s mother and his aunt.
Bathanti also took elements from his family history, such as being a decedent of Irish immigrants, being raised Catholic and having a father who was a steelworker.
Bathanti called his writing a “terrifically exaggerated autobiography” and compared its process to creating the Frankenstein monster. Bathanti joked that he might find a leg in that memory and the head in another.
Bathanti also talked about how characters are “organic beings outside the text.” He admitted that what baffled Fritz also baffled him as the writer. He wrote more short stories about Fritz to find the answers, but sometimes there would be no answer.
Sophomore Julia Raup-Collado agreed and said her characters often have a mind of their own in her creative writing.
Bathanti’s advice to young poets is to read more poetry, so they discover other poets to mimic and learn what the range of subjects is.
“You can write a poem about an ashtray. It’s all about language, not subject,” he stated.
According to Bathanti, another reason to read more poems is because “we live in a prose world.” People are most familiar with prose because they read a lot of it, whether in the form of a textbook, novel, sports article or magazine, but not many people are familiar with poetry. For this reason, Bathanti suggests young poets read 30 poems for every one they write.
Bathanti also believes attending readings is useful to the writing process. He compared it to reading more in order to learn to read like a writer.
“It’s practice for writing,” Bathanti said. “You’re reading like a writer, and I think when you go to readings, you start to listen like a writer.”
Bathanti also said readings can provide writers with topics to write about themselves.
The craft talk and evening reading were a part of the College English Department’s Guest Poet Series.
The next event at the Bowers Writers House is Communications Challenges, Changes and Opportunities: Panel Perspective with Etown’s Communication Department Faculty Monday, Sept. 26 from 6 to 7:30 p.m. For more information, contact Waters at (717) 689-3945 or email@example.com.