For Emilio DeGrazia, poetry is about connecting life with language, spurred by an insatiable curiosity about both. And as the new Winona Poet Laureate, he wants to bring poetry from out of the shadows, show young and old how the style of expression can truly be for everyone.
DeGrazia was selected as the 2012 Winona Poet Laureate, and will be honored with the recognition on Wednesday, January 11, at a reception at the Minnesota Marine Art Museum from 6:30 p.m. until 8:30 p.m. During the reception, DeGrazia will receive the title passed from current Poet Laureate Ken McCullough. A cash bar and hors d’oeuvres will be served, and DeGrazia’s newest book “Seasonings” will be available for purchase.
DeGrazia came to Winona in 1969 as a young assistant professor at Winona State University, where he taught for 33 years, including a variety of subjects from freshman English to graduate classes and creative writing. “Meanwhile, I have done quite a bit of writing,” he said. “Most of it has been fiction, but alongside the fiction I’ve always been sort of quietly writing poetry, sending it out to little magazines here and there, a small body of published work out there in the world, scattered about like leaves of grass.”
He says that his love of the written language came early on, and he recalls an early poem he wrote in sixth grade about the Nina, the Pinta and the Santa Maria. “I couldn’t find a rhyme for Santa Maria,” he said, “and it troubled me a lot.
“I guess I just have a sort of insatiable curiosity about things, all things. I started reading early in high school, and my reading just created more curiosity, and that led to more reading,” he said of those early years.
In his graduate studies, DeGrazia pored over hundreds of pages of the great classic romantics -- Shelley, Keats, Byron, Blake. But he didn’t write anything. “I was still filling up [on reading],” he said. “But when I got to Winona, the urge to express became pretty strong.”
DeGrazia said that his style of poetry is a mix between that older, classical style of poetry and the more modern, free verse forms of the 20th century. “I stand in sort of two worlds.” But his embrace of the modern form did not come at first. DeGrazia wrote his master’s thesis on the work of Hilda Doolittle, a poet closely associated with Ezra Pound, and one that DeGrazia admits he didn’t really understand when he began his studies. “So I thought I’d better go and see what’s happening,” he said. “I came away, I think, understanding more about free verse and modernism, so that’s the other part of who I am as a writer.”
DeGrazia said during his tenure as Laureate, he would like to open up the world of poetry to the community, especially to young people, and make himself available to teachers, institutions and the public to spread the word. “I want to make it seem more accessible for one thing,” he said. “I think poetry is seen as this obscure, abstruse, incomprehensible stuff that only a few weirdos are really interested in. I would like to do what I can to make it more accessible to the general public without cheapening it into sentimental verse, because I think good poetry is really about language awareness and life awareness, and the connection between the two shouldn’t evolve into cliché and nice statements, pretty statements.”
DeGrazia has won several awards and fellowships during his writing career, including a Minnesota Book Award for “Seventeen Grams of Soul.”