LARGER THAN THE SELF
It takes a certain perspective to put words to silence—and it takes a certain mind to craft creative and scholarly work. Not only separately at once, but in such a way that they coalesce.
Meet George Kalamaras—Professor of English at IPFW and former poet laureate of Indiana—who makes incredible things happen on campus and in the Fort Wayne community with words, research, and projects that bring writers and readers together.
“How do we engage in poetry so that it’s not simply expressing one’s thoughts and it’s not simply about one’s own person?” Kalamaras muses. “The basic idea—the core of the initiative that I took into the poet laureateship—was how can I serve the poetic community? How can I serve even people who are not poets and see that art is really everywhere?”
REACHING THE SUMMIT
Born in Chicago and raised in Indiana, Kalamaras found himself intrigued by the idea of returning to his Hoosier roots—which also meant nurturing his profession at IPFW amongst a faculty he admired.
“IPFW has supported me in a lot of ways,” he says. “They’ve supported my research through various grants and always acknowledging and seeing value in my work. I’ve always felt supported—not only as a teacher, but as a researcher, a writer, and a poet. There are some poets who have felt that academia is not the place for them—I have never felt that.”
He divulges that he often teaches his students lessons that he feels are good to review, himself—switching to “auto-pilot” can be easy to do unless one consciously slows down and reevaluates.
“If we slow ourselves down,” Kalamaras says, “and begin to translate out how to write a poem, how to look at the world, we can remind ourselves of what the process is.”
THE SOUND OF SILENCE
Kalamaras’ work doesn’t stop in the creative realm—he’s currently engaged in both scholarly research and creative endeavor at the university.
“My research is primarily on silence and my doctoral dissertation was on the rhetoric of silence—I was very involved in the ways that silence and language reciprocate and interact,” he says. “I’ve published many articles and a book on silence, particularly as it relates to the Hindu yogic meditative tradition.”
Kalamaras is also involved in composition studies and how writing can be made more accessible and available to students—on which he has published extensively as well.
And—of course—he is consistently active in the field of poetry with publication of his work and initiatives including the Wabash Watershed blog project, the Gray Barn Rising video series, and Project 411—a statewide collaborative poem for poets and non-poets alike.
“I know it has a funny name, but Project 411 is named such because the Wabash River runs untamed, un-dammed for 411 miles. What I did was I solicited lines of poetry and gathered 411 of these lines—from poets and non-poets—to emphasize that and bring others into this effort,” he says.
Kalamaras has published around 15 books of poetry—eight full-length books and seven chapbooks of poetry. His work focuses on the unconscious, perceiving it in a way that aligns with the conscious mind rather than as its rival.
“Surrealism as a literary and artistic movement is really delving into the intuition and our unconscious minds in deep ways so that we’re not simply intellectualizing about something,” he says. “This grows out of my interest in silence and how it reciprocates with language. I really am trying throughout my scholarly and poetic work to break down binaries and to not position things as ‘self’ and ‘other,’ but to see how they interact. The core of my poetry is built on breaking down distinctions.”
THE ROLE OF A POET
“I think that the poet laureate is extraordinarily relevant to the community at large because, if anything, the poet needs to break down the stereotypes that hem the poet into this idea or that idea of what a poet is,” Kalamaras explains. “Poets come in all shapes and sizes. They don’t simply wear berets and dress in black and walk around and play bongos. Some poets might do that and that’s perfectly fine, but—for example—the great William Carlos Williams was a pediatrician. Wallace Stevens was an insurance executive.
“The relevance of the poet is someone needing to speak deep inner truths. Someone needs to say that simply looking is of value. We often think that poets write about huge or extraordinary things—and sometimes we do—but the real importance of poetry is that it can be an attentiveness practice. It’s not the outcomes that I’m after so much; it’s the how and the why and in what ways?
“The practice of poetry changes my consciousness, and the yardstick for that is really, have I changed at all in writing a poem? Am I a better person? Am I kinder? Am I more open?”
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