5 Reasons to See A.E. Stallings
October 23, 2017
We can think of many reasons why you should join SAL to hear A.E. Stallings – formalist poet and translator who’s joining us all the way from Greece – as part of our Poetry Series on November 13, but here are our top five . . .
By SAL Intern, Lucienne Aggarwal
1. She lives among Greek mythology even in the modern day. Stallings brings mythological heroes to life, and not just in her poetry. While she regularly reimagines ancient Greek characters in her poetry, resurrecting such characters as Psyche, Hades and Persephone, her two children are named after famous figures. Her son is named after the leader of the Argonauts, Jason, and her daughter is named after the character Atalanta, two characters who sailed together in the quest for the Golden Fleece. In her TED talk titled “The Courage of Poetry,” Stallings tells of her amusement that her son regularly plays with school friends who are named after famous Greeks like Xenophon and Andromeda–stories from the past can create new meanings in the present.
2. She came back stronger after having her first collection of poems destroyed. Ryan Gunn relates the following incident in Tupelo Quarterly: while in elementary school, Stallings was encouraged to keep a diary. She wrote mainly short stories and poems, such as homages to Blake’s “Tyger” and Kipling’s “White Seal.” Her teacher would write back to the students in those diaries. But one day, for some unknown reason, the teacher decided the diaries had to go—she tossed the entire class’ collection of diaries into the school incinerator. As a young kid, Stallings was devastated because this diary was her life’s work. Her homeroom teacher, distressed about Stallings’ loss, confronted and chastised the teacher responsible for destroying her creative work. Strengthened by this kind show of support, Stallings started writing her life’s work from scratch. As she says, “I suppose that was a lesson about persistence.
3. She revels in poetry’s disreputable reputation. In an essay, “Why Bother with Poetry?” that Stallings wrote for TLS in 2016, she says that poetry’s usefulness is often questioned; she counters with the notion that “poetry was around before the alphabet and there is even a theory that the Greek alphabet was invented for the purpose of recording . . . Poetry is not useful [but] it is in every culture.” Despite its seeming lack of utility, poetry still exists. She believes despite the anxiety among academic institutions that poetry is under threat, she believes poetry is not endangered and will only cease when humans do. She also loves the fact that George Eliot in Middlemarch compares poetry to slang. Eliot wrote that “the strongest slang of all is the slang of poets.” Poetry is not only powerful but enduring.
4. She’s a rule breaker. Stallings may be an aficionado of sonnets and villanelles, but in an interview with Beth Gylys in Five Points, she tells how she skipped school to hear famous writers. Her parents acknowledged and actively supported Stalling’s childhood desire to be writer, her dad allowing her to skip school whenever a famous writer was in town. Thanks to her family’s reverence for writers, Stallings got to hear Eudora Welty, James Dickey, Stephen Spender, and more. The chance to be inspired by writers gave Stallings courage to write herself.
5. She understands that writing poetry gives not just joy, but a voice to the voiceless. Stallings works directly with refugees and understands poetry’s power to enrich lives. In Athens, she periodically leads a poetry workshop for female refugees who have recently arrived from Afghanistan, Iraq, and Syria. The refugee camps these women live in barely meet human essentials, but these women crave not just for life’s essentials, but also poetry. “Some of them have fled Taliban-controlled areas where song is forbidden,” she describes. “I see in them a lyric longing for the beauty and power of language, and for speaking in the first person.”