Before beginning his poetry reading, Curtis Bauer expressed gratitude to colleague Matthew O'Donnell with the promise, "I'll help you put up that barn that you've been talking about."
O'Donnell describes Bauer as an "Iowa farm boy" who has translated his "work ethic into highly crafted poems" that can't help but show his roots.
O'Donnell, the Associate Editor of Bowdoin Magazine, met Bauer through his work as editor of From the Fishouse, a self-described "audio archive of emerging poets."
The journal grew from O'Donnell's personal desire to hear more of his contemporaries read their poems. The site was formed in 2004 and launched from the Bowdoin campus in May 2005.
From the Fishouse sends recording devices to poets in the early stages of their career, requesting that they answer questions about their creative process and record themselves reading their poetry.
In an effort to become more international, From the Fishouse acquired over 50 hours of Spanish poets.
Bauer played a role in attaining these archives by tapping into the poets' community.
He explained how contact with one poet would immediately lead to contact with five more poets, creating a network of young talent.
International connections are imperative to O'Donnell, who hopes to redefine poetry recording as more than a retrospective archive.
In this way society will begin to enjoy poets "reading early in their careers" as part of a present rather than a past study of the poet's work.
From the Fishouse owes its name to a peculiar discovery. During his time as Henry Leland Chapman Professor of English at Bowdoin, Larry Hall did his writing in a converted codfish drying shack on Orr's Island.
O'Donnell explained that after Hall's death in 1993 the "fishouse" remained "like a time capsule," exactly as it had been as Hall's studio.
The fishouse now resides in O'Donnell's backyard, as a space of inspiration.
Bauer was one of the first poets published in Fishouse and made the most of his overdue visit to Bowdoin last night.
In addition to reading at the Schwartz Outdoor Leadership Center, Bauer offered a workshop titled "Walking the path: the daily walk as a writing ritual."
Bauer's visit comes in the wake of From the Fishouse's first print anthology, published in the spring of 2009.The anthology celebrates poems that "Sing, Rhyme, Resound, Syncopate, Alliterate, and Just Plain Sound Great."
Bauer derives his strength as a poet from the audio quality of his poems.
"He started out as a fiction writer and he kept paring down his fiction [until he] realized he was actually a poet," O'Donnell said. He added that there are no "accidents" in Bauer's poetry, and that the poems are captivating "as they are passing through your brain and over your lips."
Assisstant Curator of the Artic Museum Anne Witty, a participant in the workshop held by Bauer, recounted that Bauer turned the walk to the workshop building into an opportunity for poetic observation.
According to Witty, Bauer highlighted such observation as a way to "achieve depth and time in writing," to encounter the "subsurface" and create a narrative that is "multidimensional."
Witty added that the workshop ultimately imparted that "transformation is essential to life or we will solidify into nothingness."
Helen Joyce, a senior at Oberlin College attended Bauer's reading. Joyce said that the tangible quality of Bauer's work, and his focus on translation, "exposes you to the wealth of language, the weight of words [allowing you to] sink into the meaning that words carry."
Bauer describes himself as a thief and a voyeur among other things. A dedicated walker who "works out" his poems to "the cadence [of his] gait."
"We forget how to look, forget how to see, we need to wake up," he asserted. "Every day I decide to be a poet; it is a daily practice; it's a struggle."
The rewards of this struggle are great and have taken Bauer far from his boyhood occupation of fence mending. Despite naming his collection "Fenceline" Bauer admitted that he "actually hates fences...poetry knocks down fences...there is no greater pleasure than knocking down a wall."
"The poet's law is to tell the truth," he added, stressing that this exposure is universal. As a believer that a poem "written for someone" can be "written for anyone." Bauer often composes a poem that he doesn't "know what it is about until it is done," and writes letters discovering to whom he was writing to "halfway through."
"I don't write out of inspiration but out of daily practice...When I sit down intending to arrive at some [specific] place it is usually a failure," he said.
Despite his aversion to building fences, Bauer is not one to evade hard work.
He said that if you "forget how to work," you, in turn, "forget the meaning of certain things."
Bauer expects this same hardiness from his poems as they undergo the inevitable transformation of the creative process.
"Throw out what does not endure," he said. "It's there but I don't go back to it; I've got a bunch of notebooks that I don't open."