Getting it down on paper

Before starting college, contemporary poet Katie Ford was more of a reader. But the thought of a career forced her to start writing, and she’s been doing it ever since.

“In college you feel like you have to find something you’re good at,” she said. “Poetry is a craft — and would I ever write a book? No. I’m not a storyteller, and at this point in my life, I couldn’t perfect the craft.”

She’s chosen the majority of her work to focus on the thing she knows most about — her experiences with natural disasters and their aftermath.

Ford, a published poet from Franklin & Marshall College in Pennsylvania, read poems from two of her collections — “Colosseum” and “Deposition” — Wednesday night in the Marshall Student Center as part of National Poetry Month, sponsored by the Humanities Institute, Department of English and University Lecture Series (ULS).

In the “Colosseum” collection, Ford recalls what it was like to live in New Orleans before and after Hurricane Katrina.

Instead of focusing on her emotions to devastating events, her writing depicts her feelings toward the changing environments.

“I think this is what we get when we asked to be saved,” Ford writes in the poem, “What We Get.” “A land where everything grows and there are many killers.”

Hurricane Katrina forced Ford to re-evaluate her relationship with New Orleans and consider if she loved the city enough to stay.

“Living in New Orleans was a matter of weather, which is very strange,” she said. “I was deeply strapped and affected by the disaster. I have a sense of the danger and the deep meaning of seeing it and being in it.”

Though she relocated to Pennsylvania in hopes of escaping crime, Ford could not escape misfortune.

Her new home was broken into on the first day. The next week, she was mugged.

US Weekly named “Colosseum” one of the best poem collections in 2008. Ford experienced other natural catastrophes during winters in Oregon and hurricanes during her time in the South.

About 60 to 70 people attended Ford’s reading. Genna Martella, marketing director for ULS, said preparation for the lecture series began in spring 2009.

The Humanities Institute and English Department, which have worked two years in a row with ULS, made the poet choices.

“All of our lectures bring something new to the table,” Martella said. “(Working here) brings another facet to the job that I enjoy.”

Jay Hopler, a USF professor and one of the opening speakers at the lecture series, said he feels that many colleges around the states are not investing enough into the arts programs.

But that’s not the case at USF.

“At a time when many colleges in the country are shying away from investing in the arts, USF does a bigger and greater job every year,” Hopler said. “And it seems to be bringing writers and poets every year.”

Previous poets featured in this month’s series were Valzhyna Mort and Aaron Baker.

To end the series, Robert Pinsky will give a reading and discussion in the Alumni Center’s Traditions Hall at 7 p.m. on Wednesday. Pinsky is a three-time U.S. Poet Laureate, meaning he has been officially appointed by the government to compose poems, usually for formal occasions.