Poetry pays for local teacher

Alex Coolman

GLENDALE -- Charles Harper Webb has been teaching creative writing at

California State University, Long Beach, since 1984, but before he ever

was a teacher, he was a poet.

"It was the first thing that got me writing and I've always gone back

to it," the Glendale resident said. "It keeps calling me back."

This month, Webb's first love paid off. He was awarded a Guggenheim

Fellowship, a $35,000 award recognizing the strength of his poetry.

For Webb, the award was validation of an approach to poetry that runs

contrary to many of the currents of mainstream verse.

In two books, "Liver" and "Reading the Water," Webb has attempted to

create poems that are considerably more accessible than a contemporary

reader might expect. Some of his work even commits the heresy of humor.

But "poetry lite" is not Webb's goal.

"I like to think that my poems are poems you could get a kick out of

the first reading," he said. "But if you wanted to write a paper on them

I think you could find a lot of things to say."

The model, for Webb is not the sometimes baffling style of a writer

like Wallace Stevens or the cerebral flights of an Ezra Pound. The

wordsmith he would like to emulate, rather, is Shakespeare.

"He can be daunting just because the language has changed so much, but

the power of his stories is evident because they keep making movies from

them," Webb said. "But [Shakespeare] also rewards very close reading."

Webb has another book, "Tulip Farms and Leper Colonies" due out in the

fall. And he says the Guggenheim cash will help give him some extra time

to do -- what else? -- a little more scribbling on his poems.

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