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.