Thursday, August 3, 2000
As a writer, Brian Daldorph knows that everyone has a story worth telling. And in his new poetry collection, "Outcasts," he takes a close look at the famous and not-so-famous and how they arrive at crucial points in their lives.
Every person feels like an outsider at some point, Daldorph said, and there is a reason why some people go on to become recluses and social outcasts.
"I hope all people might consider and appreciate others and their personal experiences, and the reasons some may be 'outside,' so they can be more sympathetic and identify more with them," he said.
Daldorph, a KU assistant professor of English, uses poetry as a way to examine deeply personal moments in the collective human experience. His last book, "The Holocaust and Hiroshima: Poems," took readers into the World War II era by asking them to envision the thoughts of survivors of Nazi persecution and of the atomic bombing of Hiroshima, Japan.
"Outcasts" does not address such topics as war and the human capacity for evil, but it does cover more ground as it examines the experiences of famous scientists and literary figures, along with the nameless and the homeless.
In the new book, Daldorph puts his imagination to good use. In "Sylvia at Sixty-Four," he analyzes what poet Sylvia Plath's life might have been like if she had not committed suicide, while in "Liesel von Trapp," he writes of a bitter future for the young heroine of "The Sound of Music."
"I watched that musical a lot with my daughters, and I started thinking how that beautiful girl in the movie doesn't exist anymore, and I always thought the movie was too good to be true, so I started to imagine her older and more cynical," he said.
Daldorph also did research so he could write about English miners and the life experiences of Anna Akhmatova, a poet who had extensive encounters with the Bolsheviks during the early 20th century.
In "Kansas Girl," he writes about a young college student revisiting her conservative hometown after experiencing the freedom of a liberal university community.
Daldorph got the idea for the poem after a conversation with one of his students.
"The people I write about, I've seen or read about in the newspaper or met, and this becomes the start of a poem many times," he said.
Daldorph also wanted readers to get the point that everyone's life is worth looking at, so he collaborated with Kansas City writer Tom Wilson to make the collection take on its thematic shape.
In "Newspaper Jack," young boys taunt a homeless man. Later on, one of them finds out that the derelict was once a university professor before a moment of personal crisis emotionally devastated him.
"That may be the key poem, because the kid has a moment of identification that this man is not a tramp, and that's something I'm trying to do on a larger scale with the book ... that people might take a bit deeper look at others than they usually do," Daldorph said.
As an instructor, Daldorph teaches three courses each semester. He's also the editor of "Coal City Review," a local poetry anthology. But despite all of his teaching and editing chores, he makes sure that he writes daily.
"If possible, I write first thing in the morning because that's when I think and write most clearly. ... If writing is something you really want to do, then it's possible to get it done, one way or another," he said.
"Outcasts" is available at Lawrence bookstores.