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Author Of The Month: Charles Harper Webb

Published: April 1, 2015

Brain Camp

Charles Harper Webb, professor, English

Charles Harper Webb’s 11th book of poems, Brain Camp, arrived in March as part of the Pitt Poetry Series from the University of Pittsburgh Press. Like Webb’s other books, Brain Camp explores a wide spectrum of emotions—love to hate, tenderness to brutality—with Webb’s trademark reader-friendly mix of eye-opening imagery, wild imagination, poignant story-telling and humor used for serious purposes. Asked how this book is different from his last, Webb says, “I hope it’s better. I think my work’s improving with age. My age, I mean.” The first poem in the book, “Dedication,” references “those messages of love that braver boys than I would send out over the radio. The poem says some of what I would have said if, way back then, I had known how, and had the guts. Developing as a poet is learning to say what seemed unsayable, before.” A poet needs a strong work ethic to write 11 books, and Webb definitely has one. “As a writer, I’m very disciplined,” he says. “I see writing as a job—one that is fun, and that I’m pleased to work at every day. Except when I’m on a fishing trip. Then I don’t write at all.” Webb finds that his productivity is increased by access to the Internet. “It takes me minutes to do research that would have taken hours in the card catalogue days,” said Webb, a former psychotherapist who sees writing a poem as like working with a patient. “I blurt out a first draft, then explore the draft, teasing out what’s important—what my unconscious has been trying to say.” He added that, “Inspiration comes at odd times. But only if I’m actively working on poetry. Then I start to see the world in terms of poems. Out of nowhere, an idea will flash across my mind. It’s sort of like the way sub-atomic particles flash into existence. But they decay fast. I have to write them down quickly, or they’re gone. Later, I can elaborate.” A member of the English Department since 1984, Webb is glad to have made his career at CSULB. “The English Department has been a great place to create,” he said. “I like my colleagues a lot. My chair, Eileen Klink, has been wonderful to me. I’ve written my best poems during the time that I’ve taught here. I have two goals as a poet—to entertain and to enlighten. I feel an obligation to write poems that speak

Author of the Month-Tyler Dilts

seriously about the human condition. But I want them to be entertaining, too.” Though Webb admits that poetry isn’t everyone’s cup of tea, he hopes the CSULB community will give Brain Camp a try. “Readers are often surprised to find that poems can be fun to read,” he said. “I try, in all my poems, to see the world with new eyes—to freshen it up, and in Ezra Pound’s words, ‘Make it new.’ I want to make even the simplest experiences come alive—and to give my readers a good time.” Webb received the Provost’s Award for Impact Accomplishment in Research, Scholarly or Creative Activity in 2011. He earned his Ph.D. in counseling psychology and his MFA in professional writing from USC, his M.A. from the University of Washington and his bachelor’s degree from Rice University.