Does your favorite poet play air guitar?

Meet 2018 Nevada Writers Hall of Fame Silver Pen honoree Jared Stanley

"Poetry requires the poet to bring everything to the table." - Jared Stanley Stanley will receive the Silver Pen award at the 31st Annual Nevada Writers Hall of Fame on Tuesday, Nov. 13.

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9/11/2018 | By: Jill Stockton |

On Tuesday, November 13, Jared Stanley will receive the Silver Pen award at the Nevada Writers Hall of Fame event, presented by University Libraries at the University of Nevada, Reno.

Jared Stanley, a musician turned poet, said, "Receiving the Silver Pen Award validates the role I play in the 4,000-year-old tradition that is poetry."

"The Silver Pen is very meaningful to me to because often times western writers don't receive as much respect as they should! As a westerner writing about the West I feel I am now part of a group of distinguished writers that understands the connection between our writing and our geographic location."

Developing a Passion for Poetry

At 19-years-old Jared Stanley found himself working 60 hours each week delivering roofing materials. He'd pass the spare time he had by reading poetry in his truck.

"I was called every name in the book for reading poetry on my delivery days," Stanley said. "I started as a musician playing guitar and always had an interest in how certain song lyrics stuck out to me as I heard them on the radio. Bob Dylan's lyrics come to mind. It was my interest in these lyrics that eventually lead to my deep fascination with poetry."

Ultimately it was the musical qualities Stanley observed in both music and poetry that helped him focus on the sounds of the words he experienced when reading new poetry.

Stanley's passion for song lyrics and growing interest in poetry was further peaked when he discovered a book of James Merrill's poems on the back of a toilet in the bathroom of the home he was sharing with roommates.

"When I discovered Merrill's work I hated it," Stanley said. "It wasn't for me, but his work opened my eyes in a meaningful way and led me to discover other works of poetry that I loved. That's how it all started!"

From Musician to Poet

As Stanley's interest in poetry grew he found himself writing all the time. He took several poetry workshops, majored in English, and completed graduate school earning a Master of Fine Arts degree in Creative Writing with a focus on poetry from the University of Iowa.

"I justified transitioning from musician to poet when I realized I could grow old as a poet," Stanley said. "Playing guitar in a band as I aged...I had to change gears as a matter of self-preservation!"

The connection between music and poetry are deeply ingrained into Stanley's work. He likes to play air guitar while he reads poetry, and much of his work mirrors the guitar cadence you'd hear while listening to a song.

"Musicality is the building block of poetry," he said. "Did you know that Sly Stone from the band Sly and the Family Stone would sit in front of a mirror after writing new lyrics and sing them to himself? Poetry requires the poet to bring everything to the table. It's dramatic and pretty funny. I like poetry a lot!"

Becoming a part of a 4,000-year-old tradition

Donald Revell, 2017 Nevada Writers Hall of Fame inductee, played a big role in inspiring Stanley to pursue a career as a poet. Stanley said he read many of Revell's poems and they all challenged him when he was younger.

"Donald's work was so interesting to me," he said. "Because of his work and the work of other poets I decided to dedicate myself to something that connected me to a very special and very old tradition. Poetry is some of the oldest work we have record of and we also have an understanding of what it means. It's this deep connection that makes me feel linked to the past and to so many poets who have come before me."

Stanley uses his work to maintain the tradition and ongoing dialogue that makes poetry so special.

"Poetry allows me to talk to the dead," he said. "If you know how to read old poems they will still speak to you. For example, you can read an old love poem from the sixth century today and still connect to the deep emotion of someone else who came long before you."

Writing Poetry

Stanley describes Poetry as a conservative and radical art. He feels it's this radical use of language in poetry that can lead to driving people crazy. For Stanley, saying three things in one word... That's an ideal poem.

"Poetry is an unbroken tradition of rebelliousness towards the way things are supposed to be," he said. "That is the essential difficulty of understanding and interpreting poetry. It connects us to the world in a very unique way, and allows me to be loose with language so that I can do what I want with it."

Stanley's process of creating new works includes challenging himself by putting obstacles in his way. For example, he writes all of his poems on paper, then transfers them to a typewriter, only to eventually get them into a computer to test the structure and keep shaping his work.

"I see the creation of new work similarly to how a sculptor would carve a block of marble into a magnificent work of art," he said. "I like to chip away at my poems, testing the structure to see if it is working, then I think to myself how can I undercut everything I just developed? It's a constant building up and tearing down. Many times I write things to make myself laugh! There's a definite push and pull to my process."

Stanley's style is more rebellious than perfectionist.

"I like to whack at my work and play air guitar when I read my poems," he said. "Having fun and taking a playful, relaxed approach allows me to do what I want, to explore the musicality of my words and create interesting poems."

Stanley said he tries not to write "one type of poem." His goal is to have depth.

"I like to use different modes," he said. "I like the ‘everything but the kitchen sink' approach. It looks like one kind of poem, but then I offer a plot twist and make it an adventure. Sometimes I am a serious poet and other times I am a comical poet. This approach helps me maintain my sense of range across the poetry spectrum."

Encouraging others to discovery poetry

Stanley is interested in exposing new audiences to his poetry and poetry in general. He advises those curious about poetry to have a playful mindset when reading new poems and encourages readers to give themselves permission to like, or not like, a certain poem.

He argues there are many poems that are underwhelming, but if one line of the work crystallizes in the mind of the reader it makes it worth it.

"It is the job of the poem to do the feeling for the reader," Stanley said. "Poetry at its best has a transporting quality."

Stanley said some people think the poet is trying to insult the reader. That's simply not the case.

"The poet uses language as paint, and often times - like in real life - they are not saying what they mean or feel directly to the reader. Maybe one line stands out and you simply can't let it go...that is enough."

What's better than reading a poem?

"Sit on the bus and listen to the rhythms of the words during a conversation between two people," Stanley said. "People are creating poetry all the time. It is not one thing. You live alongside it. Sometimes it needs you and sometimes you need it. It serves as a window into other times and ways of being."

About Jared Stanley:
Jared Stanley is the author of three full-length collections of poetry, EARS (Nightboat Books, 2017), The Weeds, (Salt Publishing 2012) and Book Made of Forest (Salt Publishing, 2009), which won the Crashaw Prize for Poetry. His poetry and prose have appeared in many journals including Harvard Review, Triple Canopy, The Academy of American Poets' Poem-a-day and in the anthology Counter-Desecration: A Glossary for the Anthropocene (Wesleyan, 2018). His awards include a Silver Pen award from the Nevada Writers Hall of Fame and fellowships from the Nevada Arts Council and the Center for Art + Environment. Born in Arizona, Stanley grew up in northern California and now lives in northern Nevada.

About the Nevada Writers Hall of Fame:
University Libraries presents the 31st Annual Nevada Writers Hall of Fame Tuesday, Nov. 13, at 7 p.m. in the Milt Glick Ballroom, 4th floor, at the Joe Crowley Student Union on the University of Nevada, Reno campus. The event's general reception will begin at 6:30 p.m. with the formal program beginning at 7 p.m. The cost to attend is $40 per person. Tickets can be purchased online. Complimentary parking is available on the first floor of the Brian Whalen Parking Complex located on north Virginia Street.

The Nevada Writers Hall of Fame was conceived by former Friends of the University Libraries President Marilyn Melton in 1988. She envisioned two purposes: an annual event honoring Nevada's finest writers, and a stimulus to encourage excellence among emerging writers in the Silver State. Honorees are selected based on their body of work, critical recognition, and a strong connection to Nevada through the themes of their writing or residence in the state.

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