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No half catastrophes

BY RACHAEL LANDER | MARCH 25, 2009 7:30 AM

What’s the result of a mixture of poetry with disaster, hope, and a deluge of life? For poet and Iowa Writers’ Workshop graduate Zach Savich, it’s a collection called Full Catastrophe Living, and an Iowa Poetry Prize to go along with it.

Savich will read from Full Catastrophe Living at Prairie Lights Books, 15 S. Dubuque St., at 7 p.m. today. He graduated from the Writers’ Workshop in 2006, and he is currently a student in the M.F.A. program for Poets and Writers at the University of Massachusetts, where he serves as a teacher’s assistant.

“I started out thinking I would write fiction and do journalism also. I think a lot of people get converted to poetry from something else,” he said. “I came to poetry through a class I took by chance.”

Despite coming upon a love of poetry by accident, it’s evidentially the right place for Savich, who stresses his interest in the sound and rhythm of words as opposed to plot. Poets such as Gerard Manley Hopkins, Michael Palmer, and James Wright helped Savich further explore and appreciate poetry through his discovery of the richness of words.

Full Catastrophe Living is a compilation largely consisting of pieces written after Savich graduated from the Workshop, though a few date back to his time spent in the program.

“I selected from different things I was trying at different times,” he said. “Something I like from the book is that it shows a mix of different moods.”

At first, he didn’t see a theme to Full Catastrophe Living, but several commonalities appeared after having all of the poetry together in one tome.

“There’s love, there’s desire, there’s panic, and there’s fear,” he said. “All the feelings come out. The themes only emerged to me only when I got the book back.”

Many themes come from personal events, Savich said. Some were stirred by a trip to Rome, while many take inspiration from his time spent living in the Midwest.

He found the title in Iowa City’s downtown book nook.

“If you go to Prairie Lights Books, there’s a book on behavioral psychology called Full Catastrophe Living,” he said. “When I went to readings at Prairie Lights, it would often be behind the reader.”
After attending countless readings and noticing the book nearly every time, the name resonated with Savich. When it came time to title his collection, he decided that Full Catastrophe Living fit the content of the poetry he wrote.

“I love the phrase for the disaster in it and for the hope in it,” he said. “The catastrophe is full, and the living is full.”

Tonight, he has to sacrifice staring at one version of Full Catastrophe Living in order to read from his own. Yet this is not the first time his eyes have been diverted from his favorite focal point at the bookstore. In 2005, he read excerpts from an issue of The Iowa Review — where he served as the journal’s editor — for the Prairie Lights audience.

Savich looks forward to returning to the beloved bookstore and is excited about who will be in the audience.

“[I’m looking forward to] seeing so many people who were instrumental to my writing these poems,” he said. “All of the friends that were with me the nights and the days I was writing.”

He attributes much of his growth as an author to the Workshop, saying that his experience here in Iowa was a truly wonderful one. After he graduated, he dwelled in Iowa City until last summer, benefiting from the many different readings and lectures the college town offers.

“I came there when I was 21 and had hardly written anything,” Savich said. “The Writers’ Workshop allowed me to bounce off so many teachers, friends, and students from many different backgrounds.”


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