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UI alum returns to read from poetry

BY JOSIE JONES | FEBRUARY 25, 2010 7:30 AM

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Kevin González started writing what he called songs in seventh grade.

“They were pretty terrible,” he said. “But I liked writing song lyrics, and that kind of merged into poetry.”

The poet will read from his first collection of poetry, Cultural Studies, at 7 p.m. today in Prairie Lights Books, 15 S. Dubuque St. Admission is free.

Although he has read at Prairie Lights before, while in the Iowa Writers’ Workshop, he is still excited to present his work.

“It’ll be cool to read at Prairie Lights because I’ve been to so many readings there,” he said.

Cultural Studies contains poems that reflect growing up in Puerto Rico and the political and social situation in San Juan. The work is written in the second person but is autobiographical, González said. A majority of the poems in the collection have the word culture in the title — which is how he developed the book’s name.

He wrote the collection as an M.F.A. student in poetry at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. Despite being slightly altered, Cultural Studies is essentially the thesis he wrote in 2005.

Some of the poems are longer, he said, around three pages or so. He also experimented with other elements while writing the collection.

“Something I’m interested in is shifting tones within the same poems,” González said. “I tried to blend seriousness, humor, and sadness into one single poem. I try to build within the range of emotions.”

He also blends narrative and lyrical elements in a handful of the poems in Cultural Studies.

Living in Puerto Rico until he left for college, González began reading and writing poetry in Spanish.

As a result, he developed a desire to create a similar art.

“I always liked reading poetry and fiction since I was a kid,” he said. “Reading made me want to write.”

The Madison resident has a goal to write a little every day. When writing poetry, he said, he is able to finish a good draft within a few days or even a few hours. But with fiction — which is what he’s focusing his attention on at present — it is almost essential to write continually.

“With a novel, because it’s a longer process, I try to write a little every day so that I can keep the voice of the narrator in my head,” González said. “I find that if I don’t write for a while and go back to it, I’m a little off rhythm with the voice.”

The writer moved to the states when he was 18 to attend college at Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh. After receiving the M.F.A. in poetry, he attended the Iowa Writers’ Workshop and received an M.F.A. in fiction in 2007.

While in the Workshop, González lived with friend and classmate Dan Rosenberg. Rosenberg favors the poem “The Night Tito Trinidad KO’d Ricardo Mayorga” from the collection, saying González really identifies with his cultural heritage in a unique way.

“He’s funny,” Rosenberg said. “It’s hard to be funny and beautiful with your writing. It’s really hard to be both, but he strikes it.”

Although Rosenberg was studying poetry, not fiction, he became familiar with González’s writing.

“He writes from a strong and consistent voice,” Rosenberg said. “So you can tell a Kevin González poem from the moment you start to read it.”


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