The Poetic Experimentation of Michael Lavers

Michael Lavers, a professor of English at BYU, shared his own work and the poems that have inspired him during his presentation for the English Reading Series.

PROVO, Utah (Oct. 28, 2016)—One of Michael Lavers favorite poems is Just Walking Around by John Ashbery. “For several years,” Lavers said, “This poem has been on my mind. It’s in the back of my mind everytime I sit down and write a poem of my own.” The part of Just Walking Around that has most affected Lavers is the last stanza, “and if I am still there, grant that we may see each other.”

laversAnother poem that has influenced Lavers’ work is Poetry by Marianne Moore, “I too dislike it: there are things that are important beyond all this fiddle.” Lavers explained his own feelings on the stanza, “I love ‘all this fiddle’ as a phrase to describe poetry because at times we think it’s a silly thing to do. Her poem goes on to describe the ways in which it’s not really silly at all; the ways in which it is essentially vital.”

Lavers, a professor of poetry in the BYU English Department, usually directs the English Reading series, but for this installment he read his own work. Lavers believes in exploring the limits of poetic verse. One of his poems, On Water, In Childhood demonstrates his experimentation. “This poem started out as an experiment to see how many verbs I could pack into a chunk of blank verse and still have a more or less coherent poem,” he explained.

The poem is indeed stuffed with verbs, beginning,“How it would fall and fill and freeze and flow or shimmer or surround or slake and how it heaved, collapsed, cascaded. How it blazed carving the cold high-dunned beaches of my boyhood.”

“Some of my poems should maybe come with a disclaimer that they are more or less totally fabricated; complete lies,” Lavers said, pulling from the idea of fabrication from Oscar Wilde who said “Lying, the telling of beautiful untrue things, is the proper aim of art.”

The next poem Lavers shared was a ballad titled Andromache’s Lullaby written in the perspective of Andromache during the Trojan War. “There are worse bets than dust and better fates than fame. For what good is a hero, what evil can spears destroy when every ground is zero and every heart a Troy,” read Lavers.

Lavers’ main inspiration to become a poet came from his own experience at BYU as an undergrad. “I was a student and attended this reading series weekly and I thought, I still think, it was the best thing ever,” he said. A poet named Mark Halliday came to share his work, and his writing was fun, energetic and quirky in a way that Lavers had not really associated with poetry. From then on, he wanted to become a poet.

Of all the time in history to be a poet, Lavers views the current age as the greatest opportunity to write. “We are inheritors of millennia of sublime and majestic poetry. We are luckier in that sense than anyone in human history to have access to all of it, all that has ever been written,” said Lavers.

Hannah Sandorf (B.A. Art History and Curatorial Studies ’17)

Hannah covers events for the English Department for the College of Humanities. She is a junior pursuing a degree in art history with a minor in art.

Image of Michael Lavers