Karl Parker Captivates at Semester’s Fourth VOICES Reading

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By Yna Davis

On March 13, St. Mary’s Voices Reading Series welcomed poet Karl Parker for a packed reading in DPC. The reading, the fourth in the series for the semester, began with a glowing introduction from Series director Karen Anderson, who lauded Parker’s “bon vivant of a personality” and quoted critic Gabriel Gudding’s comment that Parker may be “one of the smartest, saddest, funniest writers alive.”

Parker, who is currently working on his PhD at Cornell University, read selections from his most recent manuscript, Human Abstract, but mostly focused on his book of poetry titled Personationskin. The poems Parker shared quickly showed the merit of Anderson’s introduction, proving dark, funny, and irreverent at times. Reading his second poem, titled “Human Frame,” Parker joked, “I think all my poems could be titled that, really,” and in fact, as the reading progressed, this theme showed in serious and humorous poems alike. Many members of the audience enjoyed his homage to well-known writers including Dickinson, Frost, Whitman, and Thoreau, which Parker pointed out and explained to make the allusions clear to those who might not pick up on them.

Audience favorites included “Autobiographia,” “Blue and Red Roses,” and “Litany,” three of the poems that Parker himself highlighted most heavily. “Blue and Red Roses,” which Parker told the audience was “advice for you all, especially for students,” contained the particularly stirring line “Love makes everything happen, as long as you risk your life,” while “Litany” was, according to Parker, his “attempt to process the daily influx of violence, war violence specifically, that’s been rampant.”

Following the reading, Parker engaged the audience’s attention with his humorous yet thought-provoking responses to audience questions, which continued even after the allotted time had ended. As students lined up to talk to Parker, English Professor Jerry Gabriel shared his thoughts on the reading: “Karl Parker once told me, jokingly, ‘I am American Poetry.’ It was funny– meant to be funny. But it’s true, too. His work has such a fierce spirit, such clarity about our world, our culture.” The reading’s audience seemed to share this affection for Parker’s poetry: by 9:30 pm, when the room finally emptied, almost all sale copies of Personationskin had been sold.

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