Poetry Reading


His words are being read

Robbins releases two collections of poetry

Cathi Box-boniol

Tuesday, September 26, 2023

Courtesy photo Kenneth Robbins, retired Professor Emeritus for the College of Liberal Arts at Louisiana Tech University, proudly displays his recent collections of poetry published by Southern Arizona Press, “A Wake for Josephine” and “The Book of Sorrows.”

Kenneth Robbins wrote his first play, a drama about the crucifixion of Christ, at age 15. Two years later he wrote his first short story, collecting $5 for it. After another two years passed, Robbins wrote his first poem, a little piece called “Ode to Chemistry,” to help him get through his chemistry course.

He says it didn’t help. But 15 years later he finished his first novel, a work that received two national awards. Fast forward to 2023 and Robbins has just released not one but two collections of poetry,“A Wake for Josephine” and “The Book of Sorrows,” both published by Southern Arizona Press.

With his first true foray into publishing poetry, the retired Professor Emeritus for the College of Liberal Arts at Louisiana Tech University finds writing poetry to be relaxing underneath while feeling slightly confrontational on the surface. He hopes readers will be confronted and relaxed, piqued and comforted, simultaneously.

“‘A Wake for Josephine’ is suggested by the disappearance and murder of a Louisiana Tech English instructor over two decades ago,” Robbins explained. “It is, however, a work of poetic fiction and employs several techniques I borrow from the drama and is not intended to be a commentary on the actual event. ‘The Book of Sorrows’ is a work of poetic reflections and monologues suggested by numerous verses found in the Hebrew Scriptures.”

Robbins follows no specific process when writing, choosing instead to just go with the flow. He admits to spending a great deal of time twisting ideas, characters and actions around in his head. When he sits to write and it goes well, he knows he’s thought enough. However, if it doesn’t go well, he will stop, put it aside and return to the thinking process. He admits the latter happens more often than the former.

As Jean Paul Sartre once said, ‘I’ve just finished my new play. All I have to do now is write the dialogue,’” Robbins quipped. “Someone once asked Ernest Hemingway if it was true that he wrote while standing up. He responded, ‘What did it matter?’ Knowledge of his writing quirks had no intrinsic value to anyone else. So, I’m at my computer virtually every day. Am I writing? Sometimes.”

According to Robbins, finding a readership, an audience for your words, is not easy. He feels it becoming more difficult with each passing day. Robbins noted someone once asked the actor: are you an actor if no one ever sees your work? He asks the same question: are you a writer if no one ever reads your words?

Thankfully, there are many who are not just finding Robbins’ words, they are eagerly lapping them up. Harvey Hix, Head of the Creative Writing Program at the University of Wyoming, compares “A Wake for Josephine” to a mystery novel or detective film.

Christine De Vinne, Professor of English for Ursuline College, notes that “The Book of Sorrows” turns the timeworn and familiar to something crisp and surprising. While these collections of poetry may seem like a stark change from his recent Christmas collections, Robbins is committed to allowing each story to find its own shape and its own way of being told or shared.

I believe writers are obliged to avoid the trappings of categories or labels,” Robbins said. “After all, nobody asked me to write prose and plays or essays. The stories that I want to share are in charge, not my classification or identifying label. Galway Kinnell (Pulitzer Prize winning poet who Robbins considers his head influencer in poetry) once said to me, ‘Playwrights are the next best thing to poets and novelists/ writers of prose were the blue-collar workers of the writing profession; poets were the white-collar workers.’ I don’t know what I am. So it goes.”

The public will have a chance to decide for themselves with two opportunities to interact with Robbins. First, he will be signing books in the Louisiana Tech Book Store, Oct. 5, from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m., before offering a reading from “The Book of Sorrows” at No. 9 Books and Records in Ruston on Oct. 12, beginning at 5:30 p.m.

Both books are available for purchase at both No. 9 Books and Records and Tech’s Book Store. Copies are also available from any book dealership including but not limited to Barnes and Noble, Books-a-Million, and Amazon. Just know there are new projects already in the works.

Always,” Robbins said. “I have four unpublished novels, another in process, a collection of short stories, and a memoir of a chicken farmer waiting for a publisher to discover them and put them between covers. I have bunches of plays that have been produced once or twice, others that have never been produced, and more to come. I also have several musicals ready for a composer to explore and the libretto for an opera if anyone would care to take it.”