Bruce Covey, Creator of What’s New in Poetry?

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Courtesy Bruce Covey.

Bruce Covey is the founder of the What’s New in Poetry reading series, presented by the Emory Poetry Council. Their next event—January 31st at the Emory Bookstore—will feature three poets. Heather Christle, author of What Is Amazing, The Difficult Farm and The Trees The Trees, won the 2012 Believer Poetry Award. Christopher DeWeese, author of The Black Forest, and the chapbooks Fireproof Swan and Maneuvers. Mark Leidner is the author of Beauty Was the Case that They Gave Me and The Angel in the Dream of Out Hangover.

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I asked Bruce Covey questions via email about the reading series, its development, some of the past readers, and the role it plays in the Atlanta literary scene.

BURNAWAY: What was the impetus for starting the series?

Bruce Covey: At the time I was teaching Creative Writing classes in the College.  The Creative Writing Program had a budget only for one big-name reader per year.  My students felt a huge disconnect—”It’s great to bring Poet X to campus, but she’s nothing like me—she’s won all kinds of prizes, is as old as my Aunt Joan, and doesn’t even seem like she wants to talk to me,” etc.  My goal with the series was to bring in more up-and-coming writers—poets with somewhere between zero-to-two books—and to place these events in spaces comfortable to students—residence halls, game rooms, in a cinema space, at the bookstore.  I also wanted to bring one or two “featured authors” per year—writers who were “more accomplished” or who had longer histories in poetry, but didn’t fit the mold of other campus reading series—small press authors, experimental writers, etc.

BA: How has it evolved since the beginning?

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BC: We’ve moved around a lot, but have stuck pretty closely to our mission.  Of our 54 readers last year, only 6 had published more than two books at the time of their visits.  We’ve also developed a large community following and have relocated the events to spaces friendly both to students and to people coming to campus just for the event.  

BA:How do you choose your readers?

BC: We don’t have a huge budget, so I try to balance traveling writers (poets self-funding a book tour, for example, or in town visiting friends) with local poets with out-of-town poets whom I solicit because I particularly love their work.  We used to be able to accommodate almost anyone traveling through town, but unfortunately we’ve had to become more selective due to the popularity of the series and the number of requests we receive.  At this point we probably have a waiting/wish list of 200-300 amazing poets.

BA: What role do you feel university based art programs have in the larger community?

BC: I feel we’re in a unique position with What’s New in Poetry to blend the campus community with the larger Atlanta/Athens communities.  We feature a wide range of poets who have broad appeal—we bring many of the best writers in the country to our series.  The readings now take place at an edge-of-campus venue (the Emory Bookstore) that offers free public parking in the evenings.  Our series is housed within the Emory Division of Campus Life, which champions community building as one of its central goals.  We feel strongly that the series is for everyone—the students, faculty, staff of Emory, but also the Atlanta and Georgia poetry communities, poetry lovers, the Druid Hills neighborhood, etc.  Specifically, I feel we play a very important role in the vibrant Atlanta poetry, which is one of the strongest such city-based communities in the country. 

BA:What have been a couple of highlights for WNIP?

BC: I have very happy memories of all of our readings.  However, audience members have frequently expressed amazement at the many poets who have opened up for them entirely new possibilities for poetry and performance—i.e., helping audience members to realize poetry is far more interesting, more exciting, cooler, funner, more amazing than they’d ever before dreamed possible.  With some poets—like Jennifer Knox, Peter Davis, Brandon Brown, and Tao Lin–audience members were falling on the floor laughing.   Hearing many others—Abraham Smith, Jennifer Tamayo, Alice Notley, Mei-mei Berssenbrugge, James Sanders, for example-—we were collectively “blown away.”  For me–and I know the same is true for many of our growing audience members—no form of entertainment is better than a great reading.