On Thursday, Oct. 25, during its first Midwest Poets Series reading of this academic year, Rockhurst welcomed home Robert “Bob” Stewart. The recently retired founder of the series was introduced by the new director, Elizabeth Barnett, Ph.D. who spoke of him with appreciation for what he has created in his writing and in his 35-year tenure as director of the Midwest Poet Series.
Stewart opened his reading by informing the audience that he was comfortable because he was surrounded by familiar faces. This comfortability allowed him to select his poems spontaneously, and in response to the audience’s reactions and his own mood.
Stewart’s persona was one of ease and familiarity, as he frequently broke the “fourth wall,” transforming his performance into a gathering among friends. Afterward, students commented on how impressed they were with his ability to be so relaxed while sharing his poetry.
Before each of his poems, Stewart described the moments that inspired him to write. He offered his listeners anecdotes of his time in his home city, St. Louis, and his job as a plumber, an occupation that inspired much of his writing, especially the pieces included in his book, “Working Class.”
He described himself as having “an affection for the narrative.” In his writing, Stewart tends to mix what he considers the narrative and the lyrical. This was demonstrated in the poems he shared, such as “Keeping Up,” “My Father’s Haunt” and “How I Stop the Chickens from Getting out.” There is a storytelling nature to his writing and, yet, the melodic qualities of lyric poetry are, too, present in his work.
His poems covered a variety of topics, including Sicilian death letters, turtles, duct tape, gardening, the loss of his friend, Costco, and the Vietnam War, in which he served. While the content of his poems varied tremendously, each work tied back to the person of Stewart and his perception of the world around him.
Throughout his reading, Stewart showed not only self-awareness, but an awareness of outside influences on his writing.
“I can see the influence that all of these poets, these friends of mine, have had on my work,” Stewart said, speaking of fellow poets in the audience.
His awareness and humility made his reading that much more enjoyable and respectable.
Stewart gave an excellent opening to the Midwest Poets Series 36th year, leaving students and visitors excited for this year’s remaining readers: Marcus Jackson on November 14, Kathryn Nuernberger on February 7, and Nikky Finney on March 7.
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