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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat

 

    “Friends remember Orlen’s life, legacy”

    Steve Orlen
    Steve Orlen

    The Arizona Daily Wildcat contacted students, friends and colleagues who knew Professor Steve Orlen and asked them to share their thoughts and comments of how he will be remembered.

    Here is what some had to say about the poet:

    How did you know Steve Orlen?

    I knew Steve as a professor of creative writing. Since we moved into the Helen S. Schaefer building in 2007, Steve held many of his graduate and undergraduate creative writing courses in our Alumni Meeting Room.

    — Gail Browne, executive director, UA Poetry Center

    I knew Steve as a colleague and friend.

    — Aurelie Sheehan, associate English professor

    I was a student in one of Mr. Orlen’s graduate poetry workshops (we all called him Steve), and he was also my thesis advisor; we worked together for most of this past year.

    — Sarah Kortemeier, graduate creative writing student

    Steve was my mentor and friend.

    — Jake Levine, alumnus

    As a graduate student in poetry, I studied with him for one year.

    — Christopher Nelson, graduate creative writing student

    What was he like professionally and personally?

    Steve was a kind and gracious man — very friendly and outgoing. He was curious about everyone he met, eager to learn about people’s backgrounds and to understand their motivations. As a teacher I understand he was a master of the “”close reading”” and of the music in poetry. He was known for being one of the most generous teachers around. He was always willing to meet students to discuss their poems outside of the classroom.

    — Gail Browne

    He was an exceptionally dedicated teacher. He helped students pay attention to the nuances of the line and language, as well as the spirit behind the work itself. He wasn’t exactly a cowboy, but he was frank and adventure-minded and loved life (and could tell a great anecdote). Most of all, he listened to others — he was one of the most curious of people, always seeking out stories and truths. His curiosity and questioning was a powerful form of generosity.

    — Aurelie Sheehan

    Steve was a generous, open, and honest person. What he said was what he thought, always. He seemed to be comfortable everywhere.

    — Sarah Kortemeier

    Old school, in the best sense. He cared about liberal education, the education of a “”free”” man, but more than that, he cared about poetry.

    — Jake Levine

    What was Orlen’s influence on the English and creative writing departments and on the Poetry Center?

    Steve came to the University of Arizona in the 1960s, the same decade the Poetry Center was founded. So he had a very long and productive history with the Poetry Center. He’s been quoted as saying, the Poetry Center is the “”best living room in America for reading poetry.”” Steve was a frequent reader in the Poetry Center’s Reading Series. In fact, since 1967 he read 13 times, more than any other poet in the history of the Center. Steve was an extraordinary performer of his own work, so I’m very grateful that most of those readings were recorded. Many of them are available online through our web site

    (http://avl.arizona.edu/).

    — Gail Browne

    He was, for decades, an integral part of the heart and soul of the creative writing program. I can’t even imagine the number of students he inspired. … He was a very giving teacher, making himself regularly available to talk poetry and read poems. So many of his students have fond memories of sitting in his book-filled office talking about, ostensibly, a line of poetry or an image, only to find that they were actually talking about something greater, like the reasons for writing poetry or why we orient ourselves to the world and to language in the ways we do.

    — Christopher Nelson

    What was his influence on you?

    Steve held me to a very high standard — he never let me get away with lazy writing. If a poem of mine didn’t communicate effectively, he’d let me know about it in no uncertain terms. My writing has achieved greater clarity and thematic cohesion because of him. I’m not fully developed as an artist yet, but Steve helped me to figure out what kind of poet I want to be.

    — Sarah Kortemeier

    Steve taught me the power of plain and clear sense, that to do it well, to pull it off, takes a lifetime of practice.

    — Jake Levine

    Do you have a favorite poem, verse, or line of his? What is it and why?

    One of my favorite poems is “”The Painter,”” which relates a story about an excursion he and his wife, painter Gail Marcus-Orlen, take to a place where there are wildflowers. I love the way, as narrator, he observes Gail’s intensity of “”seeing”” the yellow poppies on the roadside, so much so that she forgets where she is and what she is doing. The scene and the poem itself are so beautifully painted.

    — Gail Browne

    Steve had a wonderful gift for collecting the everyday moments we all experience and connecting them with the larger forces that shape our lives. I think the poem “”Permission to Speak,”” the title poem of his first collection, demonstrates this well — but it’s evident throughout his body of work.

    — Sarah Kortemeier

    He liked this poem by Thomas Lux called “”Bodo””. … It’s a great example of what Steve valued in poetry.

    — Jake Levine

    It’s impossible for me to pick a single poem of his that is my favorite, but here’s one that I find exceptionally beautiful, and it captures a quality of his personality that everyone who knew him associates with him: sensuality. He loved physicality, the body; his writing is passionate. The poem is “”Song: The Kiss””

    (http://www.versedaily.org/songthekiss.shtml).

    — Christopher Nelson

    How will you remember Steve Orlen?

    My favorite memory of Steve goes like this. Early in the year we spent working together, I went to his office with a poem that I was terrified to show to anyone because of its content (I was writing about a family tragedy, and the material was very close to me). I handed him the poem, saying something like “”I’m not sure what to do with this. This poem scares me.”” Steve read it, made some intelligent comments about line-edits, put the poem on his desk, and looked straight at me. “”This is a pretty good poem,”” he said. It was the first time he had ever said that to me; Steve was a hard taskmaster, and he usually requested several revisions before he considered any poem “”finished.”” That moment was one of the best memories I will take from the UA MFA program.

    — Sarah Kortemeier

     

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