Curtis Meyer reporter
Renowned poet Joan Kwon Glass visited Pitt State University on Feb. 21, hosting a couple of poetry classes before reading from her works that same evening in the Governors Room of the Overman Student Center. The event was sponsored by the Distinguished Visiting Writers Series and the Student Fee Council.
Focusing on topics of grief, recovery, and life after addiction, Glass has published three chapbooks of her poetry, but most recently published a much larger book titled ‘Night Swim,’ which revolves around the suicide of her sister and nephew.
“I didn’t publish a book until I was 45 years old, then I published three books in the same year. It happens that way sometimes, but I’ve been writing for as long as I can remember,” said Glass.
‘Night Swim’ has been received very well by the poetry community, winning the 2021 Diodes Editions Book Contest, while her book ‘Bloodline’ was the recipient of the Washburn Chapbook Prize through the Harbor Review magazine. This connection was actually what led to her coming to speak at Pitt State.
“Laura Washburn selected one of my books for the Washburn Prize, through Harbor Review. She chose my book so we stayed in touch that way, and I basically became the editor in chief of the magazine. So we basically stayed in touch that way, and she was looking for a guest writer, and I was thrilled to be invited,” said Glass.
Many of her poems carry themselves with a somber tone, as they reflect the grief that Glass went through when dealing with death. Back in 2017, Glass’ Nephew Frankie took his own life, and Glass’ sister, Frankies mother, committed suicide just months afterwards.
“I had some really horrible losses in 2017, and I knew I had a book I needed to write. I wanted to share it, you know, once I had it together, the manuscript, I wanted to share it,” said Glass.
Most of this is reflected in Night Swim, while her book Bloodline explores the deep seated issues of racism and murder surrounding the Korean War. Going through traumatic events typical of war, she also explores the darkness that isn’t perhaps a direct consequence of war, from the thousands of young women taken for brothels to the brutal occupations.
Glass has been a middle school teacher in Connecticut for over twenty years, on top of writing her poetry and contributing towards literary magazines such as Diode, The Rupture, Nelle, and many others. When not working, she also has her own family that she takes care of.
Glass has an unusual system for selecting the poetry at each reading she attends. Instead of planning what she will share beforehand, Glass waits until she takes the podium and lets the work speak for her.
“I don’t ever actually know what I’m going to read until I get to the reading. I kind of feel the vibe of my audience and just kind of pick, I always do that,” said Glass.
After the readings, a reception was held in the room adjacent to the Governor’s room, where food was served and Glass made herself available to hand out signed copies of her books, as well as to chat with interested students.