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VSU Spotlight: Dr. Robert Morgan, from rocket science to writing poetry

Dr. Robert Morgan did the math. Then the science. Then the writing.
He’s excelled at all three.
Dr. Morgan, a poet and professor, brought his words and wisdom to the students, faculty, and fans who filled the University Center Theatre at 7:30 p.m on Jan 28. as part of Georgia’s Poetry Circuit.
On one occasion, Dr. Morgan did the math to the tune of $172 per line for a poem when an avant-garde filmmaker asked to buy the movie rights to “Honey.” Dr. Morgan said he thought for about five seconds before enthusiastically agreeing to sell. The 22-line poem put $3,800 into his bank account. Tell that to your parents next time they knock you for your prose.
Dr. Morgan kicked off his poetry reading by declaring Dylan Thomas a liar. That’s right; Dr. Morgan started by calling out one of history’s most celebrated poets for his views on death. After sitting at the deathbed of his father, Dr. Morgan “understood how little Dylan Thomas knew about death and dying.” He retaliated to Thomas’s “Do not go gentle into that good night” with his poem “Go gentle.”
After sharing several other poems, Dr. Morgan ended his poetry reading with an excerpt from his dark novel, “Gap Creek.” After reading the passage, Dr. Morgan recalled a fan who scolded him for “putting those lovely young people through so much.” He said that in order to write well, authors must humble themselves and apprentice themselves to their characters.
“Writing is your high,” said Dr. Morgan, his voice rising and falling with a preacher’s cadence. “It’s what you do. It’s what keeps you going.”
Dr. Morgan, who speaks so passionately about language, began his college career studying aerospace engineering and applied mathematics in the hopes of becoming a rocket scientist at North Carolina State University. After taking a creative writing class, he became addicted to writing and transferred to the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill to major in English. The rest was, as they say, history.
Dr. Morgan’s mathematical background does play into his poetry. More than merely counting syllables, developing the meter, or rearranging the lines of a pantoum, Dr. Morgan applies the principles of precision from his mathematical training to his poetry.
“I love the concision of poetry, “said Dr. Morgan, whose early poems were very short. “Going from mathematics to writing, I think I might have been looking for something that was as concise and powerful as mathematics… it’s very condensed, brief, imagistic, suggestive, implicit, and direct.”
Dr. Morgan’s poetry eventually became lengthier and more narrative. Then he began working on fiction pieces and was surprised when he found himself most comfortable writing in a female voice. A jack of all within his trade, Dr. Morgan also branched out into nonfiction with a biography of American pioneer Daniel Boone.
He has appeared on “Oprah” to discuss his novel Gap Creek, which was selected for Oprah’s Book Club in 2000. Dr. Morgan has also been awarded the Hanes Poetry Prize, the North Carolina Literary Award, and the Thomas Wolfe Prize. Dr. Morgan has taught at Cornell University for the past 30 years.
“I enjoyed listening to poetry without having to interpret it,” said Leah Tullis, senior English major. “It was nostalgic and soothing, reminding me of that simple past grandparents tell stories about.”
Look out for poetess Dorianne Laux, the next speaker for the Poetry Circuit, on April 2 in the UC Theater at 7:30 p.m.

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