Pittsburgh is one scholarly town. While outside of the ‘burgh we are known for Steelers, sports, beer and yinzers, in educational circles, Pittsburgh is the land of educational institutions. Pittsburghers also tend to be well read. While bookstores struggle in other big cities, in Pittsburgh they thrive. Between our unique culture and the inspiration that can be pulled from our big city feel of downtown to the rural areas of our suburbs, it’s no wonder that the Steel City has become home to many of the country’s best poets.
Dr. Samuel John Hazo
The life of Samuel Hazo rolls out as a history of poetry in Pittsburgh. At age 85, the Pittsburgh native continues to write 55 years after his first collection, “Discovery and Other Poems,” was published. That first collection was released just one year after he completed a tour as Captain in the US Marine Corps and began his career as an internationally acclaimed poet, having authored 45 books and counting. From 1955 to 1998, Hazo taught as a Professor of English at his alma mater, Duquesne University, where he also served as Associate Dean, College of Arts and Sciences from 1961 to 1966. His prolific words and voice led Hazo to become a commentator on the National Public Radio program “Performance Today” from 1987 to 1988 and the narrator for “One Poem at a Time” from 1993 to 1996. In 1993, Pennsylvania Governor Robert Casey named Hazo Pennsylvania’s first (and inevitably only) State Poet, a position he held until 2003 when Governor Ed Rendell terminated the position. Dr. Samuel Hazo’s work continues to reach audiences, most recently with his prose novel, “The Time Remaining,” published in 2012, and his 2009 poetry collection “Sexes: The Marriage Dialogues” is scheduled to be reissued in April 2014.
“Pittsburgh is the living geology, the formal architecture, the staging body and the organic shape that informs many of my poems,” Judith Vollmer expressed in her interview with The Fourth River. As a Pittsburgh native, Vollmer explained her initial collection of work, “The Door Open to the Fire,” as “my first long love poem to Pittsburgh,” the town in which she was born and raised. In addition to having five collections of her poetry published, Vollmer is editor of the literary journal 5 AM, and has received numerous awards and honors, including the Cleveland State University Press Poetry Prize, the Brittingham Prize and the Center for Book Arts prize. When not composing poems and prose, Vollmer works as a teacher at Drew University, as well as in the undergraduate writing program at the University of Pittsburgh at Greensburg, for which she received Chancellor’s Distinguished Teaching Award. Vollmer’s latest work, “The Water Books: Poems,” was published in 2012 by Autumn House Press.
“Since I took my first poetry classes in Pittsburgh and I realized my first community of poets in Pittsburgh, this became initially the real — the locus for a lot of my poems,” Terrance Hayes expressed in his interview with PBS Newshour in 2008. Originally from South Carolina, Hayes received an MFA from the University of Pittsburgh in 1997, and then returned to Pittsburgh permanently in 2001, accepting a position at Carnegie Mellon University where he taught for 12 years. In 2013, Hayes left his position at CMU to become a professor of English at the University of Pittsburgh. With Hayes’ mastery of language and ability to transport emotions into words, it’s no surprise that his body of work has won numerous awards. His first collection of poetry, “Muscular Music,” won the 1999 Kate Tufts Discovery Award, then his second, “Hip Logic,” was winner of the 2001 National Poetry Series. His latest collection, “Lighthead,” was winner of the 2010 National Book Award for Poetry.
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Writer, radio show host and director of the creative writing program at Carlow University, Jan Beatty is an award-winning poet with four published collections of work, and a history of teaching the art of writing for more than 20 years. Before working at Carlow, Beatty taught at University of Pittsburgh, Carnegie Mellon and even served as a teacher and social worker for maximum security prisons. Among the nominations and awards she’s received for her books, Beatty was recipient of the Creative Achievement Award in Literature from the Heinz Foundation, the Pablo Neruda Prize for Poetry, the Discovery/The Nation Prize finalist, as well as two fellowships from the Pennsylvania Council on the Arts. University of Pittsburgh Press published Beatty’s latest collection, “The Switching/Yard,” earlier this year, and she can be heard every week on the radio program “Prosody,” which she co-hosts with fellow author Ellen Placey Wadey.
Finding inspiration from growing up in the rural area of Westmoreland County, Paula Bohince returned to her home state a few years ago, moving to Pittsburgh and becoming one of the city’s fastest up-and-coming voices in the poetry scene. In addition to gaining a Masters of Fine Arts from New York University’s creative writing program, Bohince was awarded the Amy Lowell Poetry Traveling Scholarship, allowing her to spend a year studying her art in Paris. Then in 2007, she became the first to receive the honor of becoming the Summer Poet in Residence at the University of Mississippi. Bohince has had two poetry collections published. Her first book, “Incident at the Edge of Bayonet Woods,” is a dark mystery told though poems, and gained her the Sarabande Books’ inaugural Aleda Shirley Prize. Her second collection, “The Children,” has received great critical acclaim since its release in 2012.
David Cohen is a freelance writer whose work can be found on Examiner.com.