Prof, poet presents pragmatic passages

Bertin Rodriguez

Robert Mullen, Reporter

Poet, novelist, painter, and professor emeritus of English at UC Davis Clarence Major came to Bakersfield College on Oct. 3 to read selections of his poetry at the Norman Levan Center for the Humanities.
There were two readings held, one at 11 a.m. of around 25 selections from his newest book “Down and Up,” and a second at 7 p.m. with another 30 selections from his previous book “Myself Painting.” The morning reading had an attendance of about 30 people, while the evening event had a little more than half of that.
Major became interested in writing poetry when he was extremely young. According to him, around the age of five or six, his mother wrote him a poem to read in church and from then on he began writing poetry and fiction, drawing and painting. “Even that young I remember thinking, this is what I want to do, this is how I want to make my living,” said Major.
He first published three poems in a magazine when he was 18, and began to publish a literary magazine in his early twenties while he was apprenticing to be a teacher. Even during this time writing was still a major part of his life, according to Major, “I never thought of [poetry] as a hobby, I always thought of it as a vocation.”
Major’s poetry lacks a lot of fantastical elements and is more occupied with much more mundane events like traveling, or objects, but is incredibly vivid and descriptive. He finds it difficult to really point to where he got his style, though he points to a verity of influences, “It’s changed over time, I had read Joyce Kilmer and those people in school, but on my own I actually discovered French poetry, reading [Charles] Baudelaire, and those people. By and by I discovered American poets and become very interested. It’s hard to say exactly which poets influenced me, because it’s a filtering process, and somehow after taking all of that, your own voice emerges.”
Major has won numerous awards and nominations including a Pushcart for poetry and another for fiction, a Western States Award for fiction, a Fulbright Fellowship, a Stephen Henderson Poetry Award, a Sister Circle Book Award, a National Book Award, and a National Council of the Arts Fellowship. He’s published 13 books of poetry since 1970, nine novels since 1969, as well as numerous short stories, essays, and non-fiction books. His art has been exhibited dozens of times, both in personal and group exhibitions.
Jack Hernandez, the director of the Levan Center, was incredibly thrilled with Major’s appearance, but he was disappointed with the low attendance. He notes that it’s difficult to get people to show up, especially as the center heavily relies on faculty to spread the word about upcoming events. “I always see these students who come in looking like, this is going to be incredibly boring, but then they actually hear what the speakers have to say, then they get really into it,” said Hernandez.