Batchelder's Poetry 'A Special Gift'by Steve Charles • March 30, 2015 Share:
When Coach Brent Noble tells you that Stephen Batchelder ’15 “doesn’t waste words” and that “what he says means something,” he is referring to his leadership on the Little Giant swim team.
But Professor of English Marc Hudson says much the same of Batchelder as a poet.
“He has a strong sense of voice,” said Hudson, an award-winning poet, after Batchelder’s poetry reading earlier this month. “He knows how reticence can be a profound means for achieving emotional power in poetry.
“And he has a special gift for evoking place.”
Most of Batchelder’s poems and personal anecdotes transported his audience in Center 216 to the American West, where he grew up in the small agricultural town of Orland in California’s Sacramento Valley.
“Batchelders were farmers for many generations,” said the senior religion/English double major, and his poetry is deeply rooted in the landscape, whether he’s describing scenes from Interstate 80, cliff jumping, or domestic scenes in his hometown.
Yet some of his most moving work focuses on friends and faith.
“Poems have been my way of religious questioning,” Batchelder said as he introduced “Silent Night,” a poem that reaches toward mystery in describing a candlelit Christmas Eve service: “The sound of nothing has stirred my faith.”
He introduced the powerful “After the Last Swim of Summer” as a reflection upon the death of a close friend who “could make people come alive with his stories,” adding that “some experiences are best dealt with by leaving spaces.”
“Stephen's reading demonstrated his dedication to the craft of poetry,” Hudson said. “You learn poetry by reading and listening, and Stephen has listened carefully.”
Batchelder took time to read from those poets who have shaped him, including Mary Oliver (whose “Summer Day” inspired Batchelder’s poem “Morning Walk”), Gary Snyder, and Richard Hugo, who he described as “the poet I found most interesting, and the poet least like me.”
“He also owned a Buick and has driven to his favorite fishing holes, as have I,” Batchelder said before reading Hugo’s “Driving Montana” and its unforgettable image of “the sky wide as the mouth of a wild girl.”
He said John Steinbeck’s depictions of California had captured his imagination, as has, more recently, Jack Kerouac’s On the Road.
After declaring “I love the moon,” Batchelder read from his series of moon poems influenced by the Chinese poet Han-shan.
The seamless flow of the reading—from the works of poets he admires to personal stories to his own poems—created an intimate and enticing narrative.
“I was especially struck by how comfortable he was giving his first solo poetry reading,” said Hudson. “He seemed very natural and at ease.”