Dr. John Morris used to joke with his students that he earned his Ph.D. just so that he could get paid to read poems out loud. And while it was, of course, all in good fun, Morris has managed to make a career out of poetry — no easy feat in the 21st century.
For the last 19 years, with the notable exception of 2003 and 2011 when a frozen pipe and an ice storm respectively forced its cancellation, Morris has performed a live poetry reading on Valentine’s Day at the Leslie Powell Gallery.
“The first couple of years, I read love poems all written by others, mostly famous and some by others less well known. After a few years, I began reading some of my own work, at first love poems exclusively and then those on other subjects to which I have provided a canopy title of ‘Poems to Love,’ a title that I hope is not misleading or false advertising,” Morris joked.
Morris will be reading several of his own poems again this year, although he said none are what he would call “love poems.”
Looking back on last year’s reading, Morris can recall many great audience reactions, particularly to some of the more humorous poems.
“I always enjoy humor in poems, and Bob Hicok’s ‘A Primer’ which I read first, drew a big laugh; the poem is hilarious,” Morris said. “The audience also responded quite favorably to the last poem I read, a witty love poem I first read on the Rattle Web site, ‘Mountain Dew Commercial Disguised as a Love Poem’ by Matthew Holzmann.”
There will be one small change to this year’s reading. Instead of Valentine’s Day, the event will take place on the day before, Feb. 13, to accommodate a reading from poet Jenny Yang Cropp on Feb. 14 at Cameron University.
When he thinks about what keeps him coming back to read every year, Morris is reflective. He’s a poet, of course, so it’s a passion for him. But thinking about the audience, he finds another reason.
“I’ve discovered over the years that many students, and I would imagine at least a similar percentage of the public not in school, have difficulty with poetry, find it challenging and not worth their time,” Morris said.