While poet Joe Weil was growing up in Elizabeth, N.J., his imaginary friend was living in South Dakota. Her name was Girl, and she jumped through a magic window to visit Weil at his home and tell him about how big the sky looked in South Dakota.
On Monday, Weil will visit his childhood friend’s home for the first time to read his poetry at Augustana.
“Since my imaginary playmate visited me when I was little, it’s my turn to come and say hello,” Weil said.
Senior Quinn Jacobs called the event an “awesome move” by Augustana, and said he looks forward to hearing Weil read his own work.
“Since he’s the one who brought these poems into existence, I feel it’s important to hear the poems how they were intended to be heard,” Jacobs said.
English professor Patrick Hicks agrees. He says bringing in Weil, who was featured at the travelling Geraldine R. Dodge Poetry Festival, will help students understand the “power of words” in everyday life.
“[P]oetry seems kind of fluffy and irrelevant, but it’s vital to our lives,” Hicks said.
Hicks, who coordinated Weil’s visit, calls Weil’s poetry “honest and visceral and immediate,” saying Weil’s background greatly influenced his work.
“Elizabeth … is a hard-scrabble, blue-collar town, a place that you wouldn’t expect poetry to come from,” Hicks said. “And yet, he writes these wonderful and honest poems about life there.”
Weil’s passion for poetry began before he could read or write, when he said he drew pictures and made up stories about them to tell his parents.
“I was lucky,” Weil said. “I had parents who never turned down the chance to hear one of my illustrated epics.”
He said he later realized his talent for rhyme, and wanted to be a songwriter. However, he knew he needed to do something else because being in a band required “a lot of compromise”; poetry was a natural choice.
“I wanted to run the show, and a poem, whatever else it is, allows you to do that,” Weil said.
Weils experienced both of his parents’ deaths as a young adult, dropping out of Rutgers University and eventually being left homeless after his father died. These incidents add to the “conversational” tone of his writing, Hicks said.
“To read one of Joe’s poems is to feel like you’re sitting down in a bar and a friend is telling you a good story, and maybe a story that you’re not sure you should be hearing,” he said.
Weils said doing things a little differently is nothing new to him.
“I guess I’m about as alternate route as you can get,” Weil said, explaining that he waited until later in life to experience a lot of things, like having children or flying in a plane.
Though visiting South Dakota is not necessarily a major milestone in everyone’s life, Weil said he is excited to finally experience “land so spacious and open.”
Weil will present his work on Monday, Oct. 13 at 7 p.m. in Humanities 123.