Poet kicks off Visiting Writers Series

Michael McNally

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The Visiting Writer Series, sponsored by the School of Humanities, kicked off the year with Carrie Fountain, assistant professor of English Writing and Rhetoric, who read selections from her book, “Burn Lake.”

“We’re delighted that Carrie has been recognized for her work, and we take great pride in having her as a part of our faculty this year,” said Kate Rosati, administrative coordinator for the School of Humanities.

“Burn Lake” is set in New Mexico and explores the theme of the quickly changing face of Southwest America. Included in the portions of the book Fountain read was a collection of five poems also entitled “Burn Lake.”

Additionally, Fountain read two poems from a second collection on which she is currently working, entitled “The Talent of the Body.”

Fountain said that she always had a predisposition to words and language at an early age, but she didn’t begin to write poetry until she was in high school.

“Like most teenagers, I turned to poetry to figure out what the heck was going on,” she said.

Fountain went on to study both English and theater as an undergraduate student, but later she was reminded of her interest in poetry.

“Poetry [was] my first love,” said Fountain.

While she was in graduate school at the Michener Center for Writers, she began to work on her collection of poems, “Burn Lake.”

After working on “Burn Lake” for five to six years, she went to one of her good friends for advice last August. Fountain’s friend said the book was too short and needed at least 30 more pages.

“It was very hard to hear; I had considered it done for years,” Fountain said.

Nevertheless, Fountain added 30 more pages to her collection by that Christmas.

The last 30 pages revolve around Spanish explorer Don Juan Oñate’s trek through the deserts of New Mexico in search of the North Sea.

“I’ve always been fascinated by this story and the concept of absolute not knowing,” Fountain said.

This concept is a recurring theme in the book.

“At this point in my life as a writer, I find adolescence as a kind of setting for a poem,” said Fountain. “The veil is lifted, and there is the notion of not knowing what happens next.”

Upon the completion of “Burn Lake,” Fountain began to enter several first-book poetry contests, but she had little success.

After submitting her work three times to the National Poetry Series Competition, Fountain’s “Burn Lake” won. Her collection was granted publication by Penguin Book Publishers.

The National Poetry Series is an extremely selective contest. According to the contest’s Web site, the National Poetry Series was established to increase the support given to American poets and to broaden the audience of poetry in the United States.

Only five writers win this award each year. Furthermore, Penguin Book Publishers only publishes two poetry collections a year.

“I was absolutely blown away,” Fountain said of her award. “Not many unpublished poets win open contests, let alone advance to the finalist stage.”

To keep her writing skills sharp, Fountain said she writes every morning, which can difficult.

“The biggest challenge is keeping a hold of that thread because it is an ongoing thing. It doesn’t end with a book,” said Fountain. “The most challenging thing about writing is also the most rewarding.”

Fountain’s advice to aspiring writers is to keep in mind that writing is a practice, and publication isn’t.

“Publication is not the end of writing,” said Fountain.

However, her biggest piece of advice is to read all kinds of work—novels and poems by writers a student find inaccessible and tricky.

“Be outrageously brave in your reading,” said Fountain.