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Spring Poetry Series opens with Michigan poet, teacher Dennis Hinrichsen

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By Kelsey Block

“You’re always in the process of becoming a poet. You keep going on and striving to become that thing,” 62-year-old local writer Dennis Hinrichsen said.

Hinrichsen visited the RCAH Center for Poetry last Wednesday as the first guest in our annual Spring Poetry Series.

Hinrichsen first discovered the pleasure of words in the Bob Dylan song, “Visions of Johanna” with the line: “The ghost of electricity howls in the bones of her face.”

“I thought, ‘Holy mackerel!’ It created this amazing image in my mind, a cinematic effect, and I wanted to be able to do that too,” he said.

Later, as an undergraduate student Hinrichsen abandoned his studies in math and switched to creative writing. Since then, he’s completed nine works, six of which are books of poetry.

Hinrichsen said his work changed significantly between his second and third books.

“The biggest challenge was recognizing that I didn’t like the way I sounded in a poem and having to completely change myself. It took me nine years to do, but at the end of that, I had developed my own point of view,” he said.

Hinrichsen said he’s always trying to challenge himself as a writer.

“When you’re writing, you’re constantly trying to crash things together. You’re this mad scientist trying to do a fusion and see what happens, if you can sustain something or if you have to recombine to push this stuff. That’s where it’s really exciting for me, because that’s me going into new territory and trying to follow that thing,” Hinrichsen said. “I try to find things I can’t possibly write about, and try to write about it… It’s being brave enough in the act of drafting those things, to find cliff edges and continually jump off them, to constantly risk writing badly.”

Hinrichsen has another book, Skin Music, coming out this fall.

“The poems sort of look at hard things for a variety of reasons,” he said, adding that many of the poems take place in Grand Ledge where he grew up. “When you’re writing poetry, you have no clue what the poem’s about – you write to discover what it’s about.”

In addition to writing, Hinrichsen taught writing at Lansing Community College for a number of years. He said it’s important for students to learn to write with abandon.

“You come into creative writing class and you’re going to be writing for the next four years. It’s going to be the most important writing you’re doing, and you’re going to throw away everything you write,” he said. “It’s just practice to get to the point that you get old enough to have that skill set.”

Hinrichsen said students also need to read as much as they possibly can.

“The reading component is plugging into what’s going on around you. It’s learning how to read like a writer and recognize (writing) is a practice,” he said.

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The Center for Poetry opened in the fall of 2007 to encourage the reading, writing, and discussion of poetry and to create an awareness of the place and power of poetry in our everyday lives. We think about this in a number of ways, including through readings, shows, community outreach, and workshops. We are at work building a poetry community at MSU and in the greater Lansing area. Contact: cpoetry@msu.edu (517) 884-1932 http://www.poetry.rcah.msu.edu

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