Springfield, Ohio - Poetry lovers should be familiar with one of Wittenberg's own: Springfield-area resident Conrad Balliet.
Balliet was an English professor at Wittenberg University for 30 years before retiring in 1991. He went back to work in 1993 at the local NPR affiliate WYSO (91.3 FM) in Yellow Springs where he hosts "Conrad's Corner," a popular show for poets and poetry lovers.
His poetry and readings serve as the inspiration behind Stefan Broidy's latest project, From the Tower. Broidy, a professor in Wittenberg's Department of Education, just retired this past August and started working on the project. He came to Wittenberg in 2001 after 26 years at Southwest Missouri State University.
Broidy explains how the project came to be in this question and answer session:
Question: What sparked the movement of local poets to get together and write in honor of Balliet, and how did it eventually lead to From the Tower?
A: Conrad had been inviting students and friends to his home for poetry almost from the start of his tenure in Wittenberg's English department. When he and his wife, Marion, built their house, he built a tower onto it, reflecting his interest in and admiration of the Irish Poet W.B. Yeats. Yeats had bought a tower in Ireland for a retreat and summer home. Conrad had himself spent parts of 10 years researching Yeats and his muse, a woman named Maud Gonne McBride, whom Yeats loved.
When Conrad retired in 2001, he devoted himself to promoting and supporting poetry in the Miami Valley. To that end, he invited poets, myself included, to meet at his home for reading and workshopping of our work, and for sharing favorite poets and poems. He also continued his nightly "Conrad's Corner" and added longer programs on WYSO over the years. He has invited area poets to read their work on his shows. Moreover, he has organized poetry readings all over the Miami Valley, and lent his support to poetry events in the area.
Those of us in the Tower Poetry Group have benefited greatly from Conrad's support. Over the past year, we have talked amongst ourselves about ways to express our gratitude. With this book, we tried to include examples of our work that we believe Conrad would like, and the aim of the book is to honor Conrad's efforts to promote local area poets and poetry. We hope that the book will spread the word about Conrad Balliet, and the great work he has done to make poetry a regular part of people's lives in the Miami Valley.
Question: How long have you known Balliet and his work?
A: I've known Conrad since I came to Wittenberg in 2001. Somehow (I certainly didn't tell anyone that I wrote and published poetry) he discovered my interest and invited me to join his bi-monthly group.
Question: Why was the title From the Tower selected?
A: Because almost all the contributors are now or were once members of the group that meets at Conrad's house. We call ourselves the Tower Poets because of the tower that tops his house. Originally, the group met in the tower, but soon outgrew the space. We meet in his living room now. The name also acknowledges Conrad's interest in and scholarship about Yeats.
Question: How many poets are involved in this book?
A: There are 27 poets represented in the book.
Question: What does it mean to you to be a part of a project that honors a man who has moved so many?
A: It gives me great joy to be a part of honoring a person I greatly respect. He has validated my great interest in writing poetry and helped me to form an ongoing plan to keep writing now that I am retiring from academe.
Question: Do you have a favorite poem in From the Tower?
A: No, there are dozens of poems in the book that I admire.
Question: When did you first take an interest in poetry?
A: I've been writing since childhood, and I've continued to do so through careers as a high school English teacher and as a writer on issues in philosophy of language during my work at Missouri State, Ohio State and Wittenberg.
Question: How has Balliet influenced your work?
A: Conrad offers useful and well-reasoned critique, but he is also open to all the experiments and literary quirks I and others display in our work. He has vast knowledge of Western poetry and is quick to interest us in learning more.
Question: Where can From the Tower be purchased?
A: It's in pre-sale right now and is scheduled for release in December. Those who are interested in reserving a copy now can do so at a reduced price through the publisher, Main Street Rag.