March 29, 2023

Professor speaks through poetry


Javier Avila, writer and professor, meet with students at NCC to discuss his work.
Javier Avila, writer and professor, meet with students at NCC to discuss his work.

An English professor and acclaimed author read selected poems from his new book “Vapor” to a packed audience on NCC’s Main campus Oct. 28.

“Vapor” is a collection of poems from Dr. Javier Avila’s four previously published books, which he translated from Spanish to English.

“The challenge was to translate it and to keep the essence of the poem,” Avila said.

If a poem did not have the same emotional feel and impact when translated into English, he did not include it in the book, he explained.

“It’s not about the physical aspect of the poem, it’s about the emotion that it will make you feel,” Avila explained. “I think poetry is first and foremost an emotional experience. Then it’s an intellectual experience.”

The poems Avila read in the David A. Reed Community Room dealt with a wide range of subjects, from digital identity to homelessness to the death of his father.

Time is a major theme throughout his poems, Avila explained. “I think we’re all a bit obsessed with time; I mean, time heals all wounds, but it ends up killing you, so you hate and love time.”

His own attachment to time, however, started when he had heart surgery when he was 8.

“I’ve always been obsessed with time on a personal level, because I always thought I was going to die young … but now I want to live a long life,” he said.

Although many of Avila’s poems are about death, his remarks frequently sparked laughter in the audience.

“To be honest, I’m doing this teaching thing really for the comedy,” the NCC professor joked.

Avila started writing when he was 8 by writing and illustrating rhyming stories. “I love rhyme, even though these poems don’t rhyme, which is awkward,” he said.

Avila credited his teachers with having a large influence on his writing, including his calculus professor.

“I think math is good for poetry, too, which is a random comment that’s probably scared some of you,” he said.

Avila urged audience members to write for themselves, not for book sales or public opinion. He encouraged non-readers to keep searching for books with which they can connect.

A man in the audience who connected with Avila’s poetry summed it up by saying, “I think that if somebody reads one of your poems and they either laugh out loud or they cry some tears, for you that’s a success, yes? Well you did.”

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