The College of Southern Maryland Connections Library Series welcomed Philip Metres, American poet and professor of English at John Carroll University, to a roundtable discussion before his poetry reading at the Leonardtown campus Friday night.
Metres’ work has appeared in “Best American Poetry” and “Inclined to Speak: Contemporary Arab American Poetry.” His most recent books include “Sand Opera” and “A Concordance of Leaves,” and he has a new book of poetry, “Shrapnel Maps,” set for release next April.
A number of educators and several students attended the discussion to hear what Metres had to say about his upcoming book, which is all about exploring different points of view and the political and personal wounds at the core of the Israel-Palestine conflict.
The Israeli-Palestinian conflict is the ongoing struggle between the two groups that began in the mid-20th century after Jewish immigration and sectarian issues in Palestine between Jews and Arabs. The conflict has been the root of much intolerance and violence in the Middle East.
“One of the interesting things about my book that comes out in the spring is it makes you think what does it mean to be a neighbor. What does it mean to love one’s neighbor? Inside is my own attempt to understand the Israel-Palestine point of view and how people mark or imagine their own space,” Metres said to the group.
Michael Glaser, a retired English professor from St. Mary’s College of Maryland, asked Metres what he has learned in the process of writing “Shrapnel Maps.”
“I began thinking a lot about the United States and not just about our community but the legacy and genocide of Native Americans. Every day we are participating in a project, the erasure of Native Americans,” Metres said, making a connection between a homegrown conflict and the conflict overseas.
Expressing anxiety about the book’s reception, Metres told the group about his goals when writing the new collection of poetry.
“I decided that the subject had chosen me. I researched as long as I could. I tried to do my best to create a book where people are forced to encounter different perspectives. Comfortable conversations don’t really get us anywhere,” Metres said.
“If I don’t accept your existence, then I replace it with my own. There are many civilizations here, and you have to be able to connect with them,” said Wayne Karlin, an author and retired English professor from College of Southern Maryland, commenting on the intolerance that some have when dealing with a culture different than their own.
Metres passed around a pre-release copy of his book to give everyone the opportunity to get a closer look at the cover art, a photograph of an old building in the Middle East with open windows, allowing the viewer to see what’s going on inside.
“If you look in the windows you get a look at mundane lives. It’s a good representation of what the book is about,” Metres said, adding that “we can’t live in a constant state of rage … other people’s pain becomes easy to minimize. I could sense in my brain a dismissal happening and I wanted to challenge that as a writer.”
Metres pointed out that even though the poems in his book are about fictional people, the characters are based on real experiences and the things they say are things that actually would have or have been said.
“There is a need for young people to feel empathy and these poems do a good job. I’m very excited about this,” Glaser said after Metres read aloud two poems from “Shrapnel Maps.”
Later that evening, more students and staff joined Metres for the official reading from his new book in the College of Southern Maryland auditorium.