Tony Abbott’s new book of poems, If Words Could Save Us, continues a prolific outpouring of lyric verse from this retired Davidson College English professor. But the volume is also a first for Abbott. “It’s the only book of poems I’ve written where every poem is part of the story of the book,” he said.
As for a story, Abbott has chosen a big one. “It tells life’s story,” he said. “Not my life story. The universal life story.”
Abbott invites the public to attend a premier reading and “celebration in music, poetry and art” for If Words Could Save Us on Sunday afternoon, October 16. Abbott’s recitation of several of the poems will be accompanied by live music and projection of images. It will begin at 3 p.m. in Semans Lecture Hall in the Belk Visual Arts Center on the Davidson campus. He will also conduct a reading on Wednesday evening, October 19, at Park Road Books in Charlotte. For more information on either event call 704-894-2254.
Abbott compiled If Words Could Save from his ever-increasing collection of individual poems. Last year he began to sift through the collection in search of commonality and themes. The book’s three section titles – “Providence,” “Ordinary Time” and “Grace” were drawn from that process.
The themes reflect Abbott’s interpretation of the stages of life. He explained, “Providence is about God kicking Adam and Eve from the Garden of Eden, about young people becoming adults. Ordinary Time is that long period of life lived in the real world, and Grace concerns the redemption we finally receive in unexpected and surprising ways at the conclusion of life.”
The book expresses Abbott’s gratitude for being blessed with an enthusiastic passion for language arts, as well as his recognition that not everyone shares his joy in life’s journey. He said, “It’s a tough time for us as a nation, and I hope the book will help some readers find a little joy, blessing and peace.”
If Words Could Save Us has earned high praise from early readers in the literary community. Joel Connaroe, president of the Guggenheim Memorial Foundation, wrote on the book jacket, “Charm is difficult to define but we know it when we see it and we see it on every page of Anthony Abbott’s elegantly crafted, moving poems, whether elegiac, confessional, allusive, or slyly comic.”
Abbott’s book includes for the first time in his career a CD of him reciting about half of the printed poems because, he said, “Most people do better if they hear poetry.”
Abbott is a native of San Francisco who received his undergraduate degree from Princeton University and his Ph.D. from Harvard. His teaching career at Davidson began in 1964 and concluded officially with his retirement in 2001, and unofficially in 2006 when he last taught a section of Humanities at the college. However, teaching has continued to be as important in his life as writing. In 2007 he spent aterm at Lenoir-Rhyne University as “Writer in Residence,” and he now serves as a member of the advisory board of Lenor-Rhyne’s visiting writer series.
His association with Lenoir-Rhyne and literary reputation led to an invitation that Abbott edit an anthology of work by writers who have served in the “Visiting Writer” series. The resulting book, What Writers Do, will debut in late November, contains contributions from 32 of the greatest authors of this era, including Seamus Heaney, Sharon Olds, John Updike, Nikki Giovanni, Frank McCourt, Reynolds Price and others. Abbott introduces their work with an essay explaining the structure of the book and his reflections on the role of writers in society. “I conclude that what writers do is change lives,” he said. “They bring a new dimension of life to readers.”
He presents readings frequently, and teaches writing workshops. He is currently conducting a poetry workshop at Queens University in Charlotte, and doing workshops for two churches.
He has published steadily since his first book of poems, The Girl in the Yellow Raincoat, appeared in 1989. If Words Could Save Us joins his other volumes of poetry, A Small Thing Like a Breath, The Search for Wonder in the Cradle of the World, The Man Who and his “greatest hits” volume of 2009, New and Selected Poems. He has also written two novels. Leaving Maggie Hope won the 2003 Novello Literary Award, and was followed in 2007 by a sequel titled The Three Great Secret Things.