SMSU English prof. receives national poetry award

MARSHALL – For more than five weeks this fall, Southwest Minnesota State University English professor Susan McLean spent time in Athens.

In a couple of months, she’s heading to Rome for eight weeks.

But the trips aren’t just for fun; she’s been working on a project – translating the works of the poet Catullus.

And recently she got a national award for her second book of poetry.

McLean received the 2014 Donald Justice Poetry Prize for her second poetry book manuscript “The Whetstone Misses the Knife.”

The award is given to one American poet for an unpublished book-length manuscript of formal poetry. She said that two poets will actually receive this prize this year.

McLean said she’s been busy writing poems as well, since it’s been more than four years since her last book.

“It’s almost entirely poems in rhyme and meter,” McLean said.

Most poetry books tend to be free verse these days, McLean said.

“I knew that the Donald Justice prize was one that favored writing in form,” she said.

“The Whetstone Misses the Knife” contains short poems on a wide variety of subjects, McLean said. One poem, “The Brief Lives of the Poets” talks about the fact that poets tend to have short lives. She said she was inspired to wrote the poem “The Whetstone Misses the Knife” after hearing about the suicide of poet Rachel Wetzsteon.

But not all the poetry is sad and gloomy, McLean said.

“(There’s a) high percentage of funny poems in ‘Whetstone,'” McLean said.

McLean had gotten a Southwest Minnesota Arts Council grant to pay the entry fee for 10 poetry contests. She had entered just four when she received word about getting the Donald Justice award. “The Whetstone Misses the Knife” will be published by Story Line Press next June.

She will also give a reading at the West Chester University (Pa.) Poetry Conference on June 4.

McLean said she did a lot of travel around Athens, visiting museums and ancient buildings.

“While I was in Athens, I gave a poetry reading at the Athens Centre,” McLean said. McLean said she was asked to do so by fellow poet A.E. Stallings, and the reading was on Nov. 4.

McLean said she’ll spend eight weeks at the American Academy in Rome.

“Catullus actually lived in Rome. (I get to) see places he actually visited,” McLean said.

She’s already done a majority of the translations on the Catullus poems and is working on revising them. McLean said she has 10 left to translate. Catullus wrote 116 poems.

McLean will have another book coming next fall with her collection of Martial’s translated poems.