RUSKIN – Melanie Hubbard probably would be a frustratingly formidable opponent over a game of Scrabble.
She’s a constant, consistent, inveterate, dedicated explorer with words. She plays with them by way of magnetized letters on the kitchen fridge. She experiments with them as part of an endeavor she calls “poem painting.” She strings them together to create lyrical, touching free verse that editors publish.
And next week it’s that latter effort which will put the diminutive local poet in the spotlight on the other side of Tampa Bay. Dr. Melanie Hubbard and her first full-length published book of poetry will be featured Saturday, October 20, during the 20th annual Times Festival of Reading. According to the schedule now in final draft form, she’s front and center at 1:45 p.m. in Room 123 of the Science and Technology Building on the University of South Florida campus, downtown St. Petersburg.
The 70-page book, titled “We Have With Us Your Sky,” came out October 2, published by Subito Press, a literary publisher affiliated with the University of Colorado at Boulder. It contains 49 works by Hubbard which she describes as “snapshots of dreamscapes.”
During her presentation as one of the festival’s “featured authors,” she told The Observer this week, she plans to read from this collection and answer questions related to the works, her creative processes, poetry publishing or the life of a poet.
It may be more a matter of practice choosing the poet than poet making the choice.
Hubbard grew up in Central Florida’s Winter Haven, the offspring of parents who were not professional writers, but who read voraciously. From early childhood, she remembers, she was surrounded by a nearly unending array of publications and subject matter almost as wide as the world. She matriculated through Winter Haven’s public schools and, with a strong interest in religion and philosophy, chose New College in Sarasota for her undergraduate work. In due course, she was graduated from the college that ultimately would become part of the University of South Florida network with a BA in Religion and Philosophy.
Always attracted to, fascinated by, interested in words and language use, along the way, she discovered the words of poetry. “It felt”, she says, “like truth.” Poets, she learned, explored important subjects, in words, fearlessly, even unfettered. With a grin as she unleashes her tendency toward word exploration, she allows that poetry “makes me feel companionated.”
But what does a young Florida girl with a religion and philosophy degree do next? She goes to New York, of course, to eventually encounter Columbia University. And, eventually to earn at that prestigious educational bastion of written communications both master and doctorate degrees in literature, with an emphasis on American Lit.
While formally equipped to begin a career in academia, working perhaps toward full professorship on the university level, Hubbard suggests today as she looks back that she wanted more. That “more” would include marriage with Dr. Arthur “Mac” Miller, a New College professor before his retirement, their naturally precocious daughter, Kylie, now 13, and life as a working poet in a historic, century-old house on the Ruskin Inlet where words continue to enliven their days.
Hubbard received a $40,000 grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities to continue work on a scholarly examination of Emily Dickinson’s poetry and her “seemingly odd practices with words.” That effort is progressing, she says, to book stage. Segments of the manuscript already have appeared under her name in collections containing the perspectives of different scholars on such subjects.
And, like many working poets, Hubbard enters her work in literary competitions where poetry, both traditional and non-traditional, is more enthusiastically embraced than it is on the best seller lists. In fact, “We Have with Us Your Sky” received the Subito 2011 Poetry Book Award before it was slated for publication, she notes.
The publisher now is marketing the book, both online and in the pre-internet manner, doing promotions and placing copies in the hands of reviewers. The book can be purchased online from such sites as Small Press Distribution, from Amazon and from Subito Press.org, Hubbard adds.
Hubbard also anticipates that sometime in November she will give a reading from the new collection at Ruskin’s Firehouse Cultural Center.
In the meantime, she’s experimenting with the effects of distilling from a page of interesting or provocative prose a sentence or two that might be free verse and then illustrating those few words with an original painting on the same page. She’d dubbed this concept “poem painting” and emphasizes it is only beginning to evolve.
Then, too, she speaks enthusiastically about exploring the combination of musical composition with poetry, not to produce a song by setting lyric to music but to inspire music with the words of verse. It is, she indicates, simply another aspect of her lifelong fascination with “the sound and shape of language.”
And, with Kylie growing toward independent adulthood, Hubbard says she thinks from time to time about teaching, perhaps in a private high school or in a small liberal arts college.
Whichever captures her interest next, it appears Scrabble games will have to wait.
Copyright 2012 Melody Jameson