Author of the Month: Charles WebbPublished: April 15, 2013
What Things Are Made Of
Charles Harper Webb, Professor, English
Published in February, What Things Are Made Of is Charles Webb’s 10th full-length collection of poetry, joining Reading the Water, Liver, Tulip Farms and Leper Colonies, Hot Popsicles, Amplified Dog and his most recent work, Shadow Ball: New and Selected Poems. His poems have appeared in many journals and anthologies, including Best American Poetry, the Pushcart Prize and Poets of the New Century. Webb has received the Morse Prize, the Kate Tufts Discovery Award, the Pollak Prize and the Saltman Prize as well as a Whiting Writer’s Award and a Guggenheim fellowship. In What Things Are Made Of, he continues to display his trademark sense of humor. The celebrated poet B.H. Fairchild has called Webb, “the funniest serious poet in America.” “Obviously, I like that,” he says. His poems explore the spectrum of emotions from love to hate, tenderness to brutality, elation to despair. “This book doesn’t have one over-riding theme,” Webb said of his 104-page work, “though I did weave in an arc of parenthood—from conception to about 6 years old.” When pressed, he admits to being very happy with the book. “I worked hard on it and I think the work paid off.” Webb’s poetry deals with a wide range of topics from oil spills to Led Zeppelin to quantum physics to the popular “Jackass” films. “I’m interested in low culture because it shows people with their guard down. ‘Jackass’ certainly does that,” he laughed. He is pleased by his relationship with the University of Pittsburgh Press. “I think they are the best university poetry press in the country,” he said. “Their books are beautifully made and well-promoted. And they’ve got the best list of poets. I’m delighted to be on it.” Asked how critics assess his work, Webb said, “They’ve written about its wide range, its joie de vivre, its musicality, its willingness to face difficult subjects head-on, and its ability to be profound and entertaining at the same time. They’ve noted that I use humor to lower the reader’s guard, so that my words can touch an emotional core. I think that readers who really get me, get that.” Webb will celebrate his 30th anniversary on campus in 2014. Asked to respond to that number, he replied, “I’m incredulous. I didn’t expect to live for 30 years. CSULB has been good to me. But I never imagined I’d be anywhere for three decades. The role of old-timer terrifies me.”
Webb hopes the campus and community will read What Things Are Made Of. “I really think people will get a kick out of it,” he says. “I write to give my readers the kind of pleasures that my favorite writers have given me. Too often, people think poetry is supposed to be good for you in an eat-your-vegetables, take-a-sauna-and-jump-into-ice-water kind of way. I don’t write to make my readers better people. I place my poems before the reader like a host saying, ‘Enjoy.’” Webb received the Provost’s Award for Impact Accomplishment in Research, Scholarly or Creative Activity in 2011. He earned his Ph.D. in Counseling Psychology and his MFA in professional writing from USC; his M.A. from the University of Washington, Seattle; and his bachelor’s degree from Rice University.