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Writer at Work: Steven Leyva

Tickner Writing Fellow Arnisha Royston introduced the first visiting writer of the school year for the A. J. Downs Writers at Work Series on Wednesday, January 10. She said she discovered the writer through an article titled “Baltimore: Great Poets Live Here,” where his name was the first listed. She called his work “multi-layered.”

Poet Steven Leyva said he writes a lot about the city of New Orleans where he was born. He noted that while he doesn’t have a southern accent, he has a slow, southern gait. “The south lives in my body, not just in my tongue,” he said.

In front of the Upper School student body and faculty, he read aloud several poems ranging in topic from finding one’s place at a middle school dance to learning how to fist fight; from what one needs to survive in Vernon, Oklahoma, to musings on Bruce Wayne in early sunlight and buttery moonlight. Leyva holds an MFA from the University of Baltimore, where he is an associate professor in the Klein Family School of Communications Design, and — perhaps unsurprisingly — teaches a course on the evolution of Batman in media.

At the end of his poetry reading, he opened up the room for questions. One senior — a drummer — asked about how he incorporates rhythm into his writing process. Leyva began his answer with a question: “Do you need to understand a song in order to dance to it?” He paused before answering, “No. The musicality of poems precedes understanding of it… Whether it’s something syncopated or rhyming, I’m always thinking about rhythm and musicality.”

Learning specialist Alicia Brady asked Leyva about how he got started writing poetry. He shared that he came to poetry on the later side, as a junior in college. “You don’t need to have been doing it since birth to become good at it. You could start today and become a better poet if you work at it.”

When Royston asked what keeps him writing, Leyva answered: 

“I have an active and agile curiosity. The most important thing…is to be curious about the world. What can the world teach you about yourself? What can you teach yourself about yourself? And what can your identity share with the world that might change it? Writing doesn’t just open up a mirror to the world; it changes the world.”

Watch Steven Leyva’s presentation


 

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