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Pulitzer Prize nominee visits ‘Places’ in personal history

By Daily Bruin Staff

April 15, 1996 9:00 p.m.

Tuesday, April 16, 1996

Poet to read works at Friday’s UCLA Poetry ExtravaganzaBy Rodney

Daily Bruin Senior Staff

Scott Holstad knows how to play to his audience.

A recent reading in Long Beach presented him with an audience
that would head for Florida for retirement rather than spring
break. Holstad explains that the crowd consisted of elderly folks,
adding the Seinfeld-esque disclaimer: "nothing wrong with

"I actually had to improvise because a lot of my poems use
language that I just wouldn’t want my grandmother to hear," Holstad
says. "While I was up there on stage, I really had to ditch a lot
of the stuff I was planning to read and snag a bunch of tamer

UCLA students can hear the wilder version of his work on Friday
at the UCLA Poetry Extravaganza in the Kerckhoff Art Gallery.
Holstad says that oral renditions add new dimensions to written
poetry, regardless of the audience’s age. He mentions his poem,
"Just for Kicks," as an example of a poem that takes on new meaning
when experienced audibly.

"It’s good to hear because just the word placement and the fact
that I use both lower and upper case and unconventional approaches
to grammar gives it an added meaning," Holstad says. "When I’m
reading it aloud it allows me to emphasize certain thoughts or
phrases that may not be emphasized without the form that it’s

The book form of his poetry garnered several award nominations,
including the Pulitzer Prize. Holstad feels personal gratification
mixed with guarded skepticism toward these nominations.

"I tend to have a view of such things as perhaps being
structured as a good old boys club," Holstad says. "Maybe it’s just
my cynical nature.

"People within the lucky circle will do well and those people
not necessarily in the loop may not do quite as well in terms of
those sorts of prizes," Holstad adds. "I feel lucky in some regards
but I harbor no grandiose expectations."

"Places," the book that sparked the nominations, combines two
aspects of Holstad’s style that previously existed separately.

"The first half of the book tends to focus on physical places
­ where I’ve been, where I’ve lived, had experiences in,"
Holstad says. "Those tend to be more mainstream. The second half is
some of the rougher, tougher beat-type stuff, and it tends to be
more of a focus on emotional or mental places that I would have
experienced over the past few years."

Holstad’s poetry explores places that often contain dark corners
and negative emotions. The poem, "This is What We Are," examines
traumatic events in his life, including the death of a friend from
anorexia and the experience of having a gun shoved in his mouth
during a robbery. Holstad’s parents occasionally ask him why he
does not write "nice" things.

"I actually do, but no one remembers those," Holstad says. "I
think my strongest poems tend to come from some of the negative
experiences I have undergone in the past few years."

Holstad’s poetry has undergone changes since he first took pen
in hand. He admits that he hated poetry during his early schooling.
He studied business at the University of Tennessee until his fourth
year and then switched to English. He describes his early poetic
attempts as being similar to "poetry written by stereotypically
young, depressed poets to be: woe is me, death and despair is upon

"It was pretty dismal," Holstad says. "It was good that I was
able to reconcile some difficult feelings within me, but it was
probably pretty bad stuff."

Holstad began writing poetry after reading the work of such
poets as Ginsburg and Ferlinghetti. The appeal of poetry for
Holstad lies in brevity rather than elegance of form or emotional

"I’m an impatient person and I don’t think I could spend years
and years on a novel," Holstad says. "I enjoy being able to get
something down on paper then and there, look it over, maybe improve
on it.

"For many years one of my primary goals was mass publication, so
I typically tried to send poems out to at least 10 magazines a
day," Holstad adds. "Not only was I writing poetry for the purpose
of therapy, catharsis and recording memories, also I wanted to get
published perhaps to validate it in my mind."

Alex Papanicolopoulos, the creator of the Poetry Extravaganza,
says that Holstad’s poetry will validate students’ investment of an

"You can see and touch and feel and taste his poetry,"
Papanicolopoulos says. "Any student will be able to access and
appreciate his poetry."

POETRY: UCLA Poetry Extravaganza, featuring Scott Holstad,
Friday, April 19 at 8:15 p.m. in the Kerckhoff Art Gallery.
Admission is free. For more info call (310) 794-3151.

… "This is What We Are" examines traumatic events in
(Holstad’s) life, including the death of a friend from anorexia and
the experience of having a gun shoved in his mouth during a
robbery. "When I’m reading it aloud it allows me to emphasize
certain thoughts or phrases that may not be emphasized without the
form that it’s in"

Scott Holstad


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