Retiring Keene State College and tenured author and poet Jack Hitchner shared his poetry with a group of students and colleagues at the Thorne Sagendorph Art Gallery on Wednesday, Nov. 30.
Hitchner is best known for writing poetry chapbooks such as “Not Far From Here” and “Seasons and Shadows,” in addition to his short story collection “How Far Away, How Near” and the novel “The Acolyte.”
Educated at Glassboro State College, now known as Rowan University, and Dartmouth College, Hitchner said he has been an adjunct professor in English for over 30 years.
Before his reading, Hitchner was introduced by American Studies professor Michael Antonucci. As an admirer of Hitchner’s, Antonucci discussed the large student presence at the reading and the effect Hitchner has had on young writers at KSC. He said that he can always tell from student’s work if they’ve taken Hitchner’s courses, and added that the students are always proud to say they had Hitchner as an instructor.
“That’s that kind of [an] endorsement and confidence that he instills in his students,” Antonucci said. “That’s what a great educator does…instills confidence.”
During his readings, Hitchner discussed the subject matter within his poetry. Some of the themes of his work included father and son relationships and seasons, but he also spent most of the time reading poems from his latest collection that was inspired by the emotions he felt from 9/11.
KSC English major and attendee of the reading Emily Cackowski said it was interesting to hear his work and his somber perspective on the 9/11 attacks through poetry.
“It made sense to me and I was glad that he explained that before he did the reading because it really added context to what he was saying in his poems,” Cackowski said. “For me, I was six when 9/11 happened, so my memory of it is not vague necessarily, but I don’t have much of a memory of it. I just remember being taken out of school early, so it was interesting to see the mindset he had experiencing it as an adult.”
When asked about the student turn out of the event, Antonucci said it was very “affirming.”
“We are a nation of writers,” Antonucci said. “We’re in the midst of a poetry rush that’s unprecedented, so this is affirming and I think it’s great to have people here to hear someone, such as Jack who was a school teacher for a really long time, who found himself in writing pretty much after his 60th birthday and after the kids have left the house. He’s done so much in the last 10 years and it’s all been north of his 30th birthday and that’s a great thing. That’s an affirmation…the school talks about lifelong learning, that’s the guy.”
Hitchner has made a commitment to lifelong learning, which is why he technically is not retiring entirely. Hitchner said he has discussed teaching with Educational Program Coordinator of the Cheshire Academy for Lifelong Learning (CALL) program where he plans to teach on a more limited basis. He plans to teach a course he has currently entitled as “Soundtracks and Stories” that will reflect “film, subject matter and current events of the 40s, 50s, 60s,” Hitchner said.
When he saw the amount of students at the reading, Hitchner said that he was “touched,” especially by those he had not had courses with.
“It felt good,” Hitchner said. “I was really touched by it. I was touched by Mike Antonucci when he asked me to do the reading, and I was touched especially by both faculty and the students, most of whom I didn’t know…I appreciated them being there and I appreciated their attention and the raising of questions. I like to teach. It’s all I’ve done since I was about 23. I like the involvement with students in general.”
Hitchner said in his experience, he had learned a lot from workshopping and accepting constructive criticism from other readers and writers in similar settings to his reading on Nov. 30. He said that in his time workshopping with friends and fellow fiction and poetry writers he had met in the Keene community known as the “Fubarians,” Hitchner struggled with criticism at first.
“It’s helpful,” Hitchner said about his time workshopping. “At first I began to take a lot of the criticism personally. You have to have a thick skin. Don’t take things personally. I’ve learned that. One of the first drafts of the acolyte began with what was going on in David Harper’s (protagonist/main character) head. Most of the people in FUBAR wanted me to begin with some action, and I was the importance of that and that’s what I did with this particular draft.”
Speaking of networking with other writers, Hitchner said he encourages young writers to do the same while providing additional advice.
“Read,” Hitchner said. “Be a reader and continue to write. Find time to write, if not every day, as often as possible and be a reader. If you want to stay with poetry, read poetry. If you want to stay with fiction, read fiction. Try not to imitate the fiction writers that you are reading and stay in your own voice. Find your voice and go from there. Try to attend some workshops. They can be expensive, but they’ll be helpful. You’ll meet other writers and begin to network with other writers. Trust the judgement of other writers who you meet.”
Although Hitchner has been a veteran of teaching for a long time, Hitchner admitted that he always felt “butterflies” before the first day of class and that he will miss that feeling.
“This will sound crazy,” Hitchner said, “but I always get nervous before the first day of class. It’s the butterflies. It’s the jitters as I had before the reading. I got nervous beforehand. My wife said ‘oh you’ll do fine,’ but I can’t help that, I’m just that way. There have been classes though where I really enjoyed coming to work. Once I finish that first day or first week, I tend to be okay. For the most part, I really enjoyed my contact with the students.”
Nick Tocco can be contacted at email@example.com