by Len Lear
I’ll never forget sitting in class on the first day of a semester in a college or graduate school English class and being handed a reading list for the term that looked like a list of “Great Books of the Western World.” I remember thinking, “He (the professor) must be kidding. How on earth am I ever going to read all 20 books on the list (encyclopedic Victorian novels by George Eliot, Thomas Hardy, Jane Austen, Thackeray, Dickens, etc.)? Doesn’t he know I have five other courses as well? When will I ever get my beauty sleep?”
I’m sure I am not the only one from my generation to wonder how today’s college students manage to get all of this reading and studying done in between all of the text messages, Facebooking, Twittering, cell phoning all day long, etc. Well, Genevieve Betts is someone eminently qualified to answer these questions.
Although she looks young enough to be a college student herself, Betts, 33, is a talented poet whose poems and “flash fiction” pieces have appeared in Clockhouse Review, Buddhist Poetry Review, Poetry Quarterly, OVS Magazine, Rougarou, Cricket Online Review and Nano Fiction, among others, and her book reviews of poetry can be found in Western American Literature, Midwest Quarterly and 42opus. She will soon have new poems coming out in Press 1 and Conversations Across Borders. Her manuscript, “The Deafening,” was a finalist for the ABZ First Book Award. She received her MFA from Arizona State University, where she was a poetry editor for Hayden’s Ferry Review.
But when she is not writing or taking care of her two-year-old son Eliot (not named for T.S. Eliot or George Eliot), Betts teaches writing classes as an adjunct professor at both Arcadia University in Glenside and Drexel University in University City. And she is currently four months pregnant. (At one time she was teaching seven classes at La Salle University, Philadelphia University and Drexel.)
“I have taught every type of writing class,” she said in an interview last week, “and I have seen quite a change, even over the last seven years. I have told kids to put away a phone, only to find that the student was looking at the poem (in question) on the screen. But in other cases they are on Facebook.
“It is hard to get freshmen to actually read something like an Edward Albee play. I can tell in five minutes if they have read the work (they were assigned to read). Every once in a while, though, I am pleasantly surprised when a student says, ‘I really connected with the material.’ Whether they actually read it or not is another story. But my graduate students at Arcadia actually do the reading.”
Genevieve, whose father is a test driver for a Nissan proving ground, grew up in the Phoenix area. She was inspired by poetry as a child when she found an old copy of Walt Whitman’s legendary “Leaves of Grass” in a book store. “That spurred me on,” she recalled. “I was just a sixth grader, but I knew that’s what I wanted to do with my life.
“I fell in love with the works of e.e. cummings and Ogden Nash and later with Marianne Moore, Gertrude Stein, William Carlos Williams, T.S. Eliot, Ezra Pound, Adrienne Rich and Russell Edson’s absurdist prose poems, among others. As far as my own work is concerned, there is almost no money (to be made) in poetry. Usually they pay you in copies of the magazine, but I love it, so I automatically do it.”
Genevieve earned an MFA in creative writing from Arizona State University, where she met her husband-to-be, David LeBard, who was finishing up his Ph.D. in chemistry. They came to Philadelphia because the University of Pennsylvania offered David post-doctoral work. (He now works at Yeshiva University in New York.)
Since Genevieve has a small child and teaches so many writing courses at two different universities, how does she remain productive with her own creative output? “I have to have a notebook with me at all times,” she explained, “and I often have to go out to the park or to a coffee shop to do my own writing … There is a huge number of poetry journals, although they are not on newsstands. You may find some in bookstores (if you can find an actual bookstore), and you can find them online.”
Betts said that Arcadia is always looking for poets and other talented writers for their MFA program. One may find out more by visiting arcadia.edu and clicking on “MFA in Creative Writing.”
To see examples of Betts’ poetry, email firstname.lastname@example.org.