When a poet comes to read at Purdue, the conversation at lunch and dinner begins and ends with words.
Take, for example, two of experimental poet Carrie Etter’s favorites: peckish and morish. “Morish me with Cheetos,” she said, providing context over dinner at the Olive House on Tuesday night. The former word described her appetite at the time – just hungry enough to peck.
Etter, an American expatriate who has resided in England for the past 10 years, came to Purdue for a reading, and the creative writing program ensured she was given its version of the Purdue experience before and after she performed. There was a lunch at Khana Khazana, where the wording of police campaigns came up. “Click it or Ticket: A Law You Can Live With” was toyed with to create a much crisper slogan: “Click it or Ticket: Suck It.”
The humor provided Etter, a woman with dark hair and a memorable smile, an opportunity to explain that she tries to write a funny poem about “every seven years.”
After lunch Etter headed to shop at Von’s, where she bought a book of Purdue professor Donald Platt’s poems. She met Platt later at dinner and perhaps provided inspiration for his next book when he asked if she is now a British citizen. No, she explained, her immigration status is “Indefinite leave to remain.”
“That’d be a good title,” Mary Leader, a creative writing professor at Purdue, immediately decided; Platt concurred with a laugh.
Leader, a poet, recalled two of her own favorites: “Fraidy hole.” These words came up after a turn toward current events. Leader grew up in Oklahoma, a state known for its tornadoes, and she explained her mother used the phrase to describe the basement, which is not where she went when it stormed.
“We do not go into the fraidy hole,” Leader said her mother told her.
“Fraidy hole – that’s brilliant,” Etter replied.
The words and the games with them served as something of a warm-up for the main event. After dinner, Etter read her poems to an audience of about 60 people in the Krannert Auditorium.
She used words to express something confusing and sad and inspiring about her experience giving up a son for adoption when she was 17 years old. She used words to make people laugh with her second funny poem written on the seven-year timeline. And she watched the audience closely to see how her words affected each person, especially those she saw yawning, “to get a sense of how it’s working.”
The words, however, are not the most important part of her or Platt’s or Leader’s lives as poets, she said. It’s using her work to make people feel the way poets do: “passionate in the way they feel and live.”
“That’s the highest I aspire to,” she said.