HOTSEAT- Poet in motion: Spaar hands over the reins
For poet Lisa Russ Spaar, the hardest part about leaving the directorship of UVA's Creative Writing Program could be moving all the stuff out of her small office in Bryant Hall. After 11 years, she's surrounded by as many objects as memories: piles of books, letters, engravings, post cards, cartoons, and figurines; pictures of her family through the years; even several Barbie bolls, including one dressed as a UVA cheerleader.
"My kids used to sit on the floor and play with the poetry magnets on my desk," Spaar says, inspecting the words and phrases still stuck there. "Now, they're as old as my students."
Spaar admits it's hard to let go of her duties as director. "One of the pleasures of the job," she says, "is calling students to let them know how much we like their work and that they've been accepted to the program. Another is getting to know them when they're here."
Indeed, getting into UVA's Creative Writing Program is no small feat. The program receives hundreds of applications each year for only a handful of spots. Under Spaar's watch, it's become the fourth-ranked writing program in the country, and is currently UVA's highest ranking graduate program.
Of course, Spaar is a gifted writer herself. She's published four books of poetry over the years, and her work has appeared in The Virginia Quarterly Review, Shenandoah, the Yale Review, and many other literary journals. Presently, she's editing an anthology of poems about London that will be published by the University of Virginia Press in 2007.
As a teacher, Spaar seems equally creative. Six years ago, she started the Area Program in poetry writing, which allows undergraduates students to focus on poetry. Two of her students have gone on to write books of their own, while others have earned their MFAs. In addition, Spaar team-teaches a course called "The Matrix" with art professor Dean Dass, where students learn writing as well as printmaking.
"It's great to have something non-verbal to work on," says Spaar. "It's like Aristophanes' symposium meets kindergarten."
One thing Spaar won't miss is the administrative part of her job, which she says requires a "high tolerance for ca-ca." As she sees it, the departure will give her more time to focus on teaching, and hopefully more time to write. Besides, she knows the office will be in good hands. Her colleague, Sydney Blair, who shares the same "high tolerance," according to Spaar, takes over in the fall.
Still, you can tell she's enjoyed keeping the trains running on time in the Creative Writing office.
"There are young people out there who still read, who love language," she says. "And that's why it's all the more important to do what we do."
Why here? All roads lead to Lotusville...
Worst about living here? Not enough parking downtown
Favorite hangout? Various wide windowsills, the Milano rooftop café, and the UVA Pavilion gardens
Most overrated virtue? All virtues are overrated, but especially clementia
What would you change about yourself? I'd like to be able to follow written instructions for small appliances and bookshelf assembly.
Proudest accomplishment? Finding time to wash my hair once a month whether it needs it or not.
People find most annoying about you: I talk fast and gesticulate a lot when I get excited and sometimes even spit on students in the front row. I wear too much black.
Whom do you admire? My children. My students.
Favorite book? Jane Eyre, of course
Subject that causes you to rant? What Blake called "mind-forg'd manacles," in all forms
Biggest 21st-century thrill? My brand-new nieces and nephews
Biggest 21st-century creep out? Facebook. My Space. Hey, don't they have profile questionnaires like these?
What do you drive? In my dreams, a vintage Jag. In reality, a perfectly sexy Subaru Legacy wagon
In your car CD player right now: Cat Power
Next journey? To the Pantops Food Lion and then out to Whole Paycheck for Deluxe Chocolate Nut Crunch trail mix
Most trouble you've ever gotten in? Speaking with reporters
Favorite comfort food: Gregory Peck as Atticus Finch in To Kill a Mockingbird
Must-see TV: I watch The Gilmore Girls with my youngest daughter. She's trying to train me to be more like Lorelei, the young, savvy, quick-witted mother she wishes she had.
Favorite cartoon: Ackxhpaez, a strip by a former student, Mike Wartella
Describe a perfect day: Whether in Charlottesville, the Outer Banks, London, south Jersey, anywhere, it would involve a cocktail of early morning solitude; reading; writing; strong espresso with milk; a long walk or run outside with lots of new and familiar things to see, learn, and think about; deep, pleasurable conversation and time with those I love; meaningful work; food and drink for all parts of the palate; and a hope to have given at least as much as I'd received in the vale of soul-making by the time I'm watching the moon and stars.
Walter Mitty fantasy: I play Emily Dickinson as guitarist and singer in an all-girl garage band. Emily and Charlotte Bronte, Sappho, and Zora Neale Hurston are also in the band.
Who'd play you in the movie? Jeremy Irons. Because I really am that pretty.
Most embarrassing moment? Probably when my three teenage children encounter this particular little "HotSeat" feature on the newsstands their moment and mine
Best advice you ever got? "i" after "e" but never after "c"
Favorite bumper sticker? I like the Darwin Icthus. And the Gefilte.
Lisa Russ Spaar
PHOTO BY JEN FARIELLO