Tuesday, December 09, 2008

Professor finds expression through poetry

By Courtney Westlake

While writing may not be the most lucrative of careers, Dr. Nancy Genevieve Perkins, associate professor of English, has found that writers, and especially poets, are constantly aware of what is going on around them, what is going on inside of them and are able to record it, which is a unique and interesting way of life.

“I don’t know how many of us will make a living at it, but it is a great life,” Perkins said. “Poetry I like because it distills and intensifies the emotions. One of the reasons we write is to explore both what we know and what others know and to try to come to the truth of the moment. I like exploring the terrains of the spirit and terrains of the outer world. I like the distillation and the intensity of poetry."

Perkins has written for as long as she can remember. In fact, she still has a copy of a book from her childhood that contains the scribbles of the words she used to “write” and then she would “read” her stories to her mother.

“There is not a time in my life when my family can remember me not writing,” she said. “As I grew up, I found genres - creative non-fiction, poetry and fiction. I choose a genre by what I have to say; I like to have a grab-bag of genres.”

Perkins began her undergraduate studies at the University of Kentucky before moving to Illinois to finish her bachelor degree at Illinois State University. She also earned her master’s and doctorate degrees at ISU and earned a Specialist in College Teaching from Murray State University in western Kentucky. While teaching English and directing the Writing Center at Eureka College, Perkins heard about a “wonderful job that would just be in creative writing and children’s literature” at UIS, she said, and started here in 2000.

“There are a lot of things to like about UIS,” she mused. “In the English department, we’ve had the online degree program, the Capital Scholars program and now there is a shift to having freshmen, which I adore. I like the energy of all of that.”

Perkins is teaching a class this fall in fiction writing, a graduate seminar in fiction writing and an online course in children’s literature.

“In my online children's lit class, I have students in Tokyo, Sweden and an island off Galveston - I have students literally all over the country, so that class is a great deal of fun,” she said. “I’m also teaching fiction writing, which is splendid. It’s compiled of people who have never written fiction before and those who are graduate students who have written a lot.”

Perkins will be taking a sabbatical during the spring semester to complete the third book in her poetry trilogy about NYX, the primal Greek goddess Night. Each of the three books focuses on a specific aspect of the goddess’ being. The first book, called NYX: Mother of Light, is about the “joys of being alive and celebrating the fact that we’re human, and it’s full of resolution,” and the second book, NYX: Daughter of Chaos, is full of poems of “things not resolved,” Perkins said.

The third book of the trilogy is called NYX: Sister of Erebus and speaks about the journey that Perkins has gone through recently with her mother who had Alzheimer's disease. Erebus is the mythological region of darkness where souls must journey from this world on their way to the underworld.

“I’ve been working on this book since 2001, and my mother passed away a year ago in September,” Perkins said. “I want to take and shape the poems I have into the stages of Alzheimer’s so people can know they’re not alone if they must also make this journey.”

As if that wasn’t enough, Perkins is also continuing to work on a project she laughingly calls her “life project”: a book on the early settlers of Woodford County, Illinois, which is about 90 percent complete, she noted.

Though Perkins is so busy that she is barely finding enough time to submit her poetry for publication and readings, she is still doing her best to make time for what she loves. She has been invited to be the featured poet in three different states, and she feels honored at the opportunities.

“It feels really nice that people are inviting me to be a featured poet and that people are giving me feedback about my poetry, saying ‘I like that, I understand it, and it’s what I’m going through right now’,” she said. “I’m doing all the things I like to do; it’s great."

To listen to Perkins read two of her recent poems, watch the video below: