Patrick Lawler advises writers to use humor

By Erin Mahardy (Contributing Writer ) on November 15, 2012.
Posted in Laker Review.

Nationally known writer Patrick Lawler visited Oswego State on Monday to speak to students. Lawler is an expert in many fields. He writes poetry, non-fiction and fiction works. He has been awarded the National Endowment of the Arts fellowship, The Constance Saltonstall Foundation of the Arts award and various other awards as well.

Lawler also works multiple professional jobs, including being an associate professor at SUNY College of Environmental Science and Forestry where he teaches environmental writing and nature literature. In addition, he teaches creative writing at Onondaga Community College. Lawler is part of the creative writing program at LeMoyne College, teaching creative writing, playwriting and writing for performance.

Lawler drew the audience in with an eloquent introduction. He never explained his whole life story. He did not speak about where he went to school, or which city he was born. To a writer, such as Lawler, these things are not important. Lawler said that everyone has the ability to create whatever type of world they set their mind on, regardless of the background that they come from.

Everything he said had a poetic feel, from the very first word he spoke to the last sentence he left with. In addition to this, Lawler constantly had the audience bursting out in laughter. Throughout his talk he read passages from his new book “Underground,” as well as an assortment of other poems. The only time that he spoke about his life was in the beginning when he shared that he was a teacher.

“I used to see myself as a writer who taught, but now as a teacher who writes” Lawler said.

It was not revealed until the end of the lecture that everything he spoke about in his poems were real life experiences, so it was not until then that the audience realized that they knew his life story. Students have always been taught not to assume the speaker in a poem is the author himself, but Lawler said that, for him, this is a safe assumption.

In many of his poems he wrote about serious matters, such as his father’s death. However, even these poems contained many humorous elements. When asked where he drew his comedy from, Lawler said:

“Teachers were always serious, and I realized I didn’t have to be like that, I could be myself.”

He also remarked that humor allows people to deal with things that could never be dealt with otherwise.

“Almost everything in my life was an accident,” Lawler said.

The story behind how he got into teaching is a truly remarkable one. One day Onondaga Community College called him and asked him to come in for an interview. He was confused because he had not applied for a job, and had never taught before. He went to the interview to find that the person who had called had thought he was someone else, but they allowed him to have the interview since it was their mistake. He was then hired for a part-time poetry teacher position.

The lecture was a very enjoyable one, and the poems that Lawler read were all well-received. He has published three collections of poetry so far including: “A Drowning Man is Never Tall Enough,” “Reading a Burning Book” and “Feeding the Fear of the Earth.”

His most recent publication, “Underground” is a collection of poems, interviews, a remembrance of his father and the story of his life.