DANSVILLE — Joni Mitchell once said, “I sing my sorrow, and I paint my joy.”
Dansville Artworks hosted the visiting author series at their new location at 153 Main Street on Sept. 22.
Visiting Author Series Host George Guida called Jan Beatty a national treasure, and was pleased to have her at the art center.
Beatty shared poems about love, adoption, waitressing, and figuring out who we are in this world.
Beatty has a long history of helping people, she worked as a waitress for fifteen years, as a welfare caseworker, an abortion counselor,a social worker and teacher in maximum-security prisons. She is the managing editor of MadBooks, a small press that has published a series of books and chapbooks by women writers. For the past twenty years, Beatty has hosted and produced Prosody, a public radio show on NPR affiliate WESA-FM featuring the work of national writers. She has lectured in writing workshops across the country and taught at the university level for over twenty years at the University of Pittsburgh, Carnegie Mellon University, and Carlow. Beatty directs the creative writing program at Carlow University, where she runs the Madwomen in the Attic writing workshops and teaches in the MFA program.
Madwomen in the Attic is a program she took part in when she was starting as a poet, and was asked to take over ten years ago. The women in this class range from 18 to 94 years old, and are a force to be wreckin with.
Beatty was born and raised in Pittsburgh, and adopted by a steelworker and his wife when she was a couple months old.
“My first house was a prison for children, and that is where I spent my first few months,” she said. “It was a place for unwed mothers.”
Beatty wrote a poem describing how she found no home in the house she was born in.
“I worked in prisons and clinics to help free children,” she said. “I have a bunch of poems that talk about adoption.”
Many children like Beatty grow up wondering who their parents are, and they often fantasize they are famous people. For Beatty this fantasy involved folk singer Joni Mitchell, who was only a few years older than her.
Beatty said it is good to tip people and tip them well. A friend of hers would walk down the streets of Pittsburgh and tip people for a job well done.
“I write for the poem itself,” she said. “I don’t write to send a message. There are too many messages in the poem.”
Beatty never thought she would be a writer, but found that poetry was a way to heal.
“The struggle is necessary; never trust a writer who isn’t struggling,” she said. “You grow as a human and as a writer in the process.”
“Everyone goes through self doubt,” Beatty continued. “It is a part of humanity. If we didn’t feel that deeply we wouldn’t be poets or artists.”
In the Madwomen in the Attic class some women were afraid to write until their husbands died or their children grew up. Beatty said a lot of these women tell her the only thing that makes them happy is this class, and spending time with their grandkids.
“I used to be a Madwomen in the late 1980s, and I loved my teacher,” she said. “When my teacher died 10 years ago they asked me to take over. I know a lot of these older women are being published for the first time in their 80s and 90s. They are all wonderful, and I love them.”
Beatty's fifth full-length book, “Jackknife: New and Collected Poems,” was published this Spring from the University of Pittsburgh Press. Her last book, “The Switching/Yard,” was named one of ...30 New Books That Will Help You Rediscover Poetry by Library Journal and won the 2014 Paterson Award for Literary Excellence. The Huffington Post named her as one of ten women writers for "required reading." Read more about her at janbeatty.com.