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May 3, 2013

Students help bring professor's book to life

The poems in J.D. Scrimgeour’s new chapbook, “Territories,” are hard to classify.

“I would read these poems to friends of mine,” said Scrimgeour, who’s having a book release event on Friday, May 10, at 7 p.m. in the Callan Studio Theatre at Salem State University. “They would say, ‘I like it, but I’m not sure this is poetry.’”

But that didn’t bother Scrimgeour, a professor at Salem State, whose main interest in these works was to explore different ways of creating characters and telling stories.

“These were voices I was able to tap into,” he said, “and I wasn’t worried about prose or verse.”

These voices will be brought to life at the release event by three theater students at Salem State, Taylor Botticelli, Paige Fasold and Nick LaRoche, under the direction of Peter Sampieri. The event is open to the public.

The first two voices, each dominating a poem in the first section of the book, were inspired by students Scrimgeour has known at Salem State.

“Both of them have had difficult lives, but they have reached enough calm to be able to reflect on what they have been through,” he said.

The third voice, in the second section, is based on a mythic story about one of Scrimgeour’s ancestors, “a woman in rural Greece nearly a century ago.”

While the first two are dramatic monologues, with characters speaking in their own voices, the third character’s life is recalled by a narrator.

The different places the characters inhabit, which are also separated in time, suggested the distinct “Territories” of Scrimgeour’s title.

“I thought of one place as being here, one as being elsewhere,” he said. “There’s both the idea from Mark Twain of lighting out for the territories and unpeopled places, and also the idea of what internal landscape one claims for oneself.”

Scrimgeour will discuss his work in dramatic monologue in “Poetry Takes the Stage,” a program Sunday at the Peabody Essex Museum, part of this weekend’s Mass Poetry Festival.

“Another way of thinking about these poems is, there’s a point in a lot of poets’ lives where they get tired of writing about themselves,” Scrimgeour said. “In my case, I’d always been interested in writing about other people.”

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