Tim Seibles: The Man, The Professor, The Poet Laureate
I guess you could say I am not who I am. I always suspected there was something about me.
The opening lines of Tim Seibles’ poem “On Being Mistaken” sums up Virginia’s newest Poet Laureate. A creative writing professor and a three-time National Book Award nominee, Seibles could be arrogant, pompous or even intimidating, but he is none of those things. A caring professor and a great poet, Seibles’ warm demeanor and bright smile reflect his poetry, which gracefully approaches the challenges of humanity.
Born in Philadelphia and graduating Southern Methodist University in 1977, Seibles was a high school English teacher for ten years before receiving his Master of Fine Arts in Creative Writing from the Vermont College of Arts. Seibles had a humble beginning but he was a man of clearly defined beliefs, some idiosyncratic.
He has passions, few hobbies.
“I play tennis, but I play it passionately. I also play guitar. Music is very important to me, but those are not hobbies. I’m passionate about poetry,” Seibles said.
Poetry is the center of his universe.
Seibles began writing at 19. He writes about things that move him. If it grabs in an unforgettable way then he’s called to write about it, which does not always mean that he is writing well, he has added.
“Whether it be sex, politics, the mystical world, other planets, loneliness, family or the difficulty of being the single self. Those are the things that allow me to break the silence, to say something,” Seibles said.
A poet who primarily uses the free form, Seibles said that the content determines the form. He is clear that writers can’t claim the final expertise in art, but they can spend a lot of time thinking about what they can do. He hopes that he has made fewer mistakes as he has gotten older and that his precision is commiserating with the beauty and the usefulness of art and of poetry.
Seibles loves all genres, but he chooses poetry because it allows him to go into a lot of directions in a short period of time.
“I could work on a poem about my mother and after that start a poem about insects or race, or the corruption of organized religion,” Seibles said. “If you were a novelist, the novel itself would have to be faithful to a certain set of directives. But each poem is a different cosmos.”
For his poetry, Seibles moves in a lot of different directions in a short period of time. Although not as long as novels, he can spend a lot of time working on them, sometimes more than a year if they are long and complex enough.
Seibles is a teacher by trade. In addition to the decade-long dedication of secondary teaching, Seibles has been a professor at Old Dominion University for 21 years. Teaching has taught him a lot.
“The most important thing about teaching is that it reminds you what it meant not to know certain things. I was born in 1955 and there are certain things that I’ve seen and done. The 60s are not a part of the consciousness of someone born in the 90s. I was around when there were hippies present and the black power was around, and once upon a time there were handshakes that were only between black people. Those things were real to me,” Seibles said.
“The proceeding generation doesn’t think of previous realities because they haven’t lived it. For students in their late teens and early twenties, that part of my life may hold no reality. It’s just the nature of being new in the world,” Seibles said.
Seibles is excited and grateful for the opportunity. However, he was not sure that he would be appointed as the Poet Laureate. Though he was a finalist, he did not hear anything for more than a month. Then he received a call from the governor’s office, but he didn’t get it in time. When he did call back everyone was gone, so he waited until Monday but still was not positive. He said that he had to be guarded about it, but still felt hopeful.
“When I finally received the news, I was thrilled. I know a lot of poets who rarely get much of a spotlight. I’ve been fortunate.”
Seibles is hoping that he will become a proactive ambassador for poetry.
“I want to defeat some of the fear that people have of poetry,” Seibles said. “Poetry is just one person talking to another. Literature is ultimately about community, and I would like to make that better understood.”
“One of the most important things you must do is sustain your curiosity, interest, learning and seeing further than you currently do,” Seibles advised. “If you’re not interested in changing and growing then you’re already dead.”
Seibles’ latest book, titled “One Turn Around the Sun” will be released Valentine’s Day 2017.