By: Tony Davis
Even after teaching advanced writing courses for nearly 25 years, Richard Lemm still gets excited when his students strike gold.
“I get excited. I feel the same excitement as if the Blue Jays have made the playoffs, or the Raptors just hit a winning shot that takes them to the next round, or the thrill of going to hear a concert.”
Lemm started teaching full-time at UPEI in 1988. His passion is creative writing.
“One major highlight is teaching the creative writing courses.”
Creative writing classes at UPEI are limited to 12 people; other universities will have fifteen to thirty students. The UPEI class is more intimate, Lemm said.
“It is quite a spread of writers. Some of them are young undergraduates and some are full-time or part-time mature students.”
At least half of the class every year is people who already have careers or professions and are writing things like memoirs, Lemm said.
“The range of experience and backgrounds is really rich. It doesn’t matter to me whether the people from the creative writing classes become published authors. We are proud and excited to have people who do, but I know most of the people use what they learn in creative writing in their lives. We jokingly say everyone should take creative writing.”
Seeing the way people utilize and learn the things he teaches in their careers has always been a highlight for him, Lemm said.
One person who applied what they learned in Lemm’s classroom is Chris Bailey.
He published his first book of poetry, What Your Hands Have Done on Sept. 8.
“Richard is great. He is arguably the most important person in the writing community on the Island. He’s done so much for writers he encounters. I don’t know how someone can be so generous with their time.”
Lemm helped Bailey with his writing and saw something in it he didn’t see himself, Bailey said.
“The stuff I turned into him compared to what I do now, yikes, but he saw something I still don’t really see. He has this understanding of people and writing, he’s the best friend my writing has had.”
Lemm loves to see where his students like Bailey go. Last Thursday, current and former students filled Receiver Coffee on Victoria Row to the point where many were left standing. They fell silent as Lemm read from his fifth book of poetry, Jeopardy, released in June.
His poems range from travel poetry to environmental issues on the Island to mythology, but sometimes Lemm writes about what he teaches and loves, writing.
“Poems should stain your tongue like pomegranates crimson hearts. Sacrifice to the countless gods no one remembers. Sit in the back of MBA classes humming ‘love for sale’. Show up stoned on magic mushrooms at scientific conferences on consciousness. Check into rehab for bleeding heart syndrome. Transfuse puritans with sensual passion. Poems should incubate forgiveness, inject it into the veins of the bitter…,” Lemm said reading an excerpt from his book.
Lemm’s favorite poem depends on his mood, but Wednesday he said it was ‘The day After they Abolished the Weapons’. Lemm says he made a conscious decision to end on a high note with this poem.
“It is a upbeat, uplifting and positive visionary poem. There are a lot of poems in the last section about environmental destruction, but that poem is really helpful.”
If you are looking for a copy of Lemm’s book of poetry, Jeopardy, you can purchase it at The Bookmark in downtown Charlottetown.