The New Jersey born Lisa Russ Spaar, a Professor of English and Creative Writing at U.Va, never thought she would be a teacher. “I’ve always written (luckily my parents aren’t pack-rats, so most of this juvenilia is compost in central New Jersey by now), but I remember most wanting to be a visual artist – a painter or printmaker,” she explains. “Funny, the felicitous curve-balls we’re pitched that help us find our way.” As an undergraduate and graduate alumnus from U.Va as well as a full-time faculty member since 1995, Spaar confesses…
“Charlottesville has a way of calling us all back.”
Despite having published several books, won several awards, and starting new programs for students at the University, Spaar remains true to her humble familial roots. “I count raising three wonderful children to adulthood here while working full-time with amazing, inspiring students to be the most fulfilling achievement in my years here,” she explains. Although all of her children have moved north of the Mason-Dixon line, she believes the same pull of Charlottesville is ingrained in them. As for her many years at the University, “I feel the institution has created a kind of home for me, continually refreshed by new students and by opportunities to respond in creative ways to an ever-changing community.”
According to Spaar, Charlottesville is filled with writers, creating an aesthetically diverse and talented niche.
“I used to joke that there are probably more poets in any one apartment building in Brooklyn than in the entire city of Charlottesville,” she says, “but I’m not sure that’s true anymore.”
Niche art communities in a city the size of Charlottesville allow for the close interconnectivity of fellow artists, leaving Spaar feeling lucky to be a part of this place. “I am delighted that I can talk about poetry with fellow and sister poets at the wine shop, Food Lion, while buying soup (Revolutionary Soup gives a discount to customers who can recite several lines by the Poet-of-the-Month) – everywhere,” she explains.
As a poet, her inspiration or call to yield the pen can come from everywhere at any time. “I try not to write while driving,” she emphasizes, “but as a busy person I have to be imaginative and opportunistic – when a sliver of time presents itself for working, I take it.” However, if not on the road, Spaar also writes in her notebook, scribbling away the whims of words as they come to her. “I’m still a scribbler,” she explains, ”though I have poet friends who write poems by reciting them into their cell phones.” And, returning to Brooklyn, she points out that ”there’s a good chance that of the poets in any apartment building in Brooklyn, half of them are probably from Charlottesville.”
In ten words, she says this about her poetry: “Poets unreliable about their own poems; please try reading them.”
Furthermore, “writing requires solitude – for discernment, for reverie,” Spaar explains, “and finding that kind of solo time is hard for someone with a very full work life.” However, for Spaar, inspiration comes from her teaching, her students, parenting, as all are related to her poetry. From U.Va’s art community to Downtown venues such as the Bridge Arts Initiative, the Garage, and Writers House, “Charlottesville is rife with opportunities for writers, such as University and bookstore-sponsored readings, spoken word, ekphrastic poetry, the wonderful Poem in your Pocket project, [even] poems on UTS and public buses,” says Spaar. “And, perhaps most important, Charlottesville is the kind of city in which it’s possible to make things happen in art and literature if you’ve got the energy and initiative.”
Spaar’s collections of poetry, such as Blue Venus, Satin Cash, All That Mighty Heart: London Poems, and Acquainted with the Night, can be found at either the U.Va Bookstore or local bookstores, such as New Dominion, Heartwood, and the Gordon Avenue book sale.
Ten Favorite Things to do in Charlottesville:
1. Read in the historical Pavilion gardens at the University, especially the one with the Oxford spire.
2.Get coffee at any number of superior watering holes.
3. Eat at Duner’s
4. Check out the Poem of the Day at Poetry Daily ( http://poems.com/ ), a wonderful clearing house, resource, and anthology started and edited by Diane Boller and Don Selby right here in Charlottesville
5. Browse through local bookshops, new and used
6. First and Last Friday art openings around town, especially those involving my students (but please, the parking situation on weekends: something must be done)
7. Hang out with my children when they’re in town
8. Work in my garden
9. Visit my parents, who live nearby
10. Gaze out over the vineyard and orchards from the garden house at Monticello