MFA Candidate to Read at Nightbird Books

By Robert Laurence

Willi Goehring

Willi Goehring

The poet-goatherd: it’s an ancient tradition. I think. Though right now, no particular name comes to mind. Homer? A blind goatherd? I could look it up, I suppose, but won’t. The idea of the poet-goatherd is enough. The meter of the words matching the rhythm of the milking hands; the bleating of the goats somehow translating into the language of the poem.

Will Goehring, a fourth-year student in the University of Arkansas’s MFA program in creative writing and translation, at any rate, is both. And, amidst the chores and the writing, he will be the featured writer at the January meeting of the Ozark Poets and Writers Collective. 7 p.m., Tuesday, Jan. 27, at Nightbird Books on Dickson Street in Fayetteville. There is no charge for the event, and the public is invited. Words, caffeine, alcohol and snacks will be available for purchase.

Goehring writes; he teaches; he milks his goats; he plays his banjo. As a poet, he is drawn to folklore and performance, which might connect to the goats, and to goatherds of the past and present, though that is not a connection he explicitly makes. Nor should one imagine his writing to be especially bucolic. “Adventurous” is a word he uses to describe his work. Poetry about emotional events, especially powerful emotions, the kind that don’t always make sense: a panic attack, an explosion, a sudden loss, an unexpected find.

It was when Goehring, a native of Wichita, Kansas, was a broke day laborer in Chicago that he began writing seriously. He sent some of those poems off to the U of A and, based on that work, he was invited to join the prestigious creative writing program. Oddly enough (or maybe not), he no longer thinks much of those poems. Credit his MFA professors, credit the well-known charms of Northwest Arkansas or, heck, credit the goats, but he feels like he has only found his true voice in the last eight months or so. That voice seeks aesthetic diversity and “hybridity,” where the complete and the incomplete reside together. And this: “The time you said it most clearly can’t be the time you said it best.”

Goehring writes fiction as well, and his prose, of course, is nicely poetic. Consider, for example, “The Stonekings:

This was Old Pete, husband to Old Melinda, who played in the Ozarks’ big expanse maybe two hundred tunes by ear and by memory, some said three hundred. They learned from the Stonekings, Lee and Buck and Whirly, down near Osage County, and used to put their big rafts into the White River for god knows what reason and just float in the sunshine. They grew carrots that came out purple instead of orange and knew the kinds of mushrooms that you could eat and which ones were magic. They had a chicken with three eyes they named Cooter who they shot instead of wringing its neck when the time came.

Please join the OPWC at 7 o’clock Tuesday at Nightbird when we welcome Willi Goehring to the lectern. (The goats will not be in attendance.) An open mike for audience members will precede and follow his reading.