For Lancaster writer, poetry was always present

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First Posted: 2/25/2014

Though it wasn’t until 2000 that Le Hinton began to really concentrate on poetry, it was always a part of his life, even before he began penning his own poems at the age of 16.

Poetry was something Hinton was always surrounded by thanks to his mother, who is currently 84 years old and still writes poems.

“She would read the Bible and Langston Hughes in particular,” Hinton said. “Poetry is just something that’s always been there.”

The Harrisburg native, who is now a Lancaster resident, will be a special guest at this weekend’s Writers Showcase at the Vintage Theater. His work has been published in Watershed, Gargoyle, Haggard and Halloo, Little Patuxent Review, Literary Chaos, Fox Chase Review, Bent Pin Quarterly, and in the anthology/cookbook “Cooking Up South.” He is the founder and chief editor of the poetry journal Fledgling Rag.

Hinton was an English major at St. Joseph’s University in Philadelphia. For 28 years, he worked for Social Security Disability, a job he retired from nearly three years ago. He wrote throughout.

“Poetry is usually something most people do, and you don’t know they’re doing it,” he said. “No one knew I was a poet. I had published some things, but it’s not something I’d tell everyone about.

“In 2000, I started going to poetry readings and exposing myself to other people like myself. It was then that I started making a really concentrated effort on my works.”

Hinton’s poems rarely rhyme and are mostly free verse, though he does sometimes stick to certain forms.

“In the last few months, I’ve been writing in triolet,” he said. “That’s an eight-line stanza, which can even be the entire poem, has the first line repeated as the fourth and also the seventh line, and the second line repeated as the last line.”

Hinton said his inspiration for writing can pop up anywhere.

“I’ve written about friends, observations, baseball, historical events like Hiroshima,” he said, noting that the last topic idea was spawned from a conversation he had with his mom. “It can be something very small that maybe someone doesn’t even notice, but it might catch my eye or ear.”

The baseball poem, “Our Ballpark,” was incorporated into Derek Parker’s sculpture Common Thread and installed at Clipper Magazine Stadium in Lancaster as part of the Poetry Paths project.

The project is out of Franklin and Marshall College and puts poetry in public places, usually pairing it with a sculpture of some sort. Hinton submitted a poem to the contest, which bore submissions from all over the country, and he was picked as a winner. Not all the sculptures are local, so it just so happened that this particular one was close to home.

“I was very excited,” he said of receiving the honor. “At the time, it was the most important recognition I’d received. It was also something that non-poets can identify with and say, ‘Wow, you had your poem published there.’ I could be published in a prestigious poetry magazine, but that wouldn’t mean anything to the ordinary person. Now when people ask if I have anything I can read somewhere, I tell them to come to Lancaster for a baseball game.”

“Our Ballpark” is a poem that sets up the idea that baseball is a school in itself and that you learn about life throughout the sport. He used his father as a central figure in the work.

Hinton is the author of four poetry collections, including “Black on Most Days” (2008) and “The God of Our Dreams” (2010), both of which were published by his own publishing company, Iris G. Press, which was founded in 2004.

His fifth collection will be released on April 2 in Lancaster, but Hinton will have the book on hand at the Vintage reading. “The Language of Moisture and Light” spawned from a running theme Hinton noticed in his works.

“In this current book, it’s not everything I’ve written since the last book. I found that I was writing a lot about moisture in varying forms: tears, blood, kisses, rain, or light: fireflies, fire, candles.”

“I simply write and it’s like anything else: you have a particular interest at a particular time. Someone might say, ‘I had a period of time when I just really got into the Civil War and I read five Civil War books,’ and writing is that way. Maybe something catches my eye and I write not one poem about that, but several. Then I step back and look at my poems and find a theme.”

Hinton, as someone who found inspiration in poetry readings, recognizes the importance of events like the Writers Showcase.

“One of the things about poetry is that it doesn’t have the same kind of following as some of the other arts. Most poets think of poetry as an art form, but there’s not a venue to showcase that like there is for painting and sculpture and photography, museums and such. I mean, you can certainly buy a book, but it’s not the same as the collective experience of listening to the poems with someone else, with a group of people.

“It’s important to let people know that poetry is a part of the arts, so that collectively we can enjoy, comment on, savor, and talk about it. It allows us to express our feelings, our moods, our fears. I’ve said in the past that historically, when something happens, it’s the poets that people go to. With 9/11 that happened. We read poetry almost immediately, because we had the visual of what went on, but people needed to make sense of it and understand it and put it into words. We didn’t wait for someone to create a movie or a TV program; we went to the poet.”

Hinton enjoys meeting up-and-coming writers and advises them of two things: always write and always read.

“Much of what we do, what we learn, we start out doing because we emulate other people,” Hinton said. “We should find people whose works we like, read that work, read other works, and we keep writing and learning. No matter how long we write, we always try to get better.

“When I meet someone, I have two questions: What are you writing now? Who are you reading? If the person is really serious about their work, they will give me an answer for each.”