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Roger Craik on his poetry and Pied Piper project in the Star Beacon

 

ASHTABULA — When people think about retirement, many picture life in a condo on a beach in sunny Florida. 

That's not the case with Roger Craik, emeritus professor of English at Kent State University Ashtabula, who retired last May. He's traveling, writing poetry, voice recording a collection of poems and fulfilling speaking engagements, including a recent meeting of the Cleveland Area Mensa. 

He has written several full-length poetry books. 

But one of his favorites is one he didn't write. Rather, his parents illustrated and colored it for him as a young boy — a facsimile of Robert Browning's "The Pied Piper of Hamelin, A Child's Story." 

His parents, Tom and Wendy Craik, gave it to him on his sixth birthday in 1962, when he was considered old enough to enjoy it. He remembers enjoying "The Pied Piper" being read to him as well as sensing his parents' relish in reading aloud and their pausing to point to the illustrations.

A few years ago, with his parents' permission, Craik made a copy of the treasured book in Nottingham, England, and began sending it out to friends as an email attachment.

Everyone who saw it loved it, he said.

Tom Craik penned Browning's words, nothing added or deleted, but the illustrations come entirely from his parents' imagination. They were 32 and 25 years old at the time.

In the past year, the book has been translated in Bulgarian, as well as Romanian. It's also been exhibited at the Gaudeamus International Book Fair in Bucharest. In fall 2017, "Pied Piper" will be translated in Russian, coming out in Minsk, Belarus. 

Craik said he knows why the book is popular around the world.

"It's original, intelligent and whimsical," he said. "I think it will always appeal. I do this for my parents but, more importantly, for the pleasure of other parents and their children."

In addition, Minsk Publishing is putting together a selection of poetry on emigration and Craik's poetry will be published as an article by Lyuba Perbushina of the University of Minsk. She sent Craik a large survey, asking for comments and questions on his pieces.

"It's an academic article written about me and translating my poems," he said. "I have been invited to Minsk in 2017 and I plan to go."

Craik also hopes to go to Romania, where he was a Fulbright Scholar at Oradea University in 2013-14.

"I enjoy eastern Europe," he said.

His poetry has appeared in several national poetry journals, such as "The Formalist," "Fulcrum," "The Literary Review" and "The Atlanta Review." 

English by birth and educated at the universities of Reading and Southampton, Craik has worked as a journalist, TV critic and chess columnist. Before coming to the U.S. in 1991, he worked in Turkish universities and was awarded a Beineke Fellowship to Yale in 1990. 

He's visited North Yemen, Egypt, South Africa, Tibet, Nepal, Japan, Bulgaria — where he taught during spring 2007 on a Fulbright Scholarship to Sofia University — and, more recently, the United Arab Emirates, Austria and Croatia. 

Retired or not, Craik says poetry is his passion. He writes for at least an hour over coffee each morning before breakfast.

His newest book of poems is coming out from BlazeVox, in Buffalo, which published his last full-length collection "Down Stranger Roads" (2014), and also "The Pied Piper." 

But wherever Craik travels, Ashtabula is still his home base.

"I am continually grateful for (former KSU Ashtabula) Dean John Mahan for hiring me in 1991 and giving me this marvelous life," he said. "I mention him at all my talks. I'm so fortunate."

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Roger Craik reading First Journey

Roger Craik reading First Journey from his book Down Stranger Roads. This video was made for the Kent State alumni Journal. Enjoy!   

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Down Stranger Roads by Roger Craik Reviewed in London Grip!

 

craik stranger roads.

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Down Stranger Roads
 by Roger Craik

Blazevox Books, N.Y.2014
ISBN: 978-1-60964-135-1 $16

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Roger Craik is very much the Englishman abroad. The alluring cover image of his new collection is derived from a painting by Algernon Newton which is housed in Nottingham’s Castle Museum and Art Gallery. ‘Regent’s Canal, Maida Vale, London’, the picture is called, but the straight stretch of water heading off into the distance under a blue, innocently-clouded sky, could conceivably be of many another city. The names of cities – Paris, Venice, Rome –/ Held out their arms, Louis Simpson wrote in his great poem, ‘My Father in the Night Commanding, No’, and reading through Down Stranger Roads it soon becomes apparent that foreign cities have held out their arms to Craik. They include Amsterdam, Bruges, Sofia and Izmir, in all of which places he has taught and/or spent enough time to cast an attentive eye on people and objects.

But however perceptive he may be, he is always in the role, if not of flaneur, then of outsider. His characteristic tone is that of a slightly bemused, wry observer, yearning, perhaps, for a closer acquaintance with the exotica that passes before his eye and can be turned by imaginative process into something more substantial, but aware that this presumed substantiality is itself elusive, possibly even illusory.

                         And even though
I’m only thirty-three, and even though
I’ve told myself I’ve given up desiring love,
I long in my poorly-cobbled disappointing shoes to rove
these streets I think of as my own
to picture her behind one shutter, just a crack ajar, two candles
guttering, and her fleshy tight-ringed finger
beckoning to me.
                               [‘Fairuz’]

Down these mean streets ….

Not hard to imagine a certain kind of moralist tut-tutting at such “orientalism,” as we have learnt to call it. When found, make a note of, Dickens’s Captain Cuttle would say, though he wouldn’t then conclude that Craik should be dragged before the thought police and asked to account for himself. (Thirty-three was, of course, the age which Christ had reached when he was arraigned before Herod, but I doubt Craik intends an allusion.) Cuttle would be more likely to enjoy – he’d certainly understand – Craik’s note of rueful acquiescence in his role as down-at-mouth-and-heel rover in his far-from suave, poorly-cobbled, disappointing shoes.

America, where for years Craik has earned a living as a university lecturer, is, for all its familiarity, no less exotic, or at all events an experience – a culture – from which the poet feels himself partly estranged. A suitably comic, abashed poem ‘Ulysses in the New World’ reflects how the narrator

used to marvel, stunned, when I was told 
how Ulysses would ‘goof,’ ‘screw up, 
and ‘kinda show he had to be the boss – 
a typical jock,’ 
as if he’d locked himself out of his car 
or run out of gas 
or spilt popcorn on his girl’s jeans 
the jerk, 

before recognising that Ulysses belongs to no one culture, because There never was / an Ithaca or home, but just himself, alone, / shiftless, yet immortal as the stars. The last phrase is a routine bit of cheer-up. The real poem ends on alone, / shiftless. Such words might well form an epigraph for Craik’s collection.

But this is not to say that the poems are in any way self-obsessed, let alone confessional. Craik is saved from the indulgences of soul-baring by his very real delight in the world-out-there which he registers, for example, in ‘Heron’:

 thin raincoated William Burroughs of a bird
 stalking hypodermically
 toe-deep in shingle
 or shallows of a stream.

 But on wing,
 shouldering off with six great languid flaps
 all birdbook posturing, you rise magisterial 

‘Magisterial’ is a near-lapse into cliché, although I suppose there is the possible justification of a nod toward some gowned magistrate – the “beak” (ha!); but anyway much can be forgiven of the writer who compares a heron to a raincoated William Burroughs. As it can of the lovely, funny poem in celebration of a grandfather remembered for his prowess at farting. Warned by his mother not to laugh, because ‘this is how older people get –/ you’ll be like this yourself, some day’ / ‘Oh, I do hope so’ the boy replies, and rejoices in the old man’s unembarrassed dismissal of his fart – Get out, you pay no rent!

Memories of home aren’t always so reassuring. Home is the past and, like the places you travel to, can be known only as you appraise it from a distance that it is both physical and emotional. One of the best poems in the collection – all the more powerful for its understatement, its readiness to rest in implication – is ‘First Journey’: As inch by inch the train pulled out / with me inside alone, it begins, with the boy noting his parents as they wave farewell from the platform and, through the glass, watches with a kind of blank detachment his father run alongside until the train leaves the station. The poem ends, powerfully, bleakly, heart-tuggingly, with the boy now seeing in his mind’s eye the father running beyond the platform’s end on stony ground, on straggling grass,/ outdistanced, and outdistanced further still.



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Down Stranger Roads by Roger Craik Now Available!

 No one sounds like Roger Craik. His voice, a beguilingly cosmopolitan mix of British purebred and American mutt, is the well-stamped passport he shows at border crossings from Ashtabula to Auschwitz, from Kent State to Krakow, from Amsterdam to the far-flung outposts of the human heart. This poet is most at home when far from home, prowling the shrapneled boondocks and scrap yards of Cold War history. His poems are pungent as a supper of pork and tripe and boiled cabbage, washed down with a few dark pints of the local brew. A true sojourner, he is one of our finest singers of the quiet elations and solitary illuminations of travel.

 
—George B. Bilgere, author of The White Museum which was awarded the 2009 Autumn House Poetry Prize.
 
 
What sets Roger Craik’s body of work apart from that of so many contemporaries is the quality of its savoring, the sense that human experience in all its complexity is richly rewarding when we attend to it with a keen eye and an open heart.  Therein lies the unity behind these wide-ranging, varied lyrics.  Whether the poem looks to the past or lives in the immediate, whether its setting is local or takes us to a foreign space, whether its tone is celebratory or elegiac, whether it is intimate or broaches the broader, public world, in each case it conveys the impression of an abiding sustenance for the spirit in our everyday lives.  And that impression is subtly but unmistakably strengthened by the care with which Craik uses language and savors its possibilities.  All of which means that the final savoring is ours, the readers’, each time we take up and linger over this marvelous collection.
 
Steven Reese, author of American Dervish.
 
 
 
 
Roger Craik, Associate Professor of English at Kent State University Ashtabula, has written three full-length poetry books – I Simply Stared (2002), Rhinoceros in Clumber Park (2003) and The Darkening Green (2004), and the chapbook Those Years (2007),  (translated into Bulgarian in 2009), and, most recently, Of England Still (2009). His poetry has appeared in several national poetry journals, such as The Formalist, Fulcrum, The Literary Review andThe Atlanta Review.
 
English by birth and educated at the universities of Reading and Southampton, Craik has worked as a journalist, TV critic and chess columnist. Before coming to the USA in 1991, he worked in Turkish universities and was awarded a Beineke Fellowship to Yale in 1990. He is widely traveled, having visited North Yemen, Egypt, South Africa, Tibet, Nepal, Japan, Bulgaria (where he taught during spring 2007 on a Fulbright Scholarship to Sofia University), and, more recently, the United Arab Emirates, Austria, and Croatia. His poems have appeared in Romanian, and from 2013-14 he is a Fulbright Scholar at Oradea University in Romania.
 
Poetry is his passion: he writes for at least an hour, over coffee, each morning before breakfast, and he enjoys watching the birds during all the seasons.
 
 
 
 
 
Book Information:
 
· Paperback: 102 pages
· Binding: Perfect-Bound
· Publisher: BlazeVOX [books]
· ISBN: 978-1-60964-135-1
 
$16
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

Down Stranger Roads by Roger Craik Book Preview

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Pied Piper of Hamelin by Robert Browning is reviewed in the Star Beacon

 

October 27, 2013

In the name of love

A gift from long ago now shared with the world

ASHTABULA — For more than 50 years, Kent State University-Ashtabula English Professor Roger Craik kept a hidden manuscript tucked away with his most treasured possessions.

The book is a facsimile of Robert Browning’s “The Pied Piper of Hamelin,” illustrated by Craik’s parents, Tom and Wendy Craik, and given to him on his 6th birthday in 1962, when he was considered old enough to enjoy it.

However, his parents created the book some years earlier. His father described the circumstances to his son as follows and described in the foreword of the book:

In September 1958 I went to New York to teach for the academic year at Queens College (CCNY), and Wendy accompanied me. (You remained in England, at Kingston, with Rita and Gary.) (Roger’s maternal grandparents). During the day, while I was teaching, she pursued her research on Jane Austen’s novels in the New York Public Library. We were living in East 58th Street.

In February 1959 we used the break between semesters to visit Williamsburg, Va., where we bought the attractive traditionally-bound book in handmade paper which now contains “The Pied Piper of Hamelin.” Our idea was to create a present for you on our return. I calculated the length of the poem and the space available, and in the evenings of about a fortnight wrote it out and drew the pictures, which Wendy coloured in watercoulour. We returned to England in May 1959.

Of course, Roger Craik remembers nothing of this, being only 3 years old at the time, but he does remember enjoying “The Pied Piper” being read to him, and sensing his parents’ relish in reading aloud and their pausing to point to the illustrations.

Only a handful of people, visitors and friends have seen the book since it was written in 1959. A few years ago, with his parents’ permission, Craik made a copy of the treasured book in Nottingham, England and began sending it out to friends as an email attachment.

“Everyone who has seen the book, loves it,” he said. “The book shows the love of a young couple (my parents), and their young son from whom they were separated a year.”

Tom Craik penned Browning’s words, nothing added or deleted, but the illustrations come entirely from Tom and Wendy Craik’s imaginations. They were 32 and 25 years old at the time.

Editor and Publisher Geoffrey Gatza of BlazeVOX (books) said he was taken by the story of the book as much as the book itself.

“This was one of those golden moments for a book publisher, where you can instantly see a worthwhile project and say yes in a minute without ever having to worry, and just focus in on its potential success,” Gatza said. “I am a fan of Robert Browning’s poetry and this poem in particular has a significant place within our culture. This matched with the blithe drawings by Roger (Craik’s) father, you can see the gentle hand that lies behind the pen.

“The blending of talents in the parents’ artwork making an object for their son, who they are separated from by an ocean, makes this book more poignant. It all comes together in a lovely book that I think will become a cherished item in anyone’s bookshelf.”

Craik said he is very excited about the book, which he tried to get published as a gift to his parents.

“I am far more excited about this book, which is for my parents, than I am about my own book of poems, ‘Down Stranger Roads,’ which will come out later this year,” he said.

For the 2013-2014 academic year, Craik is teaching English at Oradea University in Romania having been honored as a Fulbright Scholar. He is teaching poetry writing and literature to Romanian students and is enjoying it very much.

Traveling to faraway places to share his creativity and knowledge is nothing new for Craik. Two years ago, he spent two weeks as a poet-in-residence at Al Ain University in the United Arab Emirates. There he presented his latest poems and taught a poetry writing class at both the men and women’s colleges. A professor from the AAU English Department translated for him. Craik read the poem in English, and then the professor would read the poem translated in Arabic.

Craik said it was a very memorable trip.

English by birth and educated at the universities of Reading and Southampton, Craik has worked as a journalist, TV critic and chess columnist. Before coming to the U.S. in 1991, he worked in Turkish universities and was awarded a Beinecke Fellowship to Yale in 1990.

He has written three books on literature, including an edition of John Donne, with his father, as well as a host of academic articles and scholarly notes, and six books of poetry.

Craik is widely traveled, having visited North Yemen, Egypt, South Africa, Tibet, Nepal, Japan and Bulgaria, where he taught during spring 2007 on a Fulbright Scholarship.

His father was born in Warrington, Cheshire in 1927, and educated at the Boteler Grammar School there, from which he won an Open Exhibition in French and English to Christ’s College Cambridge, where he studied under F.R. Leavis and Enid Welsford.

He taught English at Leicester University College (later Leicester University), Aberdeen, Dundee and Durham, where he was Professor of English from 1977 until his retirement in 1989. After “The Tudor Interlude” (1958) and “The Comic Tales Chaucer” (1964) he devoted himself chiefly to the critically editing of the plays of Shakespeare and his contemporaries.

His mother, Wendy Craik, was born in East Finchley, North London, in 1934, and evacuated to the countryside in World War II.

After receiving a Ph.D. at Leicester University College, supervised by Monica Jones, she worked as a schoolteacher before entering academia.

She was Reader in English at Aberdeen University, and Professor of English at the Middle East Technical University in Ankara, and has written four books on the 19th Century novel.

Today, the couple resides in England.

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Photos on flickr