Poet performs at ‘Writer’s Reading’ event


Phil Grimm

Poet Steven Leyva performs at the “Writer’s Reading” event on the Arnold Campus on Thursday.

Sam Gauntt and Jason Kalshoven

A New-Orleans-born poet told a crowd of students and faculty on Thursday he views his poems as “little pieces of theater.”

Steven Leyva, who teaches at the University of Baltimore, read poetry from his book, which was published in 2020, “The Understudy’s Handbook,” and several unreleased poems during the “Writer’s Reading” event. English professor Garrett Brown organized the event. 

“Professor Brown invited me, so I was happy to do it,” Leyva said. “We’ve had some students at the University of Baltimore [come] from AACC, you know, so I was happy to get a chance to … talk to a place where I’ve had students come from.”

The event was the second of three Writer’s Reading events AACC will host during the spring semester. 

“I thought it was fantastic,” Patrick Caswell, a second year creative writing student who introduced Leyva to the crowd, said of the event. “He read the poem I mentioned in my speech, a poem called ‘Ode to Patrick Stewart, Snatched by Mama.’ That was my favorite one from the book. And he read that one and I got to have my little fangirl … moment.”

Caswell added: “I got just kind of wrapped up in the performance of the whole thing.”

“I really did like the event,” first-year general education student Wynona Patterson said. “I really liked all the different poems [and] like how it could be … about pop culture.”

After reading selections of his poetry, Leyva answered questions from the crowd. 

Students watch Steven Leyva perform at the event on Thursday. (Phil Grimm)

Leyva said he is influenced by famous writers such as Mary Oliver and James Baldwin, as well as from modern-day popular culture such as Batman comics or anime like “My Hero Academia.”

He said, however, “What I hope is that there’s something going on in the poem beyond allusion. … If the only thing that’s nice about the poem is you recognize the reference, then I’ve failed. If someone who doesn’t know ‘Avatar: The Last Airbender,’ but understands what it is to have a complicated relationship with their father, can read that poem and see themselves in it, then I think I’ve succeeded.”

Leyva offered his advice for those learning to write. 

“Give yourself permission to write,” Leyva said. “Turn off the editor that acts like a little gremlin on your shoulder that says, ‘Is this good?’ You need to start and be willing to write, you know, drafts that need to be revised. I would say read, voraciously. Read in the genre that you want to write in. If you want to write poems, you can’t avoid reading poems.”

This article has been updated.