Roberts, Leonard 1947- (Len Roberts)
ROBERTS, Leonard 1947- (Len Roberts)
PERSONAL: Born March 13, 1947, in Cohoes, NY; son of Raymond R. (a bread deliverer) and Margery (a textile worker; maiden name, Trudeau) Roberts; married Nancy Crane (a nurse clinician), December 31, 1981; children: three. Education: Siena College, B.A., 1970; University of Dayton, M.A., 1971; Lehigh University, Ph.D., 1976. Hobbies and other interests: Camping, basketball, rebuilding and remodeling old houses, travel.
ADDRESSES: Home—1791 Wassergass Rd., Hellerstown, PA 18055. Office—Northampton Community College, Department of English, 3835 Green Pond Rd., Bethlehem, PA 18020. E-mail—[email protected]
CAREER: Poet and teacher. University of Dayton, Dayton, OH, lecturer in English, 1972; Northampton County Area Community College, Bethlehem, PA, assistant professor, 1974-78, associate professor of English, 1978-83, professor of English, 1985—. Lafayette College, Easton, PA, visiting assistant professor of English, 1983-85; Janus Pannonius University, Pecs, Hungary, Fulbright lecturer in American literature, 1988-89; University of Pittsburgh, visiting professor, 1999. Public information specialist for New York State Narcotic Addiction Control Commission, summers, 1967-69. Gives poetry readings and workshops at colleges, universities, and poetry centers. Military service: U.S. Coast Guard Reserve, 1968-74, active duty, 1968.
AWARDS, HONORS: Elliston Award from University of Cincinnati, 1981, for Cohoes Theater; poetry prize from Dark Horse, 1981, for the poem "Grandfather"; Mary Roberts Rinehart Foundation grant, 1981; Pennsylvania state poetry fellowship from Pennsylvania Council on the Arts, 1981; grant from National Endowment for the Arts, 1984; National Faculty award (Fine Arts Category), American Association of Community and Junior Colleges, 1987; Great Lakes & Prairies Award, 1987, for Sweet Ones; Pennsylvania Council on the Arts Writing awards in poetry, 1986-87, 1989, 1991, 2000; National Poetry Series Award for poetry, 1988, for Black Wings; National Endowment for the Arts Writing award in poetry, 1989; International Award for Teaching Excellence, College Leadership Program, Austin, Texas, 1989; John Simon Guggenheim Memorial Award, poetry, 1991; Professor Joseph A. Buff award for Alumni of the Year, career Achievement, Siena College, 1991; Fulbright Translation Award, Hungary, 1991; Distinguished Alumni of the Year Award, Lehigh University, 1993; Fulbright Scholar Award, 1994-95; National Endowment for the Humanities, College Teachers & Independent Scholar Award, 1999.
UNDER NAME LEN ROBERTS
Nutcracker (one-act play), first produced in Bethlehem, PA, at Northampton Community College Theater, March 16, 1978.
Cohoes Theatre (poems), Momentum, 1980.
From the Dark (poems), State University of New York Press (Albany, NY), 1984.
Sweet Ones (poems), Milkweed Editions (Minneapolis, MN), 1988.
Black Wings (poems), Persea Books (New York, NY), 1989.
Call to Me in My Mother Tongue (translations; chapbook), Mid-American Review, 1990.
Learning about the Heart: Poems, Silverfish Review (Eugene, OR), 1992.
(Translator) Selected Poems of Sándor Csoóri, Copper Canyon Press (Port Townsend, WA), 1992.
The Million Branches: Selected Poems & Interview (Chapbook), Yarrow Press, 1993.
Dangerous Angels: Poems, Copper Beach Press (Providence, RI), 1993.
Counting the Black Angels: Poems, University of Illinois Press (Urbana, IL), 1994.
The Trouble-Making Finch: Poems, University of Illinois Press (Urbana, IL), 1998.
The Silent Singer: New and Selected Poems, University of Illinois (Urbana, IL), 2001.
Work represented in anthologies, including Anthology of Magazine Verse and Yearbook of American Poetry, 1983-89. Contributor of more than one hundred poems to magazines, including Partisan Review, California Quarterly, Poetry Australia, Poetry Now, Missouri Review, Virginia Quarterly Review, and others. Translations represented in many magazines, including American Poetry Review, Translation, Delos, Visions International, Denver Quarterly, Northwest Review, Prism International, and others.
SIDELIGHTS: A prolific and widely published poet, Len Roberts began writing poems at the age of twentyeight as he tried to come to terms with memories of his late father. Throughout his career, the author's poetry has focused largely on his family, with much of his work driven by his experiences growing up with an alcoholic father, abusive mother, and troubled siblings. His images are often stark as he peers into his own life, his progress through it, and his acceptance of its many changes and ups and downs. "His early poems often follow a recipe out of James Wright's cookbook," wrote reviewer Mike Alexander on the Poetic Voices Web site. "Start with crisply evoked images, settings resonant with personal association; then stir until eroticized to taste. Serve as wisdom."
Roberts told CA: "I began writing very long-lined poems (I thought they were paragraphs at first, until I started to see the rhythms that each line had set up) in 1976 in order to 'jot down' some feelings about my father, who had died in 1969. Since then most of my poems are still 'about' my first family (mother, father, two brothers), but in the past few years they have been gradually moving toward my second family (wife and three children); the lines have grown gradually shorter, also."
Roberts went on to point out that his "books deal with the ghosts of my past as well as the loves and worries of my present. One theme which has become increasingly evident to me is an attempt to come to terms with the randomness of our lives and the final act, death. Black Wings deals most directly with these concerns. Presently I'm trying to expand my topics, trying to break into a more diverse subject matter as well as a more varied line. Time will tell if I meet with any success."
The author's 1994 volume of poems, Counting the Black Angels: Poems, contains further reflections on his early years and his family, especially focusing on his parochial schooling. Roberts addresses his relationships with his mother and his father, adolescence, and the mental instability of his older brother. The black angels represent the potential for, and reality of, sin that enters the family members' lives. A reviewer for Publishers Weekly noted, however, that "Roberts fails to explore fully what sin is for him. Instead he sometimes blames himself for being alive." Ray Olson of Booklist, found the volume compelling, noting that the poems "teem with the dire religious imagery" of the poet's schooling. Olson added that the author's poetry about his Catholic school days are "juicy, convincing, [and] directly engaging."
In his seventh collection of poems, The Trouble-Making Finch, Roberts continues to explore his familial relationships and the vagaries of life, as in the poem about how a goldfinch hopping on a branch reminds him of his drunken father. "In Len Roberts's work, you feel the power waiting," wrote F. D. Reeve in a review for Poetry. "As they are, his poems give a reliable movie-like representation of some problems in working-class lives, done with tact and imagination, suggestive of loyalty and merit—even heroism." Reeve went on to note, "Surely our desire to believe in these poems shows how they, too, speak for a class and also for a community."
For Roberts, his youth is a never-ending fountain of inspiration, as his 2001 volume called The Silent Singer: New and Selected Poems, reveals. In the new poems for the volume, he writes about such childhood memories as a nun teaching Morse code and his being relegated to lip syncing in his Catholic school choir. "What liberates these poems from falling into rote formula is his personal touch, clarity of observation, exact phrasing, the line breaks of an experienced hand," wrote Alexander in a review for Poetic Voices.
"You know, I started building and rebuilding houses the same time I started writing poetry (in the early 1970s)," Roberts told Geoff Gehman for an article in the Morning Call newspaper in Allentown, Pennsylvania. "It's the same process: the selection of words, or materials; stepping back to see what you've done; testing colors. Building with wood and stone is a lot like building with words."
While he may compare his writing to carpentry, Roberts noted in Contemporary Authors Autobiography Series that his "poetry is always about people." He continued, "I am incapable of writing a good poem about an animal or a scene from nature. What propels my poetry is a concern, a connection with people."
BIOGRAPHICAL AND CRITICAL SOURCES:
Contemporary Authors Autobiography Series, Volume 27, Gale (Detroit, MI), 1997, pp. 263-296.
Booklist, May 1, 1994, Ray Olson, review of Counting the Black Angels: Poems.
Morning Call (Allentown, PA), Geoff Gehman, "Practicing the Chart, Poet Len Roberts Offers an Intimate Look at a Poem in Progress," p. S08.
Poetry, March, 1999, F. D. Reeve, review of the Trouble-Making Finch, p. 357.
Publishers Weekly, April 25, 1994, review of Counting the Black Angels: Poems, P. 63.
Poetic Voices,http://www.poeticvoices.com/ (October 9, 2002), Mike Alexander, review of The Silent Singer: New and Selected Poems.*