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Scenes from The University of Rhode Island

URI poet pens ‘The Station nightclub’

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Poem will be published in Bryant Literary Review

KINGSTON, R.I. -- November 3, 2004 -- Don Kunz, professor of English and film studies at the University of Rhode Island didn’t intend to write a poem about the horrific fire at The Station nightclub that claimed 100 lives and injured almost 200 others in 2003. Yet the constant retelling of the event by the media began to work on him like the replaying of an automobile accident.

“My mind would keep drifting back over details of the catastrophe as if I could somehow find a different conclusion to it by rehearsing alternative versions,” says Kunz, a Warwick resident. “I kept thinking that this is what the victims themselves must be doing every minute of their lives. That's what I tried to capture in the poem--that even if you survived the flames, you would somehow continue to be consumed by them.”

Kunz has been writing poetry for nearly three decades. His poems have appeared in various publications. “The Station nightclub” has been selected for publication in Bryant Literary Review, an international magazine of poetry and fiction published annually in May.

The professor, who also writes and publishes short fiction, teaches a variety of English and film courses including creative writing, cinematic auteurs and film genres. He was a co-director of the 1999 Honor Colloquium series, Legacies of the Vietnam War, the subject of a course he teaches and a sometime subject of his fiction and scholarly articles.

Ever since he started teaching creative writing, Kunz has always done the writing exercises along with his students. Those exercises have often led to poems. Inspirations for other poems come in dreams or begin with a phrase he’s overheard in conversation.

A cluster of his poems involve his reactions to other works of art, such as paintings or photographs. “I especially like the idea of one work of art inspiring another work of art,” he says.

Kunz will retire at the end of this semester. He and his wife plan to move to Bend, Oregon where he will hike, mountain bike, swim, and go on wilderness horse trips and they will cross country ski. While his wife continues her award-winning photography, Kunz will continue writing.

“For me writing a poem is exactly the opposite of writing an essay,” he says. “In an essay, you want to tell people unambiguously what they should think or feel about something. In a poem you want to recreate an experience in a richly ambiguous way so that a wide variety of readers will discover multiple ways to understand and feel about what you have described.”

Kunz’s “The Station nightclub” poem follows:

The Station nightclub

How can they not still dream of fire?
Everything has turned black:
First the night, then the hard rock stars.

Everywhere charred and twisted ghosts
Cough toward smoke-filled exits,
Their dreams trampling dreams.

In their dark sleep they rehearse escape,
Plotting to quench the flames again
Listening to the tongues flicker.

They recall voices buzzing electric as neon
Advertising the fire this time, every time,
And walls flaming like newly mined coal.

How can one night fuel but not exhaust itself?
How can they not still dream of fire,
Of all those dead who consume them?

Don Kunz