December 16, 2016
Allan Wolf views the world through a poet’s eyes — and he travels nationally and even internationally to share that vision.
“When you look through a poet’s eyes, you see the possibilities that other people miss,” he says. “You use your imagination to translate the world from ordinary to extraordinary. Imagination and creativity are the keys to innovation, whether you’re a poet, a scientist, or an athlete.”
Wolf likens the poet’s vision to a still life in the hands of a gifted painter. “You might see a plain candlestick, a pomegranate, and some plums,” he says, “but you’ll also notice something astonishing about the light and how the shadows are cast.”
In the early 1990s, after earning his master’s degree in the Department of English and teaching at Virginia Tech for three years, Wolf joined Poetry Alive!, a traveling troupe of poets and actors who performed poetry in schools across the United States. He also helped the poetry slam movement take root in the South by founding the Southern Fried Poetry Slam, which is thriving nearly a quarter century later.
Now Wolf presents poetry in witty, exuberant, and even gleeful ways to audiences ranging from preschoolers to adult inmates, from Shreveport to Shanghai.
“As a performance poet, I can combine my interests in literature, theatre, and teaching,” he says. More dramatically, he found a way to make a living from poetry, an income strategy that took some initial courage.
“It can feel risky when you decide to make your living from your art,” he says. “Once you’re comfortable not knowing how each domino will fall and you’ve jettisoned yourself out there, though, you gain freedom. Once you leave the stability behind, the adventure itself becomes a stabilizing force.”
Wolf notes that he now teaches people a way of viewing the world through not just performance, but the written word as well. He is the author of a number of award-winning books for children and teens, including The Watch That Ends the Night: Voices from the Titanic, a novel in verse that offers first-person accounts of the tragedy from two dozen narrators, including the iceberg, and New Found Land: Lewis and Clark’s Voyage of Discovery, a lyrical recreation of the famed expedition.
“I love performing because once I’m on stage, it feels like I’m inside a poem, actually living and breathing the words,” Wolf says. “Writing books has its own rewards, though. You walk off stage, and the performance is over. But a book is always there. People can read it years later, miles and miles away, and they can be moved by what you wrote.”