Heather Dobbins, a recipient of several scholarships and fellowships for her literary work, presented poetry on Feb. 3 at 7 p.m. in Ball Hall Auditorium.
Dobbins graduated from the College Scholars program at the University of Tennessee, Knoxville and has received a Master of Education degree from the Holy Names University in Oakland, California along with a Master of Fine Arts in creative writing from Bennington College, Vermont.
Her poetry has been published by multiple publications including: Beloit Poetry Journal, Big Muddy, New Millennium Writings, The Southern Poetry, TriQuartley Review and more.
She resides in Memphis, Tennessee, with her husband and teaches high school and middle school poetry.
Dobbins has also founded a creative writing workshop for teens called “River City Scribes.”
“I think that there’s been a new interest in poetry,” said Anita DeAngelis, director of the Mary B. Martin School of the Arts.
“We see poetry slams all the time.”
With this resurging interest in poetry, it is a great time for us to take advantage of this, DeAngelis said.
“The other thing is Heather’s approach to poetry is a little more universal and accessible to people,” DeAngelis said.
“She doesn’t necessarily just read her poetry; she kind of performs them.”
Dobbins presented poems from two of her manuscripts: “In the Low Houses” and “River Mouth.”
She uses imagery and natural elements, such as descriptions of the Tennessee hills and rivers, to convey personal stories in her poetry.
Her poetry and topics of interest have been primarily influenced by numerous events throughout her life.
“In the spring of 2011, Memphis underwent a huge flood,” Dobbins said.
“Everybody was rushing and trying to protect buildings from the flood. They were using these sandbags. I was baffled by that.”
Dobbins began researching and found herself completely immersed in another world.
“I started doing some research about riverboats, people who have made a living on the river,” Dobbins said. “And then I was about to use the research to help me with a setting, a lot of my people, dialect and pure making stuff up from the background information.”
In “River Mouth,” she discusses several anecdotes about people who have made lives for themselves on riverboats.
In order to begin her writing process, she first makes a trip to the archives in the library.
“The first thing I do is go through a lot of these books,” Dobbins said. “I needed to make sure I had those details down.”
She then makes meticulous notes in her workbook, in which she copies direct quotes from a book. After this, she groups the quotes into categories: deckhands, river pilots, etc.
The next step is left up to creativity and the desire to bring a story to life.
“I was really terrified to write from a river point,” Dobbins said.
“I ran away from that for so long. It took me going to California and Vermont for people to tell me how much they love Tennessee.”