Poet looks far away from Algiers to find inspiration

Kyle Roerink

Winner of poetry prize to read his poems tonight

Humbled poet and self-proclaimed introvert Djelloul Marbrook is visiting Kent State this week in honor of Wick Poetry Center’s 25th anniversary.

Marbrook will read poems from his book, “Far From Algiers,” at 8 p.m. tonight in the Kiva. Poet Toi Derricotte will also read her poems.

Marbrook, 73, was the winner of the Stan and Tom Wick Poetry prize in 2007. The prize is awarded annually to a poet who has not previously published a full-length book of poetry. The winner gets $2,000 and the Kent State University Press publishes the poetry.

His book was another stepping stone in his life, and since its release, he has been excited, frightened, changed and prompted to think about how humans take – or don’t take – pleasure in others’ success.

“It has crawled me out of my shell to some extent,” he said. “It’s one of those events in a person’s life that calls out and it makes you reflect on relationships with people.”

Marbrook was born in Algiers, Algeria, in 1934. Shortly after his birth, his mother moved to England briefly before moving to the United States. In New York, he lived with his aunt and grandmother and attended boarding school and Columbia University.

Marbrook said he attended the school for three years, and then in the second semester of his junior year, he had a meltdown.

“I put my books on a bench, threw my jacket over them and I got on a subway,” he said. “I didn’t see Columbia until my 60s.”

After working as a paperboy and a money collector for call girls, he joined the Merchant Marines, but after a labor strike, he enlisted with the Navy.

During this time, Marbrook picked up skills as a photographer and writer and decided to practice journalism.

In his 20s, Marbrook said that he was beginning to master the art of poetry, but in the next decade of his life he stopped writing poems.

“I stopped writing poetry in my 30s because (at the time) I would have rather been caught dead than saying what I meant or meaning what I said,” he said. “When I realized that, I was devastated. I was ashamed in myself because I thought I was intellectually dishonest.”

Marbrook said journalism conveys other people’s perceptions in writing, but poetry communicates an individual’s perceptions.

Marbrook’s disappointment and reclusive attitude about himself first arose when he was at boarding school. He was physically abused by some of the school’s faculty. When he was younger, he took the blame for it.

His mother used to say, “Pick yourself up by the bootstraps and shoulder on.”

“You can’t do that,” Marbrook said, “because what she really said was don’t pay attention to all the things people said and do to you.”

Some hurtful comments Marbrook remembers to this day were uttered by his mother.

She would say, “If there is a way for Djelloul to shoot himself in the foot in the eleventh hour, he will,” Marbrook said.

Marbrook started to write and think about poetry again after his mother died.

“When anything that conflicts with the mirror image of yourself, the person you’re really hiding from is yourself,” he said. “And you do have to face those demons.”

In 2001, about 30 years after Marbrook stopped writing poetry, he said introspection and his wife helped him start writing again.

Marbrook said that poetry is at the center of his being.

“I would think that poets are seers in society,” he said. “They are the ones who push the envelope in our perspecting and apprehension in our lives.”

Contact College of the Arts and Sciences reporter Kyle Roerink at [email protected].