Friday night: Jan Beatty to launch fourth poetry book at the WYEP Community Broadcast Center

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Jan Beatty cannot imagine life without poetry.

"It's a life-saving event, being a poet," she said. "As with any artist, it's something you need to do. And like they say, an artist who doesn't make art is a crazy person. And that would be me, if I wasn't writing.

"And I'm still kind of crazy anyway."

Ms. Beatty is launching her fourth book of poetry -- a collection called "The Switching/Yard" -- with a reading tonight at the WYEP Community Broadcast Center at Bedford Square on the South Side. The event, which begins at 7 p.m., is free and open to the public.

"It's a celebration for everybody," she said. "Pittsburgh has a big writing community, and it's nice to get everybody together and celebrate poetry. I believe in telling people you have a book when you have one. I don't believe in hiding out with it. It's a happy occasion, and it gives me the opportunity to thank people for their help."

The list of those involved includes the University of Pittsburgh Press and Ed Ochester, director of the Pitt Poetry Series. But the work comes from the heart and mind of Ms. Beatty.

The daughter of a steelworker, Ms. Beatty graduated from Baldwin High School. She earned a master of fine arts degree from Pitt and has been a teacher for 25 years. The author of four books, she is director of the writing program at Carlow University in Oakland.

"I continue to challenge myself and try to write things that go deeper and improve the craft," she said. "That's why I do it."

Her work has the form you would expect of poetry, without the formality.

"I have a lot of street. It's kind of gritty," she said. "Urban poems. The language is kind of dark, and I don't shy away from profanity and drugs. I'm interested in trying to capture the real. The situations that change people's lives which are all around us.

"I come from the working class and it's in my heart. There will be steel somewhere in the book and Pittsburgh probably will be mentioned in the book. But I'm not a Pittsburgh poet. I'm a poet.

"I think my books are optimistic, but not everybody agrees. I just want to move people. I don't want to depress people, but I'm not worried about it. I want people to engage and feel something.

"It's hard to be alive sometimes. But there are moments of beauty, moments of possibility. It's important to move people. I mean, why are we alive? We have to remember why we're here, why we think we're here."

One might think it's hard to teach poetry. Ms. Beatty draws the distinction.

"You're not teaching talent," she said. "You're teaching craft. It's kind of amazing. Most people will have something to offer there. They may not pursue it as a lifelong passion, but a lot of people can write poetry."

And a lot of people can hear it tonight at the WYEP Community Broadcast Center on 12th Street.

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If you have a suggestion for something to do some evening, let us know about it and we'll see if we can get some of our friends to join you. Contact Dan Majors at or 412-263-1456. This story originally appeared in The Pittsburgh Press. To log in or subscribe, go to:


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