Arts and Culture / Magazine Feature

English prof up for Colorado Book Award

photo portrait

English professor Bin Ramke always carries a notebook, in which he jots down words, ideas and impressions. Often those scribbles will find their way in to one of his poems. PHOTO BY: Wayne Armstrong.

Recently, DU English professor Bin Ramke attended a reading for finalists for the 2010 Colorado Book Awards — a group of which he is a member due to his latest book of poetry, Theory of Mind.

Before reading some of his choice poems — “The Magician,” “Something to Say,” “Work in Silence” — Ramke caught up with one of his former students, Dan Beachy-Quick, who is also up for a Colorado Book Award.

After the well-attended reading, which took place at Baur’s Ristorante in Denver, Ramke went to the table that featured his and two others finalists’ books for sale. He scooped up the other two books —  Beats At Naropa: An Anthology and the novel The Year That Follows — purchased them, and promptly went to the other two authors asking for autographs, which sparked flattered looks and fruitful conversations.

Not only can Ramke write a poem, he knows how to work a room.

“There are so many really good writers in Colorado,” Ramke says. “It’s amazing. It’s not one of the more heavily populated states, but we’ve got more than our share of good writers, including poets. I feel quite honored to be nominated.”

Because of familial circumstances, Ramke does not know if he will be able to attend the Colorado Book Awards ceremony on June 25 in Aspen, Colo. Yet he is still excited by the nomination and glad for the attention brought to him and Beachy-Quick.

Ramke has been with DU since 1985. Currently he teaches poetry to undergraduate and graduate students. He also edits the Denver Quarterly and has authored an additional nine books of poetry. 

“Poetry is different from novel-writing, in that people assume a novel is entertaining, and not many people are entertained by poems,” he says. “There probably isn’t such an appeal to the masses because poems can be less direct. I would say that in any art form, it should be difficult to explain the work, because it’s always trying to be beyond an explanation: That’s why it’s art and not something else.”

Ramke knows it can be difficult to explain his work, as poets often employ descriptors that seem opaque to outsiders. In simple terms, many of his poems concern the mind and body. Many of the poems are self-referential via the concept of consciousness.

In trying to describe his work, which he says can be challenging, he uses analogies to two of his past and sometimes-current interests: mathematics and visual art.

“Mathematics and poetry are about likeness and equality,” Ramke explains. “Poems are shaped by ‘like’ and ‘as,’ or saying one thing is similar to another, the way a metaphor works. In mathematics, you manipulate one side of an equal sign to cause something to happen on the other side. It’s easy to think of poems as abstract paintings. A picture is about color and shape, and a poem is about shapes made by words.”

Josephine Jones, one of the main promoters of the book awards, says it’s one of the oldest state book programs in the country. She touts the influence of an award and even a nomination, but she also counts herself a fan of Ramke’s poetry.

“I have nothing but praise for him; I think he’s an innovator in his field,” Jones says. “He inspires me to understand his subtle observations. I find his work extremely amusing and enlightening at the same time.”

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