CHADRON – Dr. Steve Coughlin is having quite a year. Not only did Coughlin, an assistant professor of English, wrap up his inaugural year of teaching at Chadron State College, but his first book of poetry, “Another City,” was recently published. The 28 poems in the book reflect multifaceted reverberations of trauma upon family relationships. One dates back to his undergraduate career, but most have been written within the past three years.
Coughlin grew up in an Irish-Catholic suburb of Boston, one he describes as a community of hard knocks.
The toughness of that community is reflected in motifs about his mother, his father, grief, loss, crime, religion, death and pain. Imagination as a vehicle to flee to another time or universe such as where traffic is always sparse and coffee never cools is the overriding theme in the book.
“You can use your imagination to escape reality or revise it – to fix what you can’t in the real world,” Coughlin said. “The poems explore what happens when family members fail to heal, to connect or come together. There is a sense of unfulfilled needs, a failure to say what needs to be said.”
He sees poetry as a creative form of self-preservation within the safe confines of the imagination.
“There are healthy ways and unhealthy ways of dealing with trauma in the real world. While we can use our memory to make sense of trauma, at the same time, our memory is flawed,” he said.
His mentor and dissertation director at Ohio University, Dr. Mark Halliday, has also been his toughest critic.
“Mark would often read my work and ask, ‘Do you really believe this?’ Sometimes I was frustrated because I liked the way the words read, but I knew he was right, the message wasn’t genuine. With Mark’s help, I’ve found my voice,” Coughlin said.
Coughlin tries to help his students find their voices as well. He teaches that each poet is a link in a chain with a lineage of others who have influenced and inspired them.
“My lineage includes Mark Halliday, Frank Bidart and Robert Lowell. When I’m tired, I think of Mark and others who’ve sacrificed to help me,” Coughlin said. “We are all part of an ongoing conversation.”
Part of his efforts to support the ongoing conversation have included leading the revival of the CSC student literary journal, “The Tenth Street Miscellany.” As the faculty sponsor, he advises three student editors of the publication. In addition to sponsoring the publication, Coughlin enjoys associating with other faculty members.
“I feel fortunate to have great colleagues here at CSC. They’ve encouraged me to embrace and grow the college’s creative writing program,” Coughlin said. “CSC fits with what I value as an educator. I can tell concern for success of students is clearly at the center of the college’s mission.”
In an alternate teaching venue, Coughlin will present during the upcoming Story Catcher Summer Writing Workshop and Festival June 12-14. His session is intended to help participants move past writer's block.
“The fear of the blank page seems to be quite common. To get beyond that, writers need to join the conversation, enter the community and connect with others. This is the poet’s antidote to writer’s block. You can’t do this stuff alone,” Coughlin said.
“Another City,” published by FutureCycle Press, will be available for purchase at the festival June 14.
—Tena L. Cook, Marketing Coordinator