The University of Iowa

The Preoccupation of Observation: 'At the Reading' with Curtis Bauer


Listen: Curtis Bauer reading | Sept 18, 2013


On Wednesday, Sept. 18th, I was fortunate enough to attend Curtis Bauer’s reading at Prairie Lights. A native of Iowa, Bauer now lives in Lubbock, Texas where he teaches at Texas Tech University. His newest collection of poetry The Real Cause for Your Absence is peppered with images of the Southwest and Bauer’s frequent Spanish phrases.

Speaking about his multi-lingual writings Bauer lit up, saying that learning Spanish changed the way that he spoke as well as wrote in his native tongue. His work in translation and writings in Spanish did seem to greatly influence his work. Sitting directly behind me was a whole row of Spanish speakers and across the aisle a few women seemed to also speak Spanish. Both groups laughed when Bauer slipped into Spanish to question some young boys in one poem so I assume that he was equally charming in both languages.

Bauer’s poems often read like walking tours. Whether it be through a few neighborhoods in “South Overton” or his wife’s dreamscape in ‘”Drawing of a woman’s silence,” Bauer is talented at fluidly moving the reader (or listener) through space. This may have something to do with what Bauer called his “…preoccupation with observation…” which is as good a phrase as any to describe the rich details that appear in the poems that he read. One, "Seeing a tan woman’s face in winter,” is a page of verse dedicated to a woman seen in passing. Recalling the woman and the armful of white lilies she held in the middle of a New York winter Bauer writes: “I see the flowers but not the hands. I can hear / the paper crinkle though I was in a car and speeding / and I want to hear her breath because its even…”

Bauer is great at snatching moments of silence and beauty from the otherwise overwhelming bustle of a busy world. Other engagements and information about Bauer’s writing can be found at