Meeting Ken Waldman: Alaska’s fiddling poet
by Payton Pruitt
On Wednesday Feb. 4 in the Lawson Auditorium, Ken Waldman visited Maryville College. He was given the title of fiddling poet when he started incorporating some lovely music similar to the Appalachian style that the south is so fond of into his poetry readings.
When Waldman presented himself, he came off as warm and amiable. He gladly presented his instruments, telling the origin story of how he discovered a passion for music at age 25 after he finished college. He also presented some small booklets of poems that he had written over the years that covered very wide genres from political poetry to romantic poems to humorous poems, Waldman has covered them all.
He has lived in Alaska for several years, it was where he went to college and received an MFA in creative writing and where he continued to stay so he could attend graduate school. During his time there, he taught composition and developmental classes as a teaching assistant, as well as giving lessons at the local correctional center. Once finished, he went on to become a full time professor for the University of Alaska in Nome, where he often taught over the phone and through mail with students miles away.
He has gone through many different experiences, did not start writing poetry till he was 30, he has lived in parts of Alaska that didn’t have running water available and he even survived a plane crash.
During his performance, he treated the audience to a couple of charming tunes and some great poetry that was not normally read aloud on his regular tours, giving them a bit of an extra treat. He opened up to some Q&A from different students in between poetry readings and musical samplings.
He spoke of how discovering his talent for music went hand-in-hand with his progressive writing skills. Poetry helped him through some difficult times in his life such as different illnesses and injuries. Even when he survived a plane crash he used his poetry to help calm the hysterical pilot while they waited for help to arrive.
When asked if he had to choose between music and writing, Waldman said that he was more of a writer than a musician, but he wouldn’t be where he is now without his fiddle as it distinguishes him from the rest of the crowd.
At the end of his performance, one final question was answered about how others would go about finding where their careers would take them. Waldman replied that everyone had their own path and they found it in their own way, whether it was travelling to many different locations like he did, or simply staying in one place and exploring oneself. It also does not have to be through music or poetry, it can be through anything.