Chard deNiord '75: Addicted to Words

Chard DeNiordChard deNiord ’75 has carried poetry with him always. It started bombarding his head as a child, but it wasn’t until his junior year in high school that he wrote a poem. He shared it with a teacher who encouraged him to continue.

“I write whenever I can,” said Chard, who has published four volumes of poetry and a book of interviews with some of his favorite poets. “I’m writing because I need to. It’s a kind of artistic addiction.”

Chard returned to his alma mater in October to give the Geraldine Lyon Owen talk sponsored by the English Department to honor creative writing, literature, scholarship, and teaching. “It’s good to be home,” he told his audience.

Chard’s path to a life of poetry took many twists and turns. Growing up in Lynchburg with a physician father, he assumed medicine would be his profession, too. He discovered, however, that statistics and organic chemistry were not his thing. Professors Jim Price and Joe Nelson introduced him to religious studies, which became his major.

After graduating from LC, he earned a master’s of divinity from Yale University. Before pursuing ordination in the Episcopal Church’ however, he followed wise advice to first get a job. He started working as an inpatient psychiatric aide at the Connecticut Mental Center, a Yale affiliate. He had become an evaluating clinician and had seventy patients when he left five years later to wrestle with all those poems in his head.

Chard’s poetry portfolio earned him entry to the prestigious Iowa Writers’ Workshop at the University of Iowa, where he earned his MFA in poetry in 1985. His wife, Liz Hawkes, and their two children had willingly pulled up roots to allow Chard to follow his passion.

They returned to New England where Chard taught at private schools for twelve years while publishing his poems. Asleep in the Fire was his first volume, published in 1990 by the University of Alabama Press. It was followed by Sharp Golden Thorn by Marsh Hawk Press in 2003 and Night Mowing in 2005 by the University of Pittsburgh Press. The Double Truth (U. Pittsburgh, 2011) was named one of the ten best books of poetry of 2011 by the Boston Globe.

Sad Friends, Drowned Lovers, Stapled Songs (Marick Press, 2012), his book of interviews with senior poets, is his most recent publication, and he has begun compiling a new manuscript.

In 1998, Chard started teaching at Providence College, where he is a professor of English. In April 2012, he was named the tenth recipient of the Joseph R. Accinno Faculty Teaching Award, Providence College's highest teaching honor.

In 2002, Chard co-founded the New England College MFA program in poetry, partly to see if a program dedicated solely to poetry could survive. More than 100 alumni later, the program is still going strong.

Now a mentor to many young poets, Chard initially found guidance in the songwriters of the 1960s, like Bob Dylan, but he also fell sway to Robert Frost, Shakespeare, and biblical psalms.  “Later on, I became increasingly influenced by Emily Dickinson,” he said.

Inspiration comes to Chard from unexpected places, often while walking or driving. His topics cover the loss of a beloved dog, the meanderings of a river, and the nature of longtime love. Most poems are sparked with a single phrase or line. “A line is a little bit like a wire,” he said.