Van K. Brock (1932-2017)
As a poet who craved a connection with language from an early age, Van K. Brock began to contemplate a career in poetry while studying as an undergraduate at Emory University in Atlanta. Since his days there as both a student and a teacher, Brock published several books of poetry.
Vandall Kline Brock was born on October 31, 1932, near Boston in Thomas County to Gladys Lewis, a teacher, and William Arthur Brock, a farmer. He first encountered poetry when his mother read it to him on a regular basis. He also began reading a great deal for himself. As a child, he told his mother that he wanted to be a poet.
At sixteen Brock entered Florida State University in Tallahassee as an engineering major. He soon transferred to the Georgia Institute of Technology in Atlanta, where a humanities course caused him to change directions. He transferred to Emory University in the winter of 1952 to major in humanities and graduated two years later.
After attending Garrett Theological Institute at Northwestern University in Evanston, Illinois, from 1954 to 1956, Brock returned to Atlanta and began working in the Medical Records Department at Emory. While this job consumed his nights, he spent the rest of his time reading major contemporary poets and experimenting with his craft. After transferring to a job working the door control desk at the Emory library, he found more opportunity to read and write.
During this time Brock met Paul Engle, the director of the Iowa Writers' Workshop, who asked him to enter the graduate program at the University of Iowa in Iowa City. Brock accepted and graduated with an M.A. in English in 1963 and an M.F.A. in poetry in 1964. He returned to Atlanta in 1964 and took a job teaching English, creative writing, and humanities courses at Oglethorpe University from 1964 to 1968. He then moved back to Iowa to complete his Ph.D. in modern letters, which he earned in 1970.
In 1970 Brock joined the faculty at Florida State University, where he helped found a new writing program. He served as both teacher and codirector for the program, which eventually achieved a national reputation. Brock also founded Anhinga Press in 1972. Based in Tallahassee, Anhinga began as a small organization that sought to bring writers together. It also gave the young, aspiring poets whom Brock was teaching the opportunity to experience what he called "a sense of literary presence." Anhinga Press began by publishing chapbooks (small books or pamphlets containing poems, ballads, or stories), and in 1980 it published its first full-length poetry collection, by nationally renowned poet Michael Mott. Anhinga continues to thrive and holds an annual competition for poetry, a tradition that began in 1983.
Brock's personal publishing career also met with success. Beginning in the summer of 1961 his poems appeared in anthologies and in such publications as the New Yorker, Georgia Review , and Yale Review. He also published several chapbooks. In 1977 the periodical Poets in the South published a forty-two-page feature on Brock that included a critical essay on his poetry and a selection of his work.
Along with his work with Anhinga Press, Brock also served as the poetry editor of National Forum: The Journal of the Phi Kappa Phi Honor Society from 1978 to 1984. In the 1990s he founded and became the editor of International Quarterly.
Following his teaching and publishing house successes, Brock published a series of full-length collections, including Spelunking (1978), The Hard Essential Landscape (1979), The Window (1981), and Unspeakable Strangers: Descents into the Dark Self, Ascents into Light (1995). Unspeakable Strangers, perhaps Brock's most powerful work,
deals with the Holocaust. Brock released a new collection of poetry called Lightered: New and Selected Poems in 2005.
Brock retired from Florida State University in 1999. During his retirement, he lived in Tucson, Arizona, with his second wife, Flavia Maria Da Silveira Lobo, a Brazilian writer and translator, and two sons.
Brock died on March 1, 2017 in Fayetteville, Arkansas, from complications of pancreatic cancer.