On Sunday, Dec. 9, the members of Visiting Assistant Professor of English Andy Grace’s ’01 Advanced Poetry Workshop (ENGL 301) sat in a row on the left side of Cheever Seminar Room, clutching papers in their hands. As they sat, the audience shuffled in and unwrapped themselves from their scarves, hats, and coats. The first poet, cool and collected Ellen Morrissey ’20, walked to the front of the crowd and spoke of “impenetrable hedges which have always been there. Dense and dark green, my father’s favorite color.” The poem, “Real Conversations,” ended with her still “searching for a gap in the greenery.”
Thirteen students read their work that evening: Jonah Zitelli ’20, Sloane Wilten ’20, Tariq Thompson ’21, Claire Oleson ’19, Mary Moore ’20, Cat March ’19, Julia Louizides ’20, Paola Liendo ’20, Jordan Horowitz ’20, Sophie Hargrove ’20, Hudson Farr ’19 and Annie Brock ’19. Each approached the stage with the same composure. In their chairs, the audience seemed expectant – each line of poetry defined a previously untranslatable experience.
Some of the listeners knew nothing about the poets they came to hear. After the reading, this unfamiliarity disappeared. “[The reading] presented a rare opportunity to glimpse inside the minds of people I know casually or who I pass on Middle Path each day,” Virginia Kane ’22 said. “I now understand them in a different light.”
Thompson stood in front of many unknown faces and told them his most basic hopes in a voice that made them seem as elusive as they might have felt to him. “I want offspring free of wickedness,” he said. “I need to still be living — 20 years from now.” Where the poets could have guarded themselves, or written a circle around their emotions, they chose vulnerability.
“In eighth grade I burned my hand on a stovetop and woke up smelling something exquisite,” Hargrove read from her wonderfully strange poem “Rotgut.” Later, Zitelli described the sound of a flourescent lights. “The electric hum is no language she knows,” he read. “It is little more than a waveform, a gurgle in the throat, too similar to a mouth-breather’s snore to be much of a comfort.”
The reading was almost entirely organized by Liendo, who “fell into the role” by making posters and sending Facebook invites and emails to the student body. When it was her turn to read, Liendo opened with the bold line, “Oh, Jigglypuff, Queen of All Attention Whores!”
“I had such a great time,” Liendo said. “There were little fragments of memory that I’ll carry with me — some lines from different poems, the sensation in my chest when something felt particularly poignant — and I just hope that others who came and experienced these poems for the first time got something to take home with them, too.”