Natalie Shapero, former Kenyon Review fellow and Kenyon College professor, gave a reading on Thursday in the Cheever Room of Finn House.
As a Kenyon Review fellow, Shapero taught creative writing in both the English department and the Young Writers Workshop, and read submissions for the Kenyon Review.
On Thursday, Shapero read from her most recent book, Hard Child, published in 2017, along with some poems from her yet-to-be-published manuscript. Shapero now works at Tufts University (Mass.), but she claims to miss “[the] good times in Gambier with many people, and dogs, and trees.”
Shapero intertwined her reading with humorous anecdotes. The first poem Shapero read, “My Hand and Cold,” includes an anecdote from trivia night at the Village Inn. She asked, “Which three countries are entirely inside other countries?” By the end of the poem, she answers this question: “San Marino, Vatican City, Lesotho.”
Shapero told the crowd that she, along with her Kenyon faculty peers, couldn’t figure out this answer. This isn’t the only Kenyon reference in Shapero’s poems. When asked what her favorite poem in Hard Child is, Shapero said that it’s the book’s final poem, “The Sky,” which deals with death and what it means to disappear.
Despite this poem’s heavy subject, Shapero finds a way to use humor. She quotes a neighbor saying “I don’t fear dying— / look at the past, people have been dying forever, and—.” The neighbor then realizes he’s been drinking too much and corrects himself, “people have died forever and all / of them survived.”
“A lot of my work is about ways we deflect when tasked with talking about difficult subjects — jokes are a big one for me,” Shapero said.
“The ending of that poem came from a gathering I had out on the porch of the blue farmhouse I lived in when I was at Kenyon.”
One audience member noted Shapero’s poetic form: she describes her method as speaking her ideas aloud, using iambic pentameter phrasing, but then attempting to mess up the form. If she forgets the words she says aloud, it wasn’t meant to be, she explained.
Shapero also read from her new manuscript, which, in the Q&A session after the reading, she said is less about motherhood and more about “not talking about anything and stumbling.”
In one of the new poems, Shapero tackles the human lifespan. “Just once I would like to uncrumple the metro section and find that the key to long life is rage and trauma.”
The audience broke into grins and chuckled, presenting another example of Shapero’s use of humor to touch on difficult subjects.
Natalie Shapero’s reading examined pain and loss while engaging the crowd in laughter and smiles.