On Nov. 13, the students of Advanced Poetry (ENGL 301) held a Zoom poetry reading co-sponsored by Sunset Press. It featured work by nine writers across class years. The poets put their “blood, sweat and many tears” into this work, according to the Student-Info email advertising the event.
Advanced Poetry is taught by Assistant Professor of English Andrew Grace ’04. Grace introduced the class as one of the best groups he has ever worked with. “It is an incredibly talented group, and their talents are as various as they are deep,” Grace said.
The reading was assembled by Armiya “A.” Shaikh ’21, one of the event’s readers and co-founder of the Sunset Press. Without being able to see the faces of fellow viewers and react visually, audience members turned to the Zoom chat feature. The chat erupted with compliments as each reader began their oration: “Amazing!!!!” wrote Shaikh in response to Lindstrom’s reading. “Your voice is like a song I’m literally in tears,” another viewer commented during Shaikh’s.
The chat created a comfortable, collaborative atmosphere for people to share their thoughts during the reading. Normally the reading takes place in the Cheever Room of Finn House, and it can be difficult to recreate the classic atmosphere of the room online.
“Reading poems on a Zoom webinar is bizarre because you have so few ways to sense the energy in the room or gauge your audience’s reactions as you present your poems,” Virginia Kane ’22 wrote in an email to the Collegian. “You can’t see people nod or hear them laugh like you would at an in-person reading, so you just have to be confident in your delivery and trust that your words are resonating on distant screens.”
As Grace mentioned in his introduction of the class, the pieces varied in topic, all of them tackling a part of their writer’s personal life as well as political and social dilemmas.
Lin, who was the first to read, has focused on the immigrant experience as well as “making connections across generations of family” over the course of the semester, Grace said.
In her poem “Loving Miss Daisy,” Aaliyah C. Daniels ’23 recited, “I once had a white woman collect my saliva just so she can collect my next metaphor.”
Later on, Sarah Pazen ’22 performed a resonant and solemn piece about gun violence called “My Mom Moved My Brother To The Suburbs Because The Schools At Home Are Unsafe.”
Subsequently, Mikayla Connolly ’23 read three poems, one of which is titled “Watching PEN15 In An Empty Dorm Room In Ohio.”
Shaikh wrapped up the reading with her poem, which she described as one that examines “immigration, memory, and the body, and how it can hold pain.”
As virtual readings become the new normal, the captivating work of the Advanced Poetry students made up for the lack of an in-person audience and physical performance space. The work is deeply personal, so it was symbolic for the writers to read the poetry looking at themselves, reflecting on their own identity within the poem.