During the spring 2018 semester, Professor Olivia Worden taught ENG 308 Creative Writing: Poetry, which she described as follows:
Poetry Outside the Lines.Through this course we will explore the ways in which poetry challenges traditional ideas of form, content, language and voice. With a focus on workshopping, writing prompts, and in-class discussion of readings, students will consider the artistic benefits and craft of “drawing outside the lines” of the genre. In addition, students will create a chapbook of their work, learning how to edit and compile a collection of their own poems.
When Professor Worden announced students would be presenting their chapbooks at the end of the semester, I knew I wanted to be there.
I was not disappointed.
I began the evening visiting a couple students and seeing their work up close.
Jaquay Dee-Hardmon held up a black box with a chain around it. Pills, broken glass, and bandaids were scattered on the surface, and a label announced that it was “My Soul’s Asylum.” Jaquay said with a big smile, “My poems are all about pain.”
Jaquay pulled the chain open (it was attached with a velcro fastener!) and revealed the inside of the box, lined with gauze. A poem was scrolled inside of a syringe, another was in a box of bandaids, another was in a rubber glove, and so forth. Wow. I felt like I was actively prying, reaching to read the words that were hidden, exploring space that was even more private than the inside of someone’s medicine cabinet. Reading poetry wasn’t simply reading; it was actively seeking a person’s words, holding them in my hands, respectfully returning the words to the place where I had found them.
That’s how the night began.
Elise Dietrich shared a table with Jaquay, and her poetry was placed in an album of artwork and scrapbooking. I was blown away by Elise’s watercolors, mostly of women’s bodies, simple and strong despite the gentle wash of the watercolor medium. It’s worth zooming in on the photo to the left to see the juxtaposition of the visual art and the poetry.
Well. That’s as far as I got before we were all asked to take our seats so we could hear poems or “Why I Write” statements read aloud for the audience. I won’t try to recapture these performances, but I will tell you that the work was impressive, and sometimes it was so haunting or desperate or painful that I cried. I cry easily, it’s true, but I was not alone in shedding tears. Later I said to some of the students that we don’t always expect to experience strong emotions when we are in academic spaces, but sometimes we do. And that’s not a bad thing.
After the readings, we all had more time to explore the poetry chapbooks. I saw almost all of them. Here are some glimpses of the projects and the poets for you to get some small sense of the night.
You and I both know these photos do not do the poets and their poetry justice. Their work was creative, thoughtful, thought-provoking, and interactive. Their words were not 2D or even 3D but something more—something that asked the reader to be there, too, to take part, to witness, to delve in, to experience.
If you have an opportunity to take part in such a night when it occurs again, be sure you don’t miss it. Whether you are a poet or someone who appreciates poetry, this is the kind of night that you will not forget.
And if you are one of the poets who shared work and you’re now reading this, I have two words for you: