Meditations on Poetry
Author Photo
By Gayla Wolcott / / March 9, 2018 / 7:06pm

Adam Gianelli ‘01 speaks with a stutter, which became evident when he read the title of his first poem (also the first poem in his book Tremulous Hinge), “Stutter”:

alone in my room I can

speak any word

since I can’t say memory I say

underbloom

What Gianelli can’t physically say gives way to what he means; it’s almost as if his speech impediment pushes way towards a more authentic representation of what he’s trying to communicate. Adam says this on the intersection of poetry and stutter:

“Every time I stutter, I feel the tension between the physicality of language and the ideas that I want to communicate. Poetry also inhabits this space. Poetry doesn’t simply communicate, but is a form of communication, like stuttering, flooded with the density of language. I’m not sure I would write if I didn’t stutter. I no longer see poetry as a way to escape my stuttering, but as a way to embrace it.”

Adam was one of three poets to read at an event that took place last Thursday, put on by the Creative Writing Department. Three Oberlin Alumni presented readings from their published books of poetry. I asked my professor in poetry, Lynn Powell, what she thought about how her former students- Lauren Clark ‘11 and Elizabeth Lindsey Clark ‘07- presented themselves and their poetry. Powell said that what was so special was “how they each were speaking in the voice that really belonged to them. And that’s what I try to communicate in my classes: you need to write the work only you can write.”

After the readings, the three poets came to the stage to take questions from the audience, offering their best advice for young poets and young people. “Embrace your strangeness,” Adam imparted, the same advice that he once received during college from the poet Brenda Hillman. All three of the poets relayed that while they were here at Oberlin, they did not hold much confidence in themselves and only began to take pride in what they could do once they had graduated. It’s easy to see this on our campus; most people question whether they’ve achieved enough, whether they deserve to be here.

Lauren Clark ‘11 read next, and seemed to entrance the whole room with their sharp humor, which they incorporated seamlessly into their emotionally resonant poems. Drifting in out of funny anecdotes from their years at Oberlin, Clark read poems about the first time they had sex with a woman and their relationship with their mom. It was sobering to hear about the childhood and life experiences from which their striking sense of humor had grown. Clark’s lines remind me of the principles of impressionistic painting that I love; in capturing an impression, you’re finding a resemblance to the moment that’s deeper than what a photograph could portray. Following is an excerpt from one of Clark’s poems describing a moment not as an outsider would see it, but as the moment should itself be understood:

Yesterday at sunset I saw Galen eat a grapefruit cell

by cell. The light glanced off her purple tights, seeped

through the dripping pink. She spit the seeds

and the late sun moved in slow motion

just you are becoming paler in a steady parade

of shades. In the silence after you take off your glasses,

I understand: I have broken the rule of show, don’t tell, and you look deeply into the lexicon’s dark print.

I should have come to you a suppliant,

silent, citrus in hand.

(From Meditation, 2013)

I feel like Lauren is hinting at the greater significance of poetry here. It’s sort of like ars poetica; maybe they’re saying: fuck anyone who silences you, who pressures you to express your feelings less honestly. Poetry is about life, and sometimes life is as simple as the way someone looks eating a grapefruit. You don’t have to describe it as anything more or less than what it is — at least that’s my interpretation.

Elizabeth ‘07 was the final poet to read. She introduced her poem by saying that climate change has been a huge impetus for her newer poetry. This one is about how the Manifest Destiny mindset of American pioneers has materialized itself as environmental destruction. The poem is titled after a region of Mars that looks like the American West– analogizing Westward expansion to Spaceward exploration:

Our own carbon dates us.

If I could cut myself open, you’d see rings

lapping more rings: my mother

crying for her mother in the same

way her mother wept for hers.

You’d see the silvery orbit,

where each life dissolved.

But for now, I remain

human.

(From Arcadia, Mars, 2015)

During the Q&A , Lindsey admitted that before publishing her book, she had these ideas about how poetry would “change the culture” and make people think about climate change, but that when it was published, she realized that only a couple of people actually read poetry books. Although this was disheartening to hear, I’m not entirely sure I believe it. The room she was speaking to was packed with young people eager to hear what others had written, eager to see what could be in their own future. Lindsey’s poems make me feel less alone when dealing with the psychological taxations of climate change, and that’s all I can really ask for.

Professor Powell said something that stuck out to me: “I think poetry is a deep resource for everyone for their lives, if they know how to open themselves to it. Either as readers or writers.” I’ve been discovering this more and more every day; anyone can be one of those people who ‘gets’ poetry. Poetry is an art that truly speaks to the human condition, so everyone who so chooses can partake in it. It does a remarkable job of making you feel less alone in the universe. I’d like to say thank you to the Oberlin Alumni who come back here to show us that we’re not alone. Check out their collections: Chord Box by Elizabeth Lindsey Rogers ‘07, Music for a Wedding by Lauren Clark ‘11, and Tremulous Hinge by Adam Gianelli ‘01, all of which can be found at Mindfair books.

Contact contributing writer Gayla Wolcott at gwolcott@oberlin.edu.