When I rushed from my 3-6 class in East Quad to the 6-8 poetry event in the Institute for Humanities, I was a little surprised to see so many people standing and sitting along the wall — all of the seats were taken. I hadn’t seen very much advertising for the event (and honestly didn’t know if the poetry community at UM stretched to this size). I sat alongside the wall with some professors and students, all of us celebrating the start of National Poetry Month together.
Laura Kasischke, a writer and professor of poetry in the Residential College, introduced the event with a Wyn Cooper poem, “Fun,” the foundation of which Sheryl Crow used for one of her popular songs. With that tidbit, Kasischke described Cooper as the richest poet without many people even knowing. Her opening was (from my memory) the only interpretive reading — the rest of the evening was all originals.
For the next hour and a half, several UM students read their own work. It was admirable to see that they came from such a range: while several were there for an RC poetry class and/or studying creative writing, some were on their way home from the School of Information or business students working on a project with poetry relating to anorexia. One of the last student readers even read from a published book of their own poetry. Regardless of student background, there was no poem by which I wasn’t impressed.
In fact…I was so enthralled in the poetry that I don’t remember many names or titles. Oops.
The first student read an ode that came from a poetry class assignment, followed by a few more students reading from the same course. I enjoyed this for the chance to see the hybridity of different poems coming from the same teaching and prompts. While this wasn’t necessarily required, most if not all readers prefaced their work with a little information about where and why they wrote it. Sometimes I’m more interested in the work standalone, but perhaps this gives another crucial layer to understanding the work, thus changing that opinion of mine.
I especially loved that most of the students read multiple poems — several read 2-3 pieces, though one student in particular read what seemed like 10. This was great as a chance to really get to know their style. I also participated, reading 3 pieces (one of which I hadn’t yet shared with the world beyond my own poetry professor).
The UM poetry community seems more niche and separate than it really is. When all of the students exhausted the pages they brought along, the event turned into a chance to chat among each other. I loved this unexpected element and upkeep in energy. For most of the poetry events I’ve attended and/or participated in, the poetry took up the entire time without very much time to debrief or get to know the other attendees/readers. This was where I realized that I had attended previous readings with these same incredible, young poets — further highlighting that community aspect.
It was a supportive space from start to finish, with applause turning into personalized encounters along the lines of “I really loved your poem about ____” shared among strangers. Poetry brought us all together that windy Wednesday evening and I hope to meet them again.
All of this is to say, there’s always room for more poets everywhere! I hope y’all visit some other poetry events. Even better, maybe try your hand at writing and/or sharing your poetry this month. I’d love to read and celebrate it.