REVIEW: Gala Mukomolova Poetry Reading and Book Signing

In the first reading of the Helen Zell Visiting Writers series, I sat excited and enthralled to witness the arrival of poet Gala Mukomolova. It was lovely being back in the UMMA Auditorium for the 2019 inception of the series, with the warm light suspended by translucent threads, giving it the quality of floating Hogwarts candles; the dimness of the room lulling me into a kind of aesthetic trance; poetry washing onto the shores of my mind. And so entered Mukomolova’s work into one of my beloved programs at Michigan. 

In her reading, Mukomalova read from her debut poetry collection Without Protection. Mukomolova has many identities she explores in her work. She is Russian, Jewish, refugee, New Yorker, lesbian. These intersecting identities ground her work into her own universe, and she enters this space she has invented with the agency, authority, and recognition of her own power. I am currently unraveling what it means to write about your identity in your work– how much of it seems like “material” you’re performing, and how much is actually authentic. I haven’t read Mukomolova’s work in full and am only acquainted with the work she read to us, but it seems to me that she enters her poetry as her own creation. When she writes in Russian, or explains deeply personal situations, she seems to explain the narrative not for us, but for herself; the work, in some ways, seems to be the many aspects of her identity in conversation with the other parts in one place. To me, this seems wildly liberating, not the puppeteeting that might structure other inauthentic works. 

Mukomalova’s poetry collection explores the story of the old Russian fable about the young girl named Vasilyssa trying to escape from the witch Baba Yaga. Her power, bravery, and divine feminine energy guide her to enter Baba Yaga’s home Without Protection. The collection includes a multiplicity of narratives colasing into one, delicately woven together, the old and new and personal and universal all in conversation. One sentence will be about the story of Baba Yaga, the next an anecdote from Mukomalova’s life, another an advertisement on Craigslist. It’s a brilliant tapestry of multiplicity and power that Mukomolova crafts in her poetry. 

There is, moreover, a definite belief in the power of women, and more specifically, in the sexuality of women. Mukomalova writes:


I want everything. I want to be fucked like the wife who waited

for her soldier’s return, fucked: the island, the sand, the nymph, 

the lust that strands him. Fucked: the witch’s sword against his dick before she 

opens. Ill deep throat, I’m sayin’

it’s April, 72 degrees, I’m in love and wearing platforms. This song is just like 

my first years in America, the jump off. What I mean is reckless, performing 

a kind of hope.


Mukomalova’s poetry is unabashed about desire, about the complex highs and lows of wanting and not having, or wanting and having and being a woman. There is an erotic energy weaved into her poetry that gives it power and shamelessness, an unapologetic ode to her womanhood and sexuality. 

Overall, I enjoyed the reading very much. Rereading some of her poetry here to write this blogpost reminded me how thrilling it is to read it, and I have to admit that I enjoyed reading it more than I did hearing it. In any case, I think this makes it easier for you, dear reader of this blog post, to go out and read Gala Mukomalova’s stunning and multi-layered debut poetry collection Without Protection

Sources:, poetry except from

PREVIEW: Zell Visiting Writers Series: Sigrid Nunez & Aracelis Girmay

For the second installment of the Helen Zell Visiting Writers Series, we will be joined by Sigrid Nunez and Aracelis Girmay. Nunez is a novelist who has published seven books, the most recent of which is The Friend. She is interested in writing about language, memory, and writing itself in her work. Girmay is a poet whose work, according to the Poetry Foundation, “trace[s] the connections of transformation and loss across cities and bodies.” These poets have powerful messages about the subtleties of human nature. Join Michigan’s literary scene on Thursday, September 27 5:30-6:30 p.m at the UMMA’s Helmut Stern Auditorium.

PREVIEW: Zell Visiting Writers Series: Esmé Wang & Danielle Lazarin

Esme Wang and Danielle Lazarin

Kicking off the first installment of the Zell Visiting Writer’s Series for fall 2018 is  novelist and essayist Esme Wang and short-story writer Danielle Lazarin. The Zell Visiting Writers Series invites one or two distinguished writers for a reading of their literary work. These authors have critically acclaimed reception for their fiction, and engaging in their work and this event is a great way to be involved in the literary scene on campus and beyond.

Born in the Midwest to Taiwanese parents, Esme Wang is the author of the Border of Paradise, which is her debut novel. It is set in a post-war America and centers around the secrets and the haunting mental illness of family members affecting generations to come. A graduate of the University of Michigan’s MFA program, Danielle Lazarin has recently published her debut collection of short stories which has been called a brilliant look into the inner lives of middle-class women. Both these writers have much to say about womanhood, complex mental lives, and the truth of being human. Attend the reading Thursday September 20th, 2018 from 5:30-6:30 at UMMA’s Helmut Stern auditorium.

PREVIEW: Nell David & Franny Choi

As part of the Mark Webster Reading Series (affiliated with the Helen Zell MFA Writing program of UM and its second-year students), fiction writer Nell David and poet Franny Choi will be sharing a stage and reading their own selected works. David is a writer from Washington, DC. Choi is a published poet and editor of Hyphen, a literary magazine. This event is free and open to the public.

The series is praised for being a warm and relaxed setting full of literary energy. As a creative writing student and poet myself, I’m really excited to attend!

Date: March 16th, 2018
Time: 7-8pm
Location: UMMA Helmut Stern Auditorium

REVIEW: C. Dale Young Reading & Booksigning

I readily admit that I tend to avoid both poets and poetry. Whether it’s the dense arrangement of words or the way I stereotype poets as aloof and didactic, I don’t give them as much thought.

C. Dale Young, MD, MFA, proves why I’m wrong. I was drawn immediately to him because he has an MFA, but he also went on to medical school, and is now a practicing physician in Redwood, California. So while he was certainly poetic, he was also warm, polite and engaging.

Dr. Young’s poetry is a blend of soul and landscape, in addition to the body. His poems wove through the fabric of his life, mixing in a bit of science here, a dash of hapless romance there, and a zesty topping of fantasy.

As most poets do, Dr. Young’s poetry contains gems such as:

“Things always beg for significance, would that we had time to come back to them”


“No one talks about joy anymore; it is more taboo than love”

He saved the two best ones, however, for the very end. “The Bridge” is available online, and is a whimsical piece about love. On the exact other end of the spectrum was “Torn,” a moving piece about him suturing a victim of homophobic assault and his fear of suffering the same fate.

There is also a recording of “One More Thing” here.

For the audience’s sake, Dr. Young kept his poems short, and his commentary in between readings was also curt, but often humorous. This is a poet to explore, if you ever have the chance.




PREVIEW: C. Dale Young Reading & Booksigning

This week’s guest of the Zell Visiting Writers Series is C. Dale Young. Mr. Young is not only the author of numerous books and the recipient of numerous literary prizes and fellowships, but also a fully licensed physician.

I invite you to his web site to view a sample of his poetry, or here to read a sample of his prose.

Much of his work revolves around love and nature, and each poem of his that I have read is simple, yet pleasant and enriching.

Thursday, October 13th

5:30 PM in Helmut Stern Auditorium (basement of UMMA)