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: Hopwood Awards Ceremony with Natasha Tretheway

The esteemed poet Natasha Tretheway will be reading at the Hopwood Awards Ceremony tomorrow Jan 30 from 6-8:30 PM in the Rackham Auditorium. Her work has won many accolades from the Pulitzer Prize to longlistings for the National Book Award. Tretheway seamlessly merges traditional and non-conventional styles in her poetry and powerfully comments on history as a contemporary poet. The even will also announce and celebrate its student writers who won the 2019 Hopwood Awards. I look forward to a delightful evening of literature with the creative writing community on campus. This event is free.

REVIEW: Xylem’s Crazy Wisdom Open Mic

Poetry has never been something I can simply sit down and write. If ever I attempt to do this, I end up with an oversimplification of the same few themes (love, sadness, anger, death) every time. So, I’m forced to be the submissive partner in the relationship, listening to an idea whenever it decides to show up. In terms of neat scheduling, the pursuit of poem writing is majorly inconvenient.

But beyond my personal gripes lies a reluctant reverence for poets and their poems. There is difficulty in writing something in a tone from another dimension of being that also doesn’t make everyone in the world roll their eyes back into their heads.

In general, when people try to write a poem, they do not succeed. English teachers may yell at me for saying that it’s only possible to either succeed or fail at an art form, that that simple dichotomy could even exist. They may argue that instead of two boxes marked pass and fail there is a whole grey spectrum of middle ground. Personally, I would disagree; it is very clear to me when a poem is striking, while others are dull or trying too hard, or relying on overused subject matter.

At any open mic, there will be a real variety of performances. This is why I find these events so much more promising than a single artist presenting their work: no matter how many pieces there are that fall short, at least one will stick with you.

This is the thought I had when I walked into the cozy room in the second floor of Crazy Wisdom Bookstore and Tea Room. There were cookies and hand-clapper noisemakers (maybe snapping has gone out of style?), and the house was packed.

At least 15 or 20 people read or sang, coming from both comedic and tragic angles. Even I, possessed by something not of this world (probably), stood to read a poem I’d written for a class.

Most of the readings were good; in the writing world at least, most people who have confidence in their work have it for good reason. Of course, there are so many more good writers out there who lack confidence entirely. I’m certain that there were some of those talents among us who didn’t read.

My favorites from the evening are the ones I can remember now, a day later. One of the first was a poem about a serendipitous encounter with amazing lettuce at a Wendy’s, another a published piece by a reluctant reader, an extended metaphor of a jar of honey, a spot-on cover of “Oh Comely” by Neutral Milk Hotel. The audience was responsive, quick to laugh and clap when the writing called for it. A few of the writers came up twice, displaying the different facets of their writing styles. The room was warm with the glow of poetry and evidence that Crazy Wisdom pays their heat bill on time. In more ways than one, I felt the place a shelter from the cold.

Xylem Magazine hosts open mics often, as well as other events like writing workshops. Check out their website for more information!


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.