English Department Hosts Readings
By Julia Gavin
The new “Writers on Campus” series will take poetry off the page and into students’ lives as it brings working writers to UMass Lowell for public readings and master classes. The program, sponsored by the English Department and organized by professors Maggie Dietz and Sandra Lim, was developed following the success of several poetry readings in the spring. It also complements the recent launch of a creative writing concentration within the English major.
“The UMass Lowell community, students especially, seem energized by the opportunity to interact with working writers,” says Dietz of the readings. “In addition to the public reading, we ask the writers to visit a class or offer an informal Q&A session that offers students a look at the life of a professional writer.”
The series will expose students to new work and encourage the community to reframe their thoughts on poetry. Lim says that many students in the audience last semester had never been to a poetry reading but are now hooked. She hopes “it will inspire students and help reinvigorate the literary culture, the sense of a community of writers, on campus.”
The first writer, Tyehimba Jess, will visit the University on Sept. 29 and read in O’Leary 222 at 3:30 p.m. after meeting with poetry students to discuss their work. Jess, a professor of creative writing and poetry at the College of Staten Island, is known for his engaging readings and will give students a new approach to poetry and performance. His reading will offer a multimedia component as well.
Lisa Fishman, a poetry professor from Columbia College, will take her turn at the mic on Nov. 10 and is eager to read for poets and students new to the genre alike. Her work is often referred to as “experimental” and may offer new horizons for some students.
“This is work that asks a bit more from the reader… it allows the reader to help make the meaning with the text, rather than to passively receive a text that may yield more ‘instant gratification,’” says Fishman of her poetry. “With poetry that may be considered ‘difficult,’ people tend to appreciate hearing it read by the poet; it can suddenly seem less difficult than on the page. The logic of the music can come through for people whose ears aren't used to it, and people respond well to the human-ness of the poet and the material. “
Hearing poetry read live and being taken seriously as a poet or prose writer by professional writers can be transformative experiences for students, according to the organizers. Lim’s experience at a poetry reading by Heather McHugh was a significant moment in her graduate studies that she remembers fondly. A reading by poet Robert Pinsky that Dietz attended during her undergraduate years led not only to a stronger love of poetry, but also academic connections she never expected.
“All poetry is just someone talking to someone,” says Fishman, “and giving readings helps to remind people of that, in ways they can hear.”