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Noah Davis wins the 2019 (Emerging) Wheelbarrow Books Poetry Prize

noah-davis

Noah Davis, an MFA candidate in poetry at Indiana University, has been selected by George Ella Lyon as the winner of the 2019 (Emerging) Wheelbarrow Books Poetry Prize for his collection Of This River.

About Of This River, Lyon said, “Both mythic and rooted, the poems in Of This River  arrive full of bear and deer, blood and muck. Their beauty is taut, tough, unsparing, like the lives of the people who inhabit this Pennsylvania land. Short-Haired Girl dives, hits her head on a rock, drowns. Lovers are sliced by a train. Meanwhile, life goes relentlessly on: coyote speaks about love for his brother, snapping turtle tells of his loneliness, grandma fries up snapping turtle meat for her grandkids standing by the stove. Of This River testifies to the way all life, for good or ill, is interwoven. We need this visionary voice.”

Davis has won a Katharine Bakeless Nason Fellowship from the Bread Loaf Environmental Writers’ Conference, as well as the Jean Ritchie Appalachian Literature Fellowship from Lincoln Memorial University. His poetry has been published in Orion, North American Review, The Hollins Critic, Atlanta Review, Water~Stone Review, and Chautauqua among others. Davis has received Pushcart Prize nominations for poetry from both Poet Lore and Natural Bridge. His prose has been published in Sou’wester, Kestrel, Chariton Review, The Fly Fish Journal, Anglers Journal, The Drake, Fly Fishing & Tying Journal, and American Angler.

Davis will receive a $1,000 prize, and publication in 2020.

Finalists for this sixth round are 89% by Sarah Cooper, The Pirate Anne Bonny Consults the GPS by Dorsey Craft, Nothing is Always Moving by Nicole Robinson, and What You Call Falling by Yeskah Rosenfeld.

Established in 2016, Wheelbarrow Books is an imprint of the RCAH Center for Poetry at MSU, with publication and distribution by the MSU Press. The Wheelbarrow Books Poetry Prize is awarded to one emerging and one established poet annually.

 

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MSU Professor Laura Apol named Lansing Poet Laureate

“Passing of the Laurels” celebration set for Friday, May 3, at 5 p.m. in Lansing’s Old Town

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Professor Laura Apol (courtesy photo)

Source: LEAP

LANSING, Mich. – The Lansing Economic Area Partnership (LEAP), the RCAH Center for Poetry at Michigan State University and the Lansing Poetry Club, are proud to announce the appointment of Laura Apol as the second regional Lansing Poet Laureate. As Poet Laureate, Laura will engage the tri-county region in the literary arts to promote poetry as an art form, expand access to the literary arts, connect the community to poetry and showcase poetry as a literary voice that contributes to a greater sense of place, which supports the attraction of global talent and business.

“The appointment of a poet laureate is both symbolic and tangible—an element that speaks to the value of this region’s place; connecting arts and cultural experiences into daily life—most certainly an amenity that draws and keeps talent in the region,” said Bob Trezise, President and CEO of LEAP. “The past two years with the inaugural Lansing Poet Laureate were wildly successful, and we are eager to see how Laura uses her expertise to connect our region to the world through poetry.”

This new appointment of the Lansing Poet Laureate will continue to stimulate the transformative impact of poetry, creating excitement about the written and spoken word. The Lansing Poet Laureate will serve as an ambassador for poetry within the region for a 2-year appointment and will receive a $2,000 per year stipend from LEAP.

Laura is a longtime Lansing resident and associate professor of literacy and curriculum at Michigan State University’s College of Education. “It’s an honor to be selected as the incoming poet laureate, and I’m looking forward to working with area poets to bring poetry into areas where perhaps it’s something new,” she said. “Poems are about community—they connect us to one another. So much of a place, and people in a place, can be expressed and understood through poetry. I’d love for poetry to be part of the everyday life of the community, so that poems are encountered in unexpected places, and so people who don’t consider themselves to be poets find themselves enjoying poems and perhaps even writing some lines.”

With this appointment, the Lansing Poet Laureate will offer instructional workshops and readings with the public, working to engage all 3 counties within greater Lansing.

“I’m delighted that Laura will be our new Poet Laureate and will work within our communities to help us create poetry that explores the fabric of our lives and our deep connection to this region,” said Ruelaine Stokes, president of the Lansing Poetry Club.

“Here at the RCAH Center for Poetry, we’re thrilled to see Laura as Lansing Poet Laureate. The selection process was robust, with many excellent choices,” said Laurie Hollinger, assistant director for the RCAH Center for Poetry at MSU. “In the end, Laura’s stature as both a nationally renowned poet and her passion for poetry made her the best fit for this role. She will inspire future poets laureate, and I’m excited for our region to have such a gift.”

The community is invited to a celebration of the “Passing of the Laurel” from inaugural Lansing Poet Laureate Dennis Hinrichsen to Laura Apol, who will now follow in his footsteps. The event, which will include a reading by both poets, will take place Friday, May 3, 2019, from 5 to 6:30 p.m. during Arts Night Out in Old Town. This welcoming event will take place at Urban Beat, 1213 Turner Street in Old Town Lansing and will feature a meet and greet with the poet laureates and the project partners.

 

Nothing Begins with Us

By Laura Apol
—not this story or any other.

Andromeda
does not slow her dizzying spin

nor does a field of wheat wait. We catch our plane

in flight; below us, time
fades like a prim border of pines while the sky opens wide as god’s blue eye.

We have far to go, navigating between stars that appear only after dark. The secret names

we were given at birth are cradled in our curved hands.

It is a magic

world now, and we are at
the center, our own lives the map,

our words the edge of a knife we are just beginning to hone.

 

 

 

About LEAP

 

The Lansing Economic Area Partnership (LEAP) is a coalition of area leaders partnering to build a stronger community for all–working every day to grow, retain and attract business. Learn more about LEAP at www.purelansing.com

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First Book Spine Poetry Contest a Success

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“The Boat of Quiet Hours,” built by Cindy Hunter Morgan as inspiration for our first Book Spine Poetry Contest.

 

While you might not be able to judge a book by its cover, it turns out that you can craft poetry with several covers. That’s what friends and followers of the RCAH Center for Poetry learned when they entered our first ever Book Spine Poetry Contest.

The contest, initiated by interim director Cindy Hunter Morgan, challenges readers to build a poem using lines consisting of book titles. Contestants were tasked with choosing 3-7 books, arranging them in such a way as to display the titles to be read as lines of poetry, and submitting a photo of the constructed poem for consideration.

With 46 entries submitted by 26 people from around the U.S., it was difficult choosing only one winner. Cindy suggested narrowing the widely varied and highly eclectic field down to ten finalists.

In the end, Stephen Rachman, a professor in the MSU Department of English, won with his entry, “Underworld.”

IMG_4034“Underworld,” winner of the Book Spine Poetry Contest, built by Stephen Rachman.

About the winning entry, Cindy shared these comments:

“Underworld,” built by Steve Rachman, is the only entry that uses one book (Underworld) to function visually and formally as a title for the poem that follows, and “Underworld,” as that title, serves as an effective set up for the poem. We love the multiple, simultaneous possibilities of meaning in this poem, and we’re all a little worried about this woman. We wish her well on her journey, and we send congratulations to Steve, who constructed something haunting and evocative with this stack of books.

Cindy had this to say about our finalists:

The nine other entries we’ve listed as finalists are not listed in any particular order. We love these poems for various reasons: vivid imagery, wild juxtaposition, a sense of surprise, use of metaphor, or a kind of philosophical statement the “builder” is able to make with very few moves. We’ve also listed one “Special Mention” poem, which did not meet the requirements of the contest (a minimum of three titles) but feels important and significant because of its message. This “Special Mention” poem was submitted by RCAH Director of Communications Morris Arvoy. Thank you for this poem, Moe.

 

To view all 46 entries, visit our Flickr Page.

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Founder Anita Skeen featured in MSU Today

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Anita Skeen, founder of the RCAH Center for Poetry, in full Ravenclaw regalia.

We were thrilled to find this February 11 story in MSU Today about our beloved founder, Anita Skeen.

Click this link to read more about Anita’s fascinating journey from Appalachia to East Lansing, and her campaign to start our Center for Poetry.

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“Fall”ing in love with poetry

“Life starts all over again when it gets crisp in the fall.”

– F. Scott Fitzgerald

Welcome back readers, writers, lovers of poetry and all those in between. The Center for Poetry is back with a fully loaded calendar this fall semester. Check out our “Calendar of Events” page for more information on dates, places and times.

Our Fall Writing Series of visiting writers kicks off Wednesday, October 24 with Russell Brakefield. He will be giving an afternoon talk in the LookOut! Gallery in Snyder Hall at 3 p.m., entitled “Poetry from the Archives,” and a reading in the RCAH Theater at 7 p.m.

Our Annual Used Book Sale will be held on campus at the corner of Farm Lane and North Shaw on Thursday, September 27. We will be open from 9 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. and encourage all to stop by and browse our extensive selection of books.

Through the end of this week, we will be accepting donations of books for the sale. Email cpoetry@msu.edu to arrange for drop off.

 

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2018 Wheelbarrow Books Poetry Prize (Emerging) Winner Selected

KBrace2Kristin Brace, winner of the 2018 Wheelbarrow Books Poetry Prize (Emerging).

Congratulations are in order for Kristin Brace, the latest winner of the Wheelbarrow Books Poetry Prize.

Brace’s collection, Toward the Wild Abundance, was selected by judge Sarah Bagby. “Toward the Wild Abundance conjures emotions initiated by the frailty and wonder of our lives,” Bagby writes. “The multifaceted nature of this work demands that it be read for voice and validation.  A second reading reveals a deeper commentary on the nature and value of art and the artist. These kaleidoscopic poems also shine brilliance on themes of memory and the passage of time.  They fluidly transport us from past to present and into the imagination to pose questions about how our experiences inform identity and meaning.”

Kristin Brace writes poetry, fiction, and children’s literature. She is the author of the poetry chapbooks Fence, Patio, Blessed Virgin and Each Darkness Inside (Finishing Line Press, 2018). Brace earned an MFA in Writing from Spalding University and her work has appeared in journals such as Fiction Southeast, The Louisville Review, Water~Stone, The Chariton Review, and The Other Journal. She serves as executive director of the Grand Rapids Creative Youth Center, where kids become published authors. Brace plays the accordion, studies Italian, and loves Lake Michigan in every season. She makes her home in West Michigan with her husband, the entrepreneur and inventor Neal Brace. She can be found online at www.kristinbrace.com.

Finalists for this round are Emily Calhoun for Under Long Rains, Ann Miller for The Direction of Flight, Jacob Oet for Inside Ball Lightning, and Heidi Seaborn for Cleave.

In addition to publication in late 2019 by the MSU Press, Brace has been awarded a prize for $1,000. She joins previous winners Cortney Davis (2016), William Orem (2017), and Gary Fincke (2017).

Wheelbarrow Books is an imprint of the RCAH Center for Poetry at Michigan State University, with distribution by MSU Press. It awards two prizes annually, each to an established and an emerging poet. For more information, guidelines, and to learn more about previous selections, visit http://poetry.rcah.msu.edu/wheelbarrow-books-poetry-prize.html

 

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Adventures in Linocut Printing

 

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By: Alexis Stark

The Center for Poetry interns celebrated the end of 2017 learning a new form of art: linocuts! 

Thanks to the Residential College in the Arts and Humanities (RCAH), the Center staff had the opportunity to expand their skills and knowledge of different art forms through the teachings of retired MSU professor and linocut print artist, Laura DeLind.

Over the course of three workshop sessions, they learned the materials, carving, concepts of positive and negative space and how to make ideas come to life. Designs ranged from pictures of pets and family memories to ideas born of pure imagination. 

Director Anita Skeen and Assistant Director Laurie Hollinger also took park in the fun.  
This activity served as a great bonding and learning experience for the whole Poetry Center Staff, and also offered the interns a way to contribute to the design and production of the letterpress broadsides created for the Spring Poetry Festival.

To see more of our art adventures, check out this video, put together by intern S.F. McGlone, who researched the history of linocut printing and documented the process.

 

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New Year, New Events!

If you’re searching for warmth and comfort during these cold winter months, seek shelter at one of The Center for Poetry’s many 2018 Spring events.

Our monthly Haiku Study Group begins Saturday, January 20th and the annual Festival of Listening is on Thursday, February 22nd.

The Spring Poetry Festival kicks off with Cheryl Clarke on Wednesday, March 28th, with an afternoon conversation and evening performance.

To find out more about events, locations and times, check out our calendar of events.

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Center For Poetry Brings Color to Campus

By: Alexis Stark

“When your world moves too fast
and you lose yourself in the chaos,
introduce yourself
to each color of the sunset.”

—Christy Ann Martine

This past week, the Center for Poetry took its love for the written and rhythmic word to the sidewalks of MSU’s campus for Walk, Chalk, Poetry.

Since the fall of 2007, the RCAH Center for Poetry has hosted this event for people to enjoy the beauty of campus while establishing a presence and inspiring a love for poetry. By mid-day Wednesday, MSU’s River Trail was covered in pastel colored poems by Rita Dove, William Carlos Williams, Amy Lowell and Gwendolyn Brooks.

Director Anita Skeen and assistant director Laurie Hollinger spent the morning handing out sticks of chalk wrapped in a wide variety of poems for people to write on the sidewalk.

“I don’t know how many people actually stop and read the poems, still, it lets people know poetry is alive and well. ‘Autumn Leaves’ are autumn leaves, whether today or 100 years ago. They still carry the same message of mutability, of time passing and days shortening as we move into the bare months of winter.”

Skeen’s chalking of “Autumn Leaves” in pale yellow mirrored the slowly changing leaves on the trees above, hanging on, letting go and decorating the ground.

Part of the beauty of the event is watching the sidewalk slowly fill with poems of all colors and adding to the natural beauty of the Red Cedar River, the surrounding trees and the students passing all day long.

“Painting is poetry that is seen rather than felt, and poetry is painting that is felt rather than seen.”  

—Leonardo da Vinci

Returning interns Arzelia Williams, Grace Carras and Alexis Stark enjoyed the sunshine and making their mark on campus, celebrating their love for poetry.

This chalking was the first event of the semester for new interns Allison Costello and Shannon McGlone.

“My favorite part was watching students and dressed-up professionals stop to read the vibrant scrawling on the sidewalks, even if they didn’t participate in any chalking themselves.”

In previous years, the Center for Poetry partnered with the MSU Sexual Assault Program to bring awareness to experiences of violence and sexual assault. Survivors and supporters could bring their stories to life through the use of chalk, color and conversation.

College is stressful and fast paced. It’s a nice change in routine to take a break from the surrounding chaos and add some more color to the world.

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AWP 2017: It Takes a Village

In February 2017, the RCAH Center for Poetry staff made the trek to Washington, D.C. for AWP. We thought the trip was worthy of some reflection. Edited 5/8/17 to include additional reflections.

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Day one: Director Anita Skeen leads the way into the vastness that is the AWP Bookfair. See more snapshots of the adventure on Instagram.

 

Anita Skeen, Director, RCAH Center for Poetry at MSU

This February was the RCAH Center for Poetry at MSU’s first excursion to the Associated Writing Programs Conference (AWP) in Washington, D.C. I have gone many, many times in all my years of teaching but this was the first time I went with five of the six interns from the Poetry Center: Grace Carras, Erin Lammers, Sydney Meadowcroft, Sarah Teppen, and Arzelia Williams. The original plan was for all 8 of us to go, but Laurie Hollinger, the assistant director, was laid low by the flu a few days before we were to leave and Alexis Stark had a commitment with her honor fraternity the weekend of the conference. But they were with us in spirit. Without all the logistical arrangements Laurie had made for us—hotel rooms, registration, rental car, etc.—and Alexis’ box of goodies she packed for us on the trip—fruit snacks, applesauce, cereal, granola bars—things wouldn’t have been nearly as much fun. We had financial help for the interns from Lizzy King, the assistant director in the Office of Undergraduate Research, and Dean Steve Esquith who paid our transportation costs. Lori Lancour in the RCAH office was wonderful in suggesting avenues for additional funding and when February 8, 2017 rolled around, we had everything we needed to set out on our 10-hour drive to the nation’s capitol. Spirits were high as we sang and ate our way through four states. I was a little worried about driving into D.C. at rush hour and not knowing exactly where our hotel was, but then I realized I had five people in the car under the age of 22 all of whom had navigational devices in their pockets. We would be just fine.

It’s hard to explain to someone who has never attended AWP what it’s like for three days. With 30-35 sessions in every time slot beginning at 9:00 in the morning and ending at 6:00 at night (and then there are the evening events which run from 8:30 until midnight), there’s a real danger for intellectual, emotional, and physical overload. Several weeks before AWP, individuals who have attended the conference before post on their blogs and websites “How to do AWP.” The advice includes everything from “DO NOT try to do everything,” to where the nearby Starbucks are, from what tables at the Bookfair are “musts” to stop at, to what restaurants are where and, this year, where and when the protests would be held. I’ve been attending AWP since 1974 when, I believe, the conference was held in Kansas City and had 300 people in attendance and I still have never learned how not to be overwhelmed. Sessions I attended this year that were particularly meaningful were ones that focused on social justice and activism in the literary community; writing about place; recovering neglected poets; the poem as invocation, the poem as persona; crafting the feminist historical lyric; rural America in contemporary literature; and the importance and power of the work of Adrienne Rich. That last one left me in tears. The keynote address on Thursday night by Azar Nafisi, author of Reading Lolita in Teheran, was powerful, political and personal in extraordinary ways. Readings by Sonia Sanchez, Ocean Vuong, Terrence Hayes, Rita Dove, and Eileen Myles reminded me why I do what I do, why I write what I write, why we need so many writers to remind us, in the words of Audre Lorde, that poetry is not a luxury, it is a necessity.

Finally, I have to reflect on what it was like to be with these five young, bright, energetic, funny, highly-motivated women who were wide-eyed and breathless about what they were experiencing. They attended such a cross-section of sessions from those focusing on social justice and activism, translation, minority writers, publishing, community engagement, literary history, spoken word art and just about every other content area offered. They wandered the Bookfair finding treasures (let me say there were over 900 tables at the Bookfair), getting writers to sign books they had purchased, and spreading the word about the RCAH Center for Poetry at MSU and our new Wheelbarrow Books Poetry Series. I asked them to compile a list of writers whom they heard or met that they thought might be possibilities for visiting writers to the Poetry Center or for Wednesday Night Live. Their lists were epic, and I am sure will result in having some writers come to the Poetry Center whom we might not have known about had the interns not attended the conference. Above all, I watched their excitement about literature and its power, about ways of taking poetry out of the academy and into the community, about what it was like to be in the middle of 12,000 people all of whom cared about language, about diversity, about the necessity for free speech and for everyone’s voice to be heard and valued.

It took the work of a village to get us to AWP. We saw the critical and necessary work of a village as we participated in AWP. Now it is our job to help our village grow and thrive.

 

 

AWP 2017: A New Love for Literature

Arzelia Williams, Intern: MSU Arts & Humanities/Social Relations & Policy Sophomore

Everyone told me as a first time attendee to AWP, it is not wise to try to do everything in three days. When I walked into the Convention Center and saw giant signs with a directory listing of panels before making my way to the escalator leading me to the largest collection of books I have even seen outside of a library, I knew I would try to do everything anyway.

I wondered how many times on Thursday morning after my first panel whether or not my responsibility was to be an activist first and an artist second or reverse order. It was Eleanor Wilner during the panel that said “my mind is a dog without a master.” This reminded me that my art is freeing and speaks of truth. Even if that truth disrupts another fantasy. She reminded everyone of how Robert Hayden refused to call himself a black poet even if his poems were soaked in the meaning of being black. This encouraged me to question the meaning of blackness within my own art. Her words resonated with me. “The proof is always in the poem. It is then the poem may serve without being service literature.”

My favorite panel that I accidentally stumbled upon was “When a Poet and a Cartoonist Walk into a Bar: Collaborating Across Genres.” When reading it in the program book and looking at the title, I made the assumption that the panel would be focused primarily on animation. I was surely wrong. A poet and artist by the name of Jonah Mixon-Webster created a soundtrack of black laughter. He summarizes the project with “the sound of black joy is a pollutant to those who historically hate it.” This audio track was influenced by a 2015 incident on the Napa Valley Wine Train in which a black women’s book club was booted from the train after being accused of laughing too loudly. The ways in which we intersect poetry with other art forms to create a finished piece or collection is fascinating. He mentioned the process to create the project involved approximately 32 hours of audio recording to create a ten-minute clip. The way in which we are influenced by the things we hear and see transforms poetry into non-traditional works of art.

Overall, the most distinct part of AWP I remember most was the people I went with. Too often we see each other in the Poetry Center, at events, or passing by in the hallway but we rarely get to sit down and share stories with each other. All of us attended different panels that matched our own interests and we would share the best part of our day over dinner during our time at AWP. It provided an opportunity for me to get to know the other interns better, resulting in us becoming closer.

 

Community, Activism, and Empowerment: AWP 2017

Sydney Meadowcroft, Intern: MSU Arts & Humanites (m. Sociology) Senior

Community and activism were everywhere you looked at this year’s AWP conference. Although this was my first time attending the conference, and I had no frame of reference for the atmosphere of previous events, it was clear there was something in the air this year. Just blocks from the White House and Capitol Hill, the Walter E. Washington Convention Center was abuzz with writers and readers eager to discuss how their craft can fit into and affect the contentious political and cultural atmosphere. The sessions were proposed and planned almost a year ago, but each I attended seemed to have taken on a new life, fueled by passion to stand up for human rights, equality, inclusion, and the arts.

For my fellow interns and me, AWP was an important form of self-directed and self-motivated education. Once we set foot into the convention center, we were set loose to explore, choose sessions to attend, wander the book fair, and essentially do as we pleased from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. Nothing but our commitment to the Center for Poetry and our paid registration fee really held us to absorbing all the knowledge we did. But all of us dove in head first to sessions close to the length of a typical college class, but that felt like a distinguished privilege to witness. Although some of us were a bit too eager and drained our mental and physical energy during the first day, we took advantage of all the knowledge and passion the presenters were pouring out across the vast convention center.

As a white, straight, cisgender female, I felt a pull to attend sessions outside of my own (largely privileged) identities, and learn from people working to make their voices heard and make room for others to do the same. I attended a panel discussion on how to write with or against your identity and how activism should play into your art. I listened as trans and gender non-conforming writers read their writing and expressed their experiences. However, I also let myself be drawn to events that spoke to my identities and interests, listening to messages of female empowerment, discussions of environmentalism in writing, and even analysis of “Hamilton: An American Musical” and its dealings with race, history, and the relationship between poetry and hip hop. Finding the balance of pursuing my own passions and learning about those of others was important to me in having an educational and successful AWP. As I listened to the wonderful experiences of my fellow interns as we shared highlights at dinner each night, I found myself wishing I had Hermione Granger’s time turner, or some kind of ability to spread myself at multiple events at once. There was so much to absorb and learn on such a variety of topics.

This atmosphere of many creative people coming together under a love of writing and reading, yet discussing so many different topics, reminded me a lot of the community in the RCAH. Although we study in and are passionate about so many different fields, we come together over a curiosity about the world and everything it has to offer. You will scarcely find an RCAH community member who isn’t interested in what you’re passionate about, even if their passions differ widely from yours. The same was true for AWP. Everyone was there to learn and share, to expand their knowledge and to come together to defend their right to speak out for their passions and values.

Our AWP experience (besides the night’s dance party and the 10 hour drive home) concluded in Lafayette Square across from the White House on Saturday night. Hundreds of AWP attendees gathered there for a candlelight vigil in support of free speech. Although it was difficult to hear the speakers on the makeshift sound system, just being there in solidarity was powerful enough for me. I enjoyed simply staring at the flickering of my candle, watching the strange and beautiful shapes the wax made as it melted and tumbled on top of itself. As I stared I tried to come up with a metaphor for the wax, but nothing came to me. But that was okay; I realized I needed that moment to just enjoy the beauty of the phenomena, along with the beauty of so many people coming together to defend their rights and what they’re passionate about.

There are countless beautiful moments I wish I had time and space to write about, from jokes and deep political discussions with my fellow interns, to witnessing two attendees who had just met shower each other with compliments and empowerment, to seeing Sarah Kay read again after discovering her at Wednesday Night Live as an RCAH freshman. The experience of AWP was greater and more valuable than I can describe. It felt like the first push of a send off into that ever-closer looming “real world” I will step into come May, both exhilarating and terrifying. Weeks later, I’m still struggling with that candle metaphor, but AWP taught me that what’s important is that I’m still trying; still fighting to express myself and explore my passions.

 

Excitement + Exhilaration + Exhaustion = Excellent Experience

Erin Lammers, Intern; MSU Arts & Humanities/History senior

Though it’s been almost two months since we attended AWP in Washington, DC, I’m still struggling to put the experience into words and tangible moments.  One aspect of the trip overall that most of us agree on is that none of us were prepared for the wonderful monstrosity that is AWP.  We were excited to visit DC—the first time, for some of us—we were excited to get to know each other better, and we were excited to gain further insight into the intent and impact of poetry.  Little did I know how relevant every single instant would be to redefining and affirming my conceptions of writing, poetry, narrative building, and community engagement.

By simply browsing the panel options offered during each time slot throughout each of the three days, we inferred stark differences in academic and literary interest.  This disparity was a blessing in disguise, as it allowed us to attend as many diverse discussions as possible.  At the end of every day, we chatted over dinner about which sessions we attended, which speakers were worthwhile, and what we took away from some of the best panels.  The first day, I felt like my head might explode from the sheer weight of new ideas and ways of conceptualizing writing; I attended six and a half sessions, and I was exhausted.  I was exhilarated, but exhausted.  Most of the panels that I attended ran along a similar theme: community building, accessible material, and inclusive practices.  While the entire conference was not solely about poetry, almost half of the sessions that I went to addressed or incorporated poetry in some way, which surprised and impressed me.  These academic-influenced combinations of literary activism with the importance of poetry – especially spoken word – provided reassurance that the aspirations I have after college are indeed possible.  Furthermore, many of the collaborative and inclusive tools and suggestions shared also stimulated new ideas for community/outreach events and programs related to my work in museums, where public enrichment and engagement is vital.

Prior to arriving in DC, I had laid out extensive schedules for every day of the conference, but on the second and third days, I had spontaneously altered my day plan.  On the second day, I made the mistake (or happy accident, depending on how you look at it) of wandering into the book fair, which consisted of over 900 booths and tables.  I was both overwhelmed and enthralled, given that fabulous and intriguing books of poetry and fiction sprawled endlessly, along with just as many interesting people visiting and hosting the booths.  Overall, I would argue that most attendees of the conference—presenters, panelists, booth operators, and average visitors—were welcoming, positive, and engaging professionals willing to discuss important, complex topics raised throughout the conference.  What further surprised me was the range of professions and interests that people ascribed to, and how these differences provided a plethora of platforms for learning and knowledge exchange.  Being an undergraduate student, I found that every session I attended was not only accessible, but relevant to my work within and outside of the Center for Poetry.  The applicability of various ideologies and practices to the fields of history, museum work, and community-based non-profit organizations is just one among many immeasurable benefits of experiencing AWP.

I will count attending the AWP conference as a representative from the Center for Poetry, RCAH, and MSU as one of the high points in an already spectacularly fulfilling and opportunity-laden academic year.  Not only did conference staff, presenters, panelists, writers, and other attendees establish and reinforce RCAH principles of learning and engagement, but they were also welcoming and encouraging.  AWP strove to create an intellectually and compassionately uninhibited atmosphere to confront complex, systemic societal issues alongside contemporary concerns, and why and how they affect all of us.  More importantly, it is so imperative that these narratives are recognized and told, specifically from their own perspectives, and that writing – poetry especially – provides a sometimes painful, usually beautiful, and always necessary way to experience the world.