“It is possible to love the body/ that is not there. One must be/ across the shore, holding a gun,” Jordan Jacks ’09 recited.
Jacks was reading his poem “A Life of Privilege” to more than 50 students and guests who squeezed into interim Saybrook Master Edward Kamens’ living room. While the typical Master’s Tea features famous authors or politicians, the attendees came last Thursday evening to see college students — the five winners of the Connecticut Poetry Circuit, as well as three other Yale poets — recite their work.
The event began after Yale College Dean Mary Miller and Kamens struggled to jam yet another folding chair into their already packed living room. A music stand, acting as a makeshift podium for the evening, was set up at the front of the room. Next to the stand, atop a small end-table there were five glasses of water.
Jacks, Yale’s representative in the Circuit, introduced the evening. The Connecticut Poetry Circuit, he explained, is a competition in which each college or university in Connecticut selects a student poet. From the nominees, five students are selected to give readings at various Connecticut colleges and given a small stipend for each reading (“That’s just another plus,” he said.) Last Thursday was the Circuit’s stop at Yale.
The first reader was Matthew Gilbert, a senior at the University of Hartford. All long limbs, glasses and dimples, Gilbert appeared ill at ease in front of the audience until he began to read, his body relaxing with every line. His poems seemed to speak of relationships, but Gilbert explained that there is more to them than simply that.
“My poems are not about relationships but disconnects — between lovers or relatives or friends,” he said.
Sarah Nichols of Tunxis Community College followed. She described her writing style as “film criticism as poetry.” The first poem she read was a critique of the film “No Country for Old Men” entitled “He Should Have Left that Goddamn Money Alone.”
“When one of my friends read this poem, she said, ‘This isn’t really poetry,’ ” Nichols quipped.
Katherine Rowe, a winner who attends Albertus Magnus Collegeread after Nichols. Many of her poems were written about the death of her father, who was diagnosed with cancer about a year ago, she said. She read each piece in a lilting voice, the up-and-down intonation highlighting the repetition in her poems, such as “A Saturday Afternoon at the Yale Bowl,” which was written in the sestina form.
The fourth poet to read was Susanna Myrseth, a student at Wesleyan College and a beat poet who did not simply read her poems, but rather performed them. A double major in religion and English, Myrseth said she draws inspiration for her poems from her childhood in San Francisco and visits to Norway with her family each summer, along with literary and Biblical sources.
Finally Yale’s winner, Jacks, took the stage. Many members of the audience had clearly come to hear him read: A cheer erupted from the back row as he moved to the front of the room. He was very much a Yale man, donning a sweater, tie and button-down shirt. The first piece Jacks read, “A Life of Privilege,” was not the poem he submitted to the contest. He later confided that the readings have given him a forum for new pieces as well.
“We’re always writing new stuff,” Jacks said of the winners of the contest. “Some of us debuted poems tonight — even though we are supposed to read the poems that we were selected for,” he added, laughing.
In addition to the Circuit poets, Leslie Brisman, the Karl Young professor of English and Yale’s liaison to the organization, invited three other Yale poets to read at the event: Christine Kwon ’11, Rosanna Oh ’10 and Elisa Gonzalez ’11. Brisman explained that he, along with a selection committee and recommendations from Yale faculty, chose these three Yalies for their eloquent writing.
“One of the great pleasures of attending [Thursday] was hearing the Yale poets and seeing how great our people are,” Brisman said.
The circuit will be touring around Connecticut universities for the next month.