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By Annalynn Mueller, junior English Major
February 6, 2024
Taking a break from writing essays and academic papers and spending time writing creatively is a great way to avoid burnout and have fun. To help encourage this creativity, the English department at SOU organizes poetry contests for any students, faculty, and community members to enter.
English program student worker Molly McGinley is coordinating this year’s Valentine’s Day Poetry Contest. To enter, email Molly your Valentine’s Day themed poem, up to 25 words, no more to email@example.com by February 9th, 2024. Molly is also helping host an open house on Tuesday February 13th, 2024 from 12:30-1:20 where the poetry-contest winners will be announced and prizes will be awarded. Just like the contest, the open house is open to all. Head over to the top floor of Britt Hall on Tuesday, February 13 if you have questions about the English department, are looking to meet peers and professors, or just want to hear some lovely poems.
“It is important to us that we give students the chance to be creative, share their work, and have a little fun in the process.”
– Molly McGinley
Molly loves working for the English department as she is “afforded the privilege of working so closely with our brilliant professors” and gets to “help foster a sense of community across campus.” She thinks that the Valentine’s Day poetry contest is a great way to get students connected and excited about writing.
Pictured Above: Poetry Wall on the top floor of Britt Hall
If you are still interested in sharing and reading poems, but missed this contest, be sure to check out the poetry wall created by Dr. Alma Rosa Alvarez on the top floor of Britt Hall. The wall can always use more poems and students are encouraged to add to it at any point. Even though sharing written work can be intimidating, it is also an amazing gift and one of the things we love most in the English department. The poetry wall is a great way to share your work and get inspiration from peers.
Pictured Above: Ella Thatcher’s great grandmother
One of the poems featured on the poetry wall is titled “Maternal Lineage” by SOU student Ella Thatcher. Along with the other students in ENG 104, Ella wrote beautiful poetry that struck Dr. Alma Rosa Alvarez and reignited her appreciation for the art of poetry. Alma Rosa loves “that Ella uses cataloging to great effect” and “the way she constructs an image of her great grandmother through her great grandmother’s personal effects and the spaces she occupied.”
Oh, to know the way you looked!
Oak trees, pie tins, hardwood floors, flat land.
Squinting and blouses. Brooms and mascara.
I miss you, and I have never met you.
Upside-down cups, the dairy aisle, lipstick stains, and trousers.
A shimmer to the eye, wet leaves, varicose veins, and carrying something heavy.
Do you ever feel that way too?
Hair clips, pins, pens, and the creek down the way.
Cutting boards, windowsills, potted plants, and picture frames.
Oh, how lucky I am to have known the way you looked.
– Ella Thacher
In addition to writing poems in English classes, we also get to read and learn from them. One of the poems Dr. Diana Maltz loves to teach is titled “The Language Issue” which appears at the end of the essay “Why I Choose to Write in Irish, The Corpse That Sits Up and Talks Back” by Nuala ni Dhomhnaill. The author is “a poet who writes in Irish and collaborates with a translator, so that her poems are always published in two versions, Irish and English.”
The Language Issue
I place my hope on the water
in this little boat
of the language, the way a body might put
in a basket of intertwined
its underside proofed
with bitumen and pitch,
then set the whole thing down amidst
and bulrushes by the edge
of a river
only to have it borne hither and thither,
not knowing where it might end up;
in the lap, perhaps,
of some Pharaoh’s daughter.
– Nuala Ní Dhomhnaill, trans. Paul Muldoon
Reading Dhomhnaill’s poems in Irish is important and respectful (to listen click here). Diana loves the way that the speaker “imagines she is sending her Irish language out into the world like Moses in the bulrushes, and she hopes that someone will rescue and preserve it.” Here is the poem in Irish:
Ceist na Teangan
Cuirim mo dhóchas ar snámh
i mbáidín teangan
faoi mar a leagfá naíonán
a bheadh fite fuaite
de dhuilleoga feileastraim
is bitiúmin agus pic
bheith cuimilte lena thóin
ansan é a leagadh síos
i measc na ngiolcach
is coigeal na mban sí
le taobh na habhann,
cá dtabharfaidh an sruth é,
féachaint, dála Mhaoise,
an bhfóirfidh iníon Fharoinn?
– Nuala Ní Dhomhnaill
Similar to the way that Dhomhnaill’s poems enact change and fight for a cause, many of William Stafford’s poems create “love-and-activism-in-words.” William Stafford was the US Poet Laureate before that was even the official title: he was a “consultant of poetry” at the Library of Congress who then became Oregon’s Poet Laureate. English program chair, Dr. Margaret Perrow, loves his poem “Yes” as it “make[s] you see, do, [and] think differently.” Dr. Perrow also loves the way that this poem is “concise and conversational, timely and timeless.”
It could happen any time, tornado,
earthquake, Armageddon. It could happen.
Or sunshine, love, salvation.
It could, you know. That’s why we wake
and look out – no guarantees
in this life.
But some bonuses, like morning,
like right now, like noon,
One of the things I love about poetry is how it can help you express love to other people. This happened to be the case with the poem that Dr. Merrilyne Lundahl shared that she loves. “Vultures” by Robinson Jeffers “became scripture” for Merrilyne “and way of expressing love and grief and hope” towards her mom. Merrilyne feels connected to the speaker and sees this poem as her vision of the afterlife (she also loves the word “enskyment” a lot)!!
I had walked since dawn and lay down to rest on a bare hillside
Above the ocean. I saw through half-shut eyelids a vulture wheeling high up in heaven,
And presently it passed again, but lower and nearer, its orbit narrowing, I understood then
That I was under inspection. I lay death-still and heard the flight-feathers
Whistle above me and make their circle and come nearer.
I could see the naked red head between the great wings
Bear downward staring. I said, “My dear bird, we are wasting time here.
These old bones will still work; they are not for you.”
But how beautiful he looked, gliding down
On those great sails; how beautiful he looked, veering
away in the sea-light over the precipice. I tell you solemnly
That I was sorry to have disappointed him. To be eaten
by that beak and become part of him, to share those wings and those eyes–
What a sublime end of one’s body, what an enskyment;
What a life after death.
– Robinson Jeffers
All of the poems shared by the amazing English faculty show a glimpse into the versatility, beauty, and power that poetry can hold. I hope you loved reading them and were inspired in some way, maybe to enter the Valentine’s Day Poetry Contest! With this season, Valentine’s Day, and midterms, approaching, we urge you to spend time doing the things and reflecting upon what you love.
Pictured Above: Poetry Contest Winner, Rhiannon Chavez, reading their poem
Pictured Above: English majors, faculty, and friends enjoying poetry readings
Interested in being featured on the English Program blog? Or know someone who is interested? Contact English Program blogger Annalynn Mueller at firstname.lastname@example.org .