Lecture Hopping: Women Poets at Barnard — Tessa Rumsey and Julie Sheehan
Written by Bwog Staff
Packed with more old women and men than actual Barnard students, the Women Poets at Barnard’s final Spring 2006 lecture was insightful. The Sulzberger Parlor served as the perfect space for the intimate and soft spoken reading of poetry accompanied by free samples of wine among other refreshments.
The Women Poets at Barnard reading series was conceived by Barnard alumnae, and done in conjunction with the Barnard Women Poets Prize. This prize works in partnership with W.W. Norton & Co, giving “women poets with emerging reputations the chance to publish a crucial second book and read at Barnard.” Tonight was the “highlight of the year” as Tessa Rumsey and last year’s prizewinner, Julie Sheehan, read from their books, The Return Message and Orient Point, respectively. Moreover, this year’s winner was announced, Cathy Rich. Her book’s title, Dance Dance Revolution was ironic because the Activities Board of Columbia’s decision not to recognize Columbia New Poetry and to accept the Dance Dance Revolution Club. (More on that in the Blue and White’s May Issue.)
Both poets were introduced with brief explanations of their poetry by current Barnard students. The first poet to read was Tess Rumsey. Her poetry was filled with natural imagery. In my mind’s eye, there was an abundance of flowers and avant-garde, clean cut verses as long as rivers. The poetry felt contemporary and mythological and at times a bit morbid, which was a nice surprise as it manifested in a poem about a childhood love for candy called “Everlasting Gobbstopper.” Her monotone, rising rarely, did not allow for the full impact of her greater insights which were concentrated in her subtle themes about womanhood. They were also hidden under the flower imagery and Yves St. Laurent allusions. Apparently, Yves St. Laurent “interpreted the mood of the world and turned it into what people wanted,” which to a degree is an admirable goal for a poet as well.
The final poet of the evening was the perky and witty Julia Sheehan. As her introducer mentioned, her poetry was introspective as well as in search of the meaning of poetry. Her poems were divided into the headings of “taxidermy,” “archeology,” and “fine print,” which are nice analogies as to the process and exhibition of creating a poem. Her poems’ narrative style and her lively voice captured my attention. I was impressed to hear the silent laughs and “wow’s” of the audience. Particularly, “Brown Headed Cow Birds,” struck a fancy with the audience as it mixed the story of a group of black elementary school kids with their school’s production of Romeo and Juliet and brown headed cow birds. It was in fact like a field guide from the Audubon Society only with old English verbs like “passeth” and allusions to J. Lo and Britney Spears.
And of course, my favorite from the evening in general was “Hate Poem,” which really was about love. It was the poem, I felt, had the most emotion and profound simplicity in its theme and images.
The lecture was a bit mundane with the poetry having dynamics too intense to be captured by mere hearing. There was no discussion, unless you stayed for the reception afterwards. Nevertheless, it was a sincere gathering of people who believe that poetry is crucial and fun. And hey, free wine and cookies!
– Alexandra De Leon