Lecture Hopping: Women Poets at Barnard — Tessa Rumsey and Julie Sheehan

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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

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  1. perky

    "perky" strikes me as a pretty condescending word to use to describe a woman poet--after all, you would never describe a male writer as "perky," would you? seems like an adjective we should reserve for breasts, and nothing else...

    • Someone with sense  

      Actually, perky is a word that a lot of people use to describe others of both sexes. I think it is a little idiotic to waste anyone's time with an idle nitpicking at terminology (unless of course you are replying to such a post). Maybe you should concentrate more on your own writing and less on others'.

    • Bobo Jangles

      I wish you were more notorious in the real world, that way I'd give you a good kick in the ass for your ignorance.
      You can count, and you can read, but you can't count on reading to save your sorry ass from stupidity.

  2. Noodle.

    Why is it so wrong that DDR club was recognized? I really hope you aren't going to criticize it. The DDR club does many campus events and community service events with children.

  3. anon  

    There are at least two mentions of free alcohol in this article.

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