Heather Dubrow, Ph.D., director of Fordham’s Poets Out Loud reading series, opened the Feb. 26 event with a few meaningful words about how the organization goes about selecting its readers:
“The quality of the poetry is always the main criterion,” she told the audience, “But tonight’s reading also fulfills one of POL’s real aims: a commitment to representing a range of styles, ethnicities, and sexualities.”
Meg Day and Sharon Wang, the evening’s featured poets, embody both of those ideals—excellence of craft and a commitment to representation—in personal and unique ways.
Meg Day, whose 2014 book Last Psalm at Sea Level won the prestigious Barrow Street Press Poetry Prize, is a poet whose work is difficult to pin down in terms of style or subject. In fact, that might be the point: a self-identified member of the LGBTQ community, Day often focuses on the interstitial nature of bodies and identity. And as a deaf poet—there were two American Sign Language interpreters on hand Tuesday night—Day also tackles issues of access and interpretation.
Take, for instance, “Portrait of My Gender as Inaudible,” a new poem that Day introduced by noting: “[It] came out of my frustration with closed captioning, and the way that closed captioning is evidence of sound—but oftentimes it’s evidence of sound that people can’t hear, the irony of which is hilarious to me,” she said, referring to captions that deem something “inaudible.” The poem concludes with this almost ineffable image:
I made a photograph of my name
It was a shadow in a field and I put my shadow in it
You can’t hear me, but I’m there
Day prefaced their next poem with a brief history of the Americans with Disabilities Act, explaining that it “states that reasonable accommodation is all that the government has to provide for you if you’re disabled.” Day continued: “Reasonable accommodation is really just trying, like, ‘Well if you’re trying to provide access that’s enough, that’s reasonable.” The poem, aptly titled, “Reasonable Accommodation,” begins:
You’ve met me halfway between the door to our bedroom
And the other we know is real only because you are always gesturing, “There it is.”
The evening continued with Sharon Wang, who earned her MFA from Washington University in St. Louis and won the Kundiman Poetry Prize in 2016. Tuesday night’s reading was co-sponsored by Kundiman, an organization dedicated to cultivating Asian-American creative writing that holds its annual retreat at Fordham’s Rose Hill campus.
Wang’s work is often concerned with the natural world, the sense of touch, and loss. As Dubrow described it, “Her emphasis on what is unattainable is reflected in how often many of her titles refer to elegy, those poems of loss and death.”
Wang read both from a new collection of epistolary poems and from the book that earned her the Kundiman Prize, Republic of Mercy. The first poem she read, titled “Dear Sentient Being,” set the thematic tone for all that was to follow, with its descriptions of nature that conflate the natural world and the human body:
I want a world that clicks into place like my molars
When I wake up my teeth are worn down from the night
Wang wound down the evening with an elegy called “Mea Culpa,” a selection of which reads:
I thought I could hone my mind until intellect and emotion were a single organ
The way a snake’s motion comes from the musculature of its entire body, and when it moves
There is no part of it that has not moved.
The event was also sponsored by the FCLC Dean’s Office, the Fordham English Department, and the Axe-Houghton Foundation, with additional support from the Gerald M. Quinn Library. It was funded in part by Poets & Writers through public funds from the New York City Department of Cultural Affairs, in partnership with the City Council.
The next Poets Out Loud event is on Monday, April 8.