Fordham University’s Poets Out Loud series, which features readings by noted and emerging poets from around the country, launched its fall 2008 season on Sept. 15 with a reading by feminist poet and critic Alicia Ostriker.
Although known as one of the eminent poets of her generation, Ostriker told the audience that she was late in joining the feminist movement of the 1970s.
“I wanted to be a part of it, but I had children,” she explained. “In that time, you either had babies or books, and I wanted both.”
She added, “You don’t decide to become a feminist. If you do, you’re not a real one.”
Ostriker read selections from her many collections, including poems from The Mother/Child Papers (Momentum Press, 1980). She began the work during a time of great change—both personally and around the nation.
She had recently given birth to her son. The United States was embroiled in the Vietnam War and the Ohio National Guard had just shot four students at Kent State University.
The poems in The Mother/Child Papers are about large- and small-scale invasions, Ostriker explained.
“I was in the hospital giving birth to my son and the doctor gave me a spinal tap I didn’t want,” she said. “We write about whatever obsesses us at the time. That’s the beginning and the end of it, really.”
Ostriker is professor emerita of English at Rutgers University and is a faculty member in Drew University’s low-residency MFA poetry program.
“I tell my students, ‘Write whatever you’re afraid to write. Kill the censors.’ That’s where the power is,” she said.
Twice nominated for a National Book Award, Ostriker is author of 11 volumes of poetry. Her poems have appeared in The New Yorker, The Paris Review, The Nation, American Poetry Review and many other journals, and have been widely anthologized.
Over the years, Poets Out Loud has hosted several renowned poets, including Gwendolyn Brooks, Mark Doty and Derek Walcott. This year marks the first time the series featured a reading by a Fordham graduate student.
Jill Neziri, a doctoral student in English and creative writing at Fordham’s Graduate School of Arts and Sciences, opened for Ostriker with powerful poetry that tapped into reminiscences about boating in Brooklyn and her grandparents.
Poets Out Loud was started in 1992 by a small group of faculty, staff, students and alumni to address a lack of established poetry readings around Lincoln Center. The group’s mission is to bring a public audience to the Lincoln Center campus and to foster the appreciation, creation and study of poetry within the University and in the wider New York City community.