Quoth the Penguin: Poetry Community Effort Gains Momentum

By Luc Hoekstra – Campus Editor

Student and faculty poets have traveled the road not taken this Spring to develop Clark’s poetry community by organizing readings, giftings and other opportunities to create poetry on campus.

During National Poetry Month, the Office of Diversity and Equity hosted Philadelphia Poet Laureate Raquel Salas Rivera for a poetry reading. Salas Rivera read twice on April 30.

Loretta Capeheart, the associate vice president of the ODE, said she invited Salas Rivera because of their experiences as a Boricua (an indigenous Puerto Rican) and as a queer person.

Capeheart said she enjoys that Salas Rivera is a gender-nonbinary person who navigates Spanish — a language where nouns are gendered — with nonbinary words. She said Salas Rivera’s readings were a good opportunity for marginalized student poets to experience the inclusion of nonbinary terms within a binary language.

Salas Rivera read their own poetry in Spanish, then English. Their morning reading was about their childhood and their evening reading was about their teenage years, when they embraced communist works and developed an identity as an activist.

“We debated if we should love each other,” they said. “Or if love is a bourgeois sickness.”

Salas Rivera also spoke between readings at a Clark College Foundation event, where Abby Soto, a research and records manager and Queer Student Alliance sponsor, announced a new scholarship for “systematically non-dominant communities.” The scholarship is in memorial of Soto’s sister-in-law, Sharon Keilbarth.

At the Foundation event, Salas Rivera discussed relationships with their late friends who shaped their identity, poetry and their celebration of “radical queer joy.”

“Grief happens concurrently and around our joy,” they said.

Salas Rivera said they enjoyed their first time at Clark, felt welcomed by the college and would love to come back.

The English department is also coming together to create more poetry events, but English and poetry instructor Dawn Knopf said she worries if it’s sufficient for students.

“Right now I don’t think we do enough to encourage poets on our campus,” Knopf said. “I would like to make sure the community has a better way of gathering and sharing work in the future.”

Knopf organized “Poetry in Your Pocket Day” on April 26 with student Megan Robb.  Robb is the managing editor for Clark’s arts and literary journal, the Phoenix, and runs promotional tables on campus throughout the year.

Robb said she always brings a magnetic board with word tiles to create poetry, which engages students. “People love poetry,” she said.

“Poets allow us to see things in new ways,” Knopf said. “And Clark poets always give me new ways of seeing the world.”

Knopf said one way students can organize a poetry community is to charter a club through the ASCC. “I would gladly advise that group,” she said, adding that an on-campus writing group would benefit student poets seeking a community to periodically meet with and share work.

Knopf also organized a May 14 “Poetry-To-Go” event where she typed poems with other faculty poets outside Cannell Library on typewriters and then handed them out to people passing by from 11 a.m. until noon.

Later that day, the Columbia Writers Series, in its 30th year, hosted a poetry reading by Portland local Roger Reeves for the Spring quarter Subtext Literary Festival. The festival also featured novelist Marie Bostwick on May 15 and novelist Leni Zumas on May 16.

On May 15, the Phoenix hosted a release party for its 2018 issue in the Gaiser Student Center. Robb said the Phoenix always receives more than enough poetry submissions each year to keep the journal well balanced with other genres.

May 17, the last day of the festival, was “Clark Crossings,” a student, faculty and staff literature reading. Participants read original fiction, essays and poetry in the Penguin Union Building from 11 a.m. until noon.

Knopf said students can participate off campus with open mic events, including English instructor Chris Luna’s Ghost Town poetry night at Angst Gallery. Hosting since 2004, Luna said, “I like open mics because they are the most democratic form of readings.”

Luna said attending poetry readings is the first step to finding a literary community. The open mic night includes LGBTQ+ people and people who have ranged from 6 years old to late 90s.

Luna said poetry will always be useful because of the impact it can have on a person. “Poetry contains an energy passed directly from the writer onto the page, then transferred to those who read or listen to it,” he said. “When this energy transfer leads to even a tiny shift in one’s consciousness, new ideas and new ways of looking at the world begin to evolve.”

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