Creative Writing Reading Series MFA Reading Reflection

~from intern Joyce Bohling

The reading of creative writing master’s theses on March 30 featured creative nonfiction M.A. candidate Dana Chellman and poetry M.F.A. candidates Denise Jarrott and Kylan Rice. Each reading featured unique style and subject matter, showing the diversity and creativity of work produced by students in the English department.

Poet Denise Jarrott was the first to read selections from her M.F.A. thesis. “What is it to live and wonder what living is about?” asked Jarrott’s advisor, Dan Beachy-Quick, in his introduction. This, Beachy-Quick said, is the ambitious question which Jarrott’s work poses.

Jarrott began her reading with selections from her collection “Letter Sonnets”; each of the twenty-six sonnets in this collection is titled with a letter of the alphabet. I noticed, as Jarrott read, how embodied her poetry is. One of her sonnets included the passage, “I do not know what it means to have a mind, but I can guess what it is to have a body.” This seemed to describe a theme weaving through many of the poems she selected from this collection: the sonnets dwelt on the physical rather than the meta-physical. Jarrott’s second set of sonnets, all called “Closet,” imagined what she might have found in the pages of her great-great-grandfather’s journal, which was destroyed.

Next Dana Chellman read excerpts from her essay “How to Get to Heaven from Colorado,” which was recently awarded the Association of Writers & Writing Programs’ Intro Journals Award and will be featured in the upcoming issue of the Iron Horse Review. The essay about her older brother with bipolar disorder uses the trope of maps. In her introduction, Chellman’s advisor Sarah Sloane said that “Dana’s maps are both anchor point and illusion.” These maps include scientists’ recent project to map the Milky Way galaxy, her brother’s treasured road atlas, and the MRI used to diagnose and identify a cause for his mental illness. Each of these maps is necessary as it is imperfect, full of unknowns and uncertainties.

The reading returned to poetry with the evening’s final reader, Kylan Rice. Dan Beachy-Quick, also Rice’s advisor, praised Rice’s poetry: “These poems…realize the world, but also live in it.” Many of Rice’s poems dwelt on images from his childhood. “There are certain images I can’t let go of,” especially images of fruit, he said, laughing. But while these childhood poems were light and uplifting, Rice’s reading took a turn for the darker as he transitioned to grim subjects, especially in his final set, a series of poems on enucleation, the removal of the eye from its socket. I was startled by the gruesome theme, but when Rice read the line, “All that are left to me are my eyes,” I began to think through the idea of enucleation and what it means for a poet to lose the ability to see, both literally and as a metaphor for the many ways that poets and poems themselves witness the world.

The next graduate thesis reading will be this Thursday, April 13 at 7:30 pm in the Gregory Allicar Museum of Art.