Sophie Katzman ’14
Last Thursday, Feb. 21 in the Reese Room at the Smith House, the Allan K. Smith Reading Series kicked off the semester with a reading by the Connecticut Circuit Student Poets. The Allan K. Smith series is a set of five reading events throughout the semester sponsored by the Trinity College Allan K. Smith Writing Center and the English Department. The Connecticut Poetry Circuit was established in 1968, and each year it selects five student poets from colleges across Connecticut to participate in a series of readings. These students’ work is also published in the Connecticut Review. In 2012, Leslie Ahlstrand ’12 won the honor of reading for Trinity as well.
This year’s CT poetry circuit winners are Allegra Berndt (UConn ’14) Elizabeth Norton Sallee (Wesleyan University ’13), Amanda Schoen (University of Hartford ’13), Amelia Urry (Yale ’13) and Trinity’s own Emma Phillips ’13. All the poets are active in the English departments at their respective schools, and are the recipients of numerous prizes and accolades.
Each of the girls performed a collection of their poems ranging from many different subjects. The beauty in the performances came from the individuality of each poet’s muse. Urry comes from a family of physicists, where she is the only poet. She plays around with myth in her poems. Many of her inspirations come from the sea, which influenced her poem “Seal.” She was also inspired by the town of Soden in Leo Tolstoy’s renowned novel “Anna Karenina.” In “Volto Santo,” which means Christ on the crucifix, Urry talks about suicide, and incorporates the sea once again.
Berndt discussed how she draws much of her inspiration from the supernatural. Her poems included images of stars, visions, and things unexplained. She wrote of gravity and magnetic force and other supernatural anecdotes. For instance, in one of her poems she wrote of the magnetic force that guides pigeons home and in another she talked about the rare formation of a German road that caused multiple car accidents in the same spot. She incorporates complex phenomena that add beautiful meaning to her poems beneath the surface. In “The Whale,” Berndt brings in biblical and supernatural references to the existence of a whale.
Schoen was inspired by a home in which she spent a few summers in Tennessee. She described a beautiful image of salmon and rain that brought listeners to these sweet southern summers. She also toyed with formal poetry, and iambic pentameter. She had another poem with explicit references to cartography and Norse mythology. One poem referenced her time at the Hialeah Racetrek, which incorporated her years as a professional equestrian before entering college. In “What you’ve Tamed” she paints a beautiful portrait of chopping down the Christmas tree with her father and the way it mirrored their relationship.
Sallee read a selection of poems from her thesis, which circles around the myth of Persephone. Persephone is the Greek goddess who is abducted into the underworld. Her mother, Demeter, is the goddess of harvest. Sallee is influenced by the mother-daughter relationship of Persephone and Demeter in her poems. She is also influenced by the questions of sexuality, and plays with the recurrent motifs of smoke, water, and dreams. In one of her poems, “Betsy, Come to Breakfast,” Sallee uses a dream motif and also the myth of Persephone.
Trinity’s Phillips ’13 is influenced by her study of mathematics in her poetry. She is a math major who did not start writing poetry until her sophomore year at Trinity, when she took Professor Ciaran Berry’s creative writing class. Her poet influence is Polish poet laureate, Wislawa Szymborska, and she started her reading with a poem by Szymborska entitled “Pi.” This was a gesture to her teachers from the math department who came to watch her perform. In another poem, she created an extended metaphor of the terms she had trouble understanding in her accounting class. In “The Magical Disappearing Girl,” Phillips creates a wondrous portrait of a disappearing girl with strong metaphorical undertones.
Phillips is honored to have been chosen and said, “My favorite part [of the tour] was hands down the reading at Trinity. I was so thrilled to have my friends, parents, and professors attending and their support meant a lot to me. I also have really enjoyed getting to know the other poets and hear their work. We all have such different styles and it’s very interesting to see what other poets my age are working on.”
She credits Professor Berry for a lot of her inspiration here at Trinity. Berry praised the event as, “A fine opening to the Spring Reading Series in which Emma Phillips did a great job of representing Trinity and the caliber of student writers we have here.”
Phillips and the other poets have been travelling around the state for the past month reading their poems at different universities and public venues.
The Allan K. Smith Reading Series at Trinity continues March 6 with a reading by Eamon Grennan.