A Few Sweet Lines for Your Valentine
The Main Street Reading series honored this Valentine’s Day with a night of poetry last Sunday at the FAVA gallery.
The reading featured a number of writers from the Oberlin community, the majority of whom were faculty or students associated with the creative writing department. It was one of the more entertaining readings that I have attended at the FAVA, and also attracted a large turnout of listeners.
Each participant picked at least two poems each, written by themselves or someone else. At the beginning of the reading, the guidelines were explained to the unusually large audience: whether considered “likely” or “unlikely,” every poem had to be about love.
The poems tended to be quite succinct, ranging from sonnets to more incantatory style verse and controlled freeform. Because none of the poems used lofty or verbose language they had a light, almost conversational feel, which nicely complimented the sincere—although at times, sardonic—nature of the writing.
Every poem had the common theme of love, but each had a distinctive voice and style. The diverse perspectives made the night not only varied, but also entertaining, as the different takes on love vied for position while at the same time oddly complementing one another.
Due to the large number of readers, the event proceeded in a kind of lightning round style with none of the speakers taking more than five minutes to read their selections.
However, the pace did not hinder the audience from being able to pay specific attention to each reader. The poems themselves breathed with energy, and there were frequent bursts of laughter from the audience, as well as wholehearted applause after each reader was finished.
All of the poems, in my mind, were praiseworthy. I most enjoyed listening to the original works, because I could not help but feel proud for writers with such ingenuity and control over their language. Some of the most memorable poems, to my mind, were those written by students and professors involved with the creative writing department here at Oberlin.
Carol Tufts, a creative writing professor, prefaced one of her poems by mentioning that some of the deepest feelings of affection, for her, are often those felt for animals or pets. The poem was about her disillusionment at a junior 4H club auction, where she watched as children auctioned off their well-groomed animals to slaughterhouses. At once humorous and poignant, it reflected on the subtle betrayal of a loved one.
Julia Doctoroff, a Creative Writing major and one of the coordinators of the Main Street Reading series, wrote one of my favorite poems of the evening. It was a poem that she prefaced with a confession that those she loves the most are often those she is most easily annoyed with.
The poem was effective in evoking very vivid images, including a lover who, in the middle of having sex, turns into a hyena in need of a respirator. She ended the poem with the line, “My grandmother once left a man because he wore argyle socks.”
David Young, another published poet and professor from the creative writing department, closed the event with the fourteenth section from Walt Whitman’s poem about Abraham Lincoln, “When Lilacs Last in the Dooryard Bloom’d.”
He chose that poem, because the reading was held on Feb. 12th, Lincoln’s birthday, and as Young said, “Whitman loved Lincoln.” And really, who is a better spokesperson for such an overzealous, truly American holiday like Valentine’s Day than Whitman?
No matter what the topic or style of writing, the poems shared were at no
loss for true talent or emotion. From the laughing hyena to patriotism, the
meditations on love at this reading were marvelously diverse. If it is in fact
true, as I have been told and so believe, that love first enters through the
ear, these poets definitely brought their “A” game.