Poet-in-Residence Brenda Shaughnessy gives poetry reading

Photo courtesy of Janet Wiedmann.

Photo courtesy of Janet Wiedmann.

Michael Taromina, Staff Writer

The Stadler Center for Poetry & Literary Arts’ Sojka Poet-in-Residence program has brought poets of national and international renown to Bucknell for the past 40 years for an extended stay during the academic year. 

This year’s acclaimed literary artist was author Brenda Shaughnessy. Consistent with tradition, Shaughnessy was invited to a Poetry Reading on Oct. 18, where she impressed the audience with her emotional and heartfelt words. 

A few of poems she read include, “Visitor,” “Dear Gonglya,” “I Wish I Had More Sisters” and “I Have A Time Machine.” 

Shaughnessy’s work is known for its ability to twin opposites, such as playfulness and eroticism, lyricism and humor or formality and strangeness. Throughout the reading, she told poems that had a backstory and expressed both positive and negative experiences she had yearned for, or even feared would occur. 

Throughout the reading, Shaughnessy brought to light themes that touched her on a personal and deep level. Her poem, “I Wish I Had More Sisters,” ignited what she believed was a necessary conversation that needed to be happening in literature, regarding sisterhood and the promise and everlasting effect of sibling relationships and large families. 

“Blueberries for Cal,” related the strides and struggles of motherhood and childhood, and the untold lessons that Shaughnessy learned about her role as a maternal figure. 

But while Shaughnessy touched on themes that connect to her physical life, she also experimented with other major themes with her displayed works — such as sex. 

Before reading her poem, “The Impossible Lesbian Love Object(s),” she explained how she was influenced Meret Oppenheim’s “Object” masterpiece, and saw it as a medium for both sexuality and wit to be explored. 

Her poem, “Our Family on the Run,” analyzes a resounding fear of homelessness that Shaughnessy herself was afraid would become a reality, and questions whether the strength of her family would allow them to prevail over the hardship.

In addition to Shaughnessy’s reading on Tuesday night, she also attended a lunch Q&A forum hosted by the Stadler Center for Poetry & Literary Arts on Thursday.

At the beginning of the event, and throughout her life, Shaughnessy advocated that poetry is a conversation, allowing authors of all genders, races and ethnicities to showcase their strengths in talking about some of the most vulnerable and humanizing topics.

“Strength means…acknowledging each of those feelings, your questions and ideas and faith and terror, and meeting what comes with the full force of your heart,” Shaughnessy said. 

Shaughnessy has received numerous awards for her work, including fellowships from the Radcliffe Institute, where she was a Bunting Fellow, the Japan/U.S. Friendship Commission and the Howard Foundation of Brown University. 

She has taught at universities including Columbia, the New School, Princeton and New York University. Shaughnessy is currently an associate professor of English at Rutgers University-Newark.

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