Poetry reading: Leah Hampton and Kiki Petrosino

Nicole Yeager, News Editor

During the lunch hour on Tuesday in the Walls Lounge in the Elaine Langone Center, students and faculty gathered to enjoy a short story and poetry reading from Leah Hampton and Kiki Petrosino. Both writers were open to answering questions about elements of their work and writing process following the readings. Walls Lounge was filled with students and faculty, as well as with familiar individuals from the creative writing department, the Writing Center and the Stadler Center. The event also featured an assortment of sandwiches, cookies and coffee for those who attended.

Director of the Stadler Center Chet’la Sebree introduced Hampton first, who read a short story from the book she is currently writing. Hampton is the Spring 2020 Philip Roth Resident in Creative Writing, a program founded by the alumnus and American novelist for which it is named, offering up to four months of unfettered writing time for a writer working on a first or second book of fiction or creative nonfiction. As a dual citizen of Appalachia and the United Kingdom, much of Hampton’s work is influenced by rural spaces and ecology.

Hampton read a short piece of fiction titled “Meat” about a girl named Allison who works on a farm and is exposed to the meat industry. Hampton has mastered descriptive storytelling through the use of poignant dialogue, similes and metaphors that amplify imagery and characters who seem to have hidden complexes beneath the surface. 

Sebree then introduced Kiki Petrosino, an esteemed poet who visited the University through the Stadler Center Writing Series. “Petrosino’s diverse collection leads us on a dizzying journey in which we are ‘different now we’ve drunk the tea,’” Sebree said, borrowing a phrase from the writer’s own work. The poet earned degrees from the University of Virginia and the University of Chicago, as well as a master’s degree in fine art from the Iowa Writers’ Workshop; she currently teaches poetry at her primary alma mater.

Petrosino is also a recipient of a Pushcart Prize and a creative writing fellowship from the National Endowment for the Arts. Of her four published poetry books, she read six pieces from “Witch Wife” and two from “White Blood” at the reading. Her work experiments with form and sound, revealing the ways in which they can influence meaning.

Following the readings, there was a brief amount of time where both writers were given the chance to answer questions from the audience. 

Andrew Ciotola, program manager at the Stadler Center, asked Petrosino to share some insight on her usage of form in her poetry. She responded at length: “As a young poet, I really didn’t want to use a lot of traditional or received forms. I deliberately avoided writing things like sonnets and villanelles, for example, because I thought that it would be too restricting; and I considered myself a lyric poet who wrote in free verse. But then I learned that free verse is a form and that every poem itself is a form that’s made for the occasion of that particular poem. Poetry has to have an active and dynamic engagement with form, with the idea of constraint, because not every poem can contain all language. So if you think about form as a container or a set of constraints that you adapt for the purpose of that particular poem, then there’s actually something very liberating about form — it pushes you to think about not only the language you’re going to use or the theme you want to put across, but about how you’re going to do it . . . in what container are you going to deliver meaning to the reader.”

Sebree later posed a question to both writers, concerning the distinction between who they are in real life and who they are in their writing. “I think that more and more I am giving myself permission to bring my own life more explicitly into my poems,” Petrosino said. “[At the time I published my first poetry book] American poets were supposed to be apolitical and, therefore, divorced from certain markers of identity like race, class and gender, and that we should focus mostly on the craft and technique of the actual poems. What that conveniently glosses over is that our understanding on what good craft is comes from identity . . . Now, in contemporary poetry, it is a really exciting and thrilling time to adventure into the language of identity,.”

Claire Marino ’23, a regular attendee of Stadler Center readings, commented on the importance of these events: “It’s a great opportunity to be able to see different styles of writing from established writers. I also believe that a lot of people don’t see poetry as a modern art, so it’s nice to have events like these where there is a community of those who do.”

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