All-school meeting has served as a venue for music and comedy, for distinguished visitors and important announcements, for student presentations and senior speeches. On a recent Monday, for the second year running, it provided a showcase for faculty poets (and others) to share their work with the community.
“I decided to try organizing it last year because I was inspired by the visual arts faculty shows and the presentations by the performing arts faculty,” explained Mac Caplan, chair of the English department. “Given that we have three practicing writers with MFA degrees in our department, we thought it would be great to do our own version.”
Last year’s event, said Caplan, was so well received that the department decided to make it a yearly event. English faculty members Evan Massey, Jeff Baker, and tc Hanmer all participated in the recent reading; they were augmented by Rivers staffer Cheryl Wolf and former faculty member Ari Kaplan.
At the assembly, the audience listened attentively as the poets read their moving, powerful, and personal works. For students, it was a rare opportunity to see a different side of their teachers—a side that showcases those teachers as professional practitioners. “It’s important for us to have practicing writers as part of our faculty,” said Caplan. “I think they can bring a different kind of authority to the teaching of reading and writing.”
“It’s important that students have mirrors,” Massey noted. “In my MFA program, every faculty member wrote and published voraciously.” Massey, a veteran who served in Afghanistan, read a piece titled “Salerno,” after the base where he was stationed overseas.
Baker said later that the reading served as, among other things, an opportunity to build community. “I think that wherever we, regardless of discipline or expertise, can find opportunities to share things we’ve made, we help to foster—however briefly—community and connection,” he said.
Reading one’s own work in front of a large audience entails a kind of risk, even for those who have done it many times. That, too, is an important component of the program, said participants. As Massey put it, students need to see that “creativity comes from taking risks in your learning. Put simply, we are not going to get better at anything if we don’t take risks, particularly as artists.”
The response to the readings was “tremendously positive,” Caplan reported. “People really enjoyed it.” Baker said he’d heard from a number of students afterwards. “Perhaps most encouraging,” he said, “was the number of them who expressed an interest in wanting to write more poetry themselves.”
Massey, too, was pleased by the feedback he received from students afterwards. “The students spoke about how they enjoyed it and how powerful it was to listen and be transported to a world that is foreign to them.”
He added, “Some asked me how it felt to read, and I was very forthcoming with all of them regarding the prospect of reading in front of an audience. At least for me, it really comes down to understanding that while you’re reading for an audience, honestly, you’re really reading for yourself.”