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MFA poets record verse for Poetry in Your Pocket

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Syl Kacapyr
Poetry In Your Pocket group meeting in Goldwin Smith Hall.
Lindsay France/University Photography
M.F.A. student poets in Ishion Hutchinson's poetry seminar. Front row, from left: Stevie Edwards, Kenneth Yuen, Hajara Quinn, Emily Oliver. Back row: Hutchinson, Emma Catherine Perry, Mandy Gutmann-Gonzalez, Matthew Ritger and Aricka Forman.

Graduate student poets connected with the oral tradition of poetry for Cornell’s annual contribution to National Poetry Month.

A 20-page chapbook, prepared for an annual outreach initiative in New York City, features verse by the eight Creative Writing Program M.F.A. students in Ishion Hutchinson’s graduate poetry seminar.

The contents of the “Poetry in Your Pocket” chapbook are available online and are augmented this year by audio recordings by the poets: Stevie Edwards ’13, Aricka Forman ’14, Mandy Gutmann-Gonzalez ’13, Emily Oliver ’14, Emma Catherine Perry ’13, Hajara Quinn ’14, Matthew Ritger ’13 and Kenneth Yuen ’14.

Oliver recently completed work on an audio tour of Cornell Plantations’ Mundy Wildflower Garden as a project for National Poetry Month. Recordings of the M.F.A. poets reading their work are paired with flower species in the garden. In conjunction with that effort, audio content became part of the poetry seminar’s outreach project.

Poetry In Your Pocket book cover

“For me, audio recordings of poetry speak to the oral tradition of poetry, the origins of it,” Oliver said.

About 800 copies of the chapbook will be distributed April 18 at New York City’s 11th annual Poem in Your Pocket Day in Bryant Park, Manhattan, where high school, middle and elementary school students attend a public event with live readings. Cornell has participated in the event since 2007.

Students at New York’s Food and Finance High School, a poetry project partner with Cornell for several years, will receive 430 copies of the book. The outreach initiative is sponsored by University Communications and the College of Arts and Sciences.

While the subject matter of the poems they submitted was at the discretion of the students, the intended audience was taken into account.

“We were asked to submit poetry appropriate for high school students,” Perry said. “That became an aspect of this, the question of the accessibility of the work.”

Edwards added: “My poem dealt with death, but I think they were asking us not to have anything too graphic. I think the challenge was to make them accessible but somehow intriguing to a high school student.”

“I taught high school kids for six years, and I brought in and read them poems about war and about violence,” Forman said. “Not to be gratuitous – those are not themes they couldn’t handle. Hopefully there’s some merit to it. They deserve the opportunity to decide for themselves.”

The poets helped choose the chapbook’s cover image, “Fiesta San Giovanni, Rome,” a photograph by David G. Dickens of an Italian woman vending at a street fair, from the collection of Cornell’s Herbert F. Johnson Museum of Art.

Perry said the photograph reflects an ambiguity of purpose. “There’s something kind of wryly intriguing about it – what’s she up to here?”

The project “went very smoothly,” said Hutchinson, who served as adviser on the project and selected the poems for the chapbook. An award-winning poet, he joined Cornell’s English faculty as an assistant professor this year.

“I was very pleased, though it was difficult because I received more poems than we could use,” he said. “I chose the ones I liked best, so it became personal.”

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