An awareness of music and the nature of language were intertwined with poetry as four students read their award winning prose on Wednesday night at Russell House.
Chosen from 52 entries, this year’s four Wesleyan Student Poets Competition winner were Michael Comstock ’05, Daniela Gesundheit ’05, Edith Zimmerman ’05, and Owen O’Connor ’07. The poets read a selection of their work, which will be published in a book in January. The reading was followed by a reception.
Gesundheit kicked off the event with five poems that boasted striking images and soothing rhythms. A music major who focuses on vocal performance and composition of South Indian classical music, Gesundheit is an excellent reader, with an obvious grasp on the effect her voice has on an audience and knowledge of how to use this to her advantage.
“Music definitely plays into my writing,” Gesundheit said. “I write lyrics too, but as soon as I start writing I know if it’s going to be lyrics or a poem. Everything I write is musical, and I like to have it sound nice, but the lyrics always have an actual melody attached to them, while the poetry holds a more subtle musicality.”
Since she has not taken any creative writing classes at Wesleyan, Gesundheit just chose a few poems to submit with the help of a friend, and then did some intensive editing on her own.
“I feel like I have so many unfinished poems,” she said of the editing and submission process.
Zimmerman followed Gesundheit, providing with her work a perfect example of the many ways poetry can be approached and function. She read many short poems with very little introduction. Each held a wonderful flow and rhythm, while being strikingly different from Gesundheit’s writing. Zimmerman’s poetry is more tangible, and poignancy and humor hold equal footing in many of them, such as the phrase “If anxiety were an oven then what I’m feeling must be bread/and in the future I will wear potholders” from her poem “New England, nine a.m.”
O’Connor, whose work is also in last year’s anthology, offered his audience poetry that examines the nature of language. Five other students accompanied him to the microphone, each with their specific parts to perform in his reading. O’Connor directly incorporates music via singing, humming and almost chanting, and deftly plays with what we hear and emphasize in language.
On top of the almost Phillip Glass feeling of his work, however, O’Connor maintains the beauty of poetry with sections like “There’s some magic in language, some complexity and potential which we can never quite grasp … Something that allows me to feel nothing, but sit in awe of your words as you speak.”
A music composition major, O’Connor said he didn’t write much in high school, and that this is the first new poetry he’s written since 11th grade.
“Poetry is sort of about language,” he said, “so it made sense to me that the language should be played with.”
The text of O’Connor’s poetry contains actual chunks of notated music.
“The music in the text is part of the poem; they’re simultaneous,” O’Connor said.
O’Connor is also involved in the Wesleyan Boogie Club and the Zombie Arts Collective on campus.
The evening’s last reader was Comstock, who presented seven poems in a variety of formats and on a wide range of topics. Comstock’s work has been selected to go on to the state division of the Connecticut Poetry Circuit, for which a reading of the winners will take place at Wesleyan in February.
The four Wesleyan winners will also read at the Buttonwood Tree on Nov. 7 at 3 p.m. as a part of the Buttonwood’s Spoken Word Series.