Arts & Culture

Contemplative studies hosts public poetry reading

Poets Genine Lentine, Gabrielle Calvocoressi, Koshen Paley Ellison share personal poems

Contributing Writer
Monday, November 6, 2017

Last Friday night, the Contemplative Studies Department hosted its first-ever public poetry reading in Smith-Buonanno Hall, inviting poets Genine Lentine, Gabrielle Calvocoressi and Sensei Koshen Paley Ellison to read their respective work and discuss the changing role of poetry and meditative practice in the modern world.

According to Contemplative Studies Department Coordinator Anne Hart, the poets were chosen because their craft demonstrates “the nexus between creativity and mindfulness,” an intersection the department has recently addressed by creating a third track, “Contemplative Studies and the Creative Arts.” The third track is for students who want to study the literature and history of contemplative art and, in turn, use contemplative practice to inform their artistic endeavors, Hart said.

Lentine, currently a teacher of writing at the San Francisco Art Institute, approached the podium first. Effectively distilling the symbolic significance from seemingly simple moments, poems like “The Chamber” and “My Father’s Comb” made listeners smile and sigh, as they shared in Lentine’s feelings of gratitude in spite of helplessness.

Lentine spoke sincerely about patience as she showed the audience a picture of a begonia plant in bloom, its big leaves silvery in the sunlight. Later, she used a grotesque sketch of a saber-toothed creature preparing to devour a bunny rabbit to demonstrate how poets must be comfortable “being in uncertainties.” Musing on the intersection of creative practice and contemplation, Lentine said that “poetry is about a sense of receptivity and availability to experience. … Contemplation is often understood as a ‘fixed’ thing or a ‘still’ thing, and (yet) there is this deep continuous movement that constitutes stillness, as paradoxical as that might sound. Contemplation is not antithetical to action, and poetry is not antithetical to being of use in the world. Part of our job as poets is not to turn away.”

Next to read was Koshen Paley Ellison, co-founder of the New York Zen Center for Contemplative Care. Ellison approached the podium wearing a monastic robe and said “to me, the life of poetry is just the life. The beauty of poetry is of taking the time, because that’s all we have.”

Throughout Ellison’s reading, he spoke slowly and meditatively, using personal anecdotes about his aging family members and friends to confront mortality and grief. He often posed universal questions, like “why is there so much fear in just being with another person?” and “how do we relax in our own experience?”

Alexandra Walsh ’19 said she was particularly affected by Koshen’s words. She said she was moved to tears when “Koshen was talking about fully loving someone. … The idea of being able to fully embrace something without trying to understand it, that’s sort of an underlying message that all (three poets) were saying.”

Finally, Gabrielle Calvocoressi, a professor of English and Comparative Literature at the University of North Carolina Chapel Hill, read from her latest book of poems, “Rocket Fantastic.” At some points theatrical and vulnerable, her poems included intimate reflections on uncertainty, love and her mother’s suicide. One poem, “The Sun Got All Over Anything,” contained the lines, “Somewhere my mother was dying / and someone was skinning a giraffe / and I let it go. I just let it go.”

In the question-and-answer session after the reading, Calvocoressi explained, “I don’t try to heal my trauma. I try to be in the presence of it.”

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