Jen Bervin's soft but steady voice fit perfectly in the intimate setting of the McCormack Family Theater in a reading Thursday that featured her and fellow poet Joshua Beckman.
Bervin read from her work "The Desert," which combines visual art and poetry through a technique she calls erasure. In the limited-edition book — one of "The Desert's" 40 copies is housed in the John Hay Library — Bervin sews over portions of John Van Dyke's 1901 art-historical text of the same name using blue thread. The words that remain make up Bervin's poems. In her reading, she called attention to the presence of the thread with respectful pauses.
Over 50 students and faculty gathered in the theater to hear the two poets. The reading, which was open to the public, was part of LITR 1200: "Writers on Writing," a course in which students read contemporary literature and then have the opportunity to meet and interact with the authors.
Beckman followed Bervin, reading several poems from his book "Take It" and three of his newer poems in an animated, narrative style. He had the audience laughing at unexpectedly humorous poems that also held poignant observations.
After the readings, the poets took questions from the audience. This direct interaction between students and authors is the goal of the "Writers on Writing" series, said Associate Professor of English Brian Evenson, who teaches one section of the class and helped organize yesterday's reading. Evenson, who also directs the literary arts program, said this communication is a "rare opportunity" that can enhance student writers' experiences.
For Poppy Addison '13, who said she had always wanted to ask authors about the meaning behind their words, "this was that perfect chance."
Michael Frauenhofer '11 called it a "new level of dialogue" and said the opportunity to ask questions added to his experience of the poetry. Frauenhofer added that "Writers on Writing" has been one of his favorite courses at Brown.
Yesterday's discussion between authors and students answered many of the students' questions. Writers, however, are not always ready to completely reveal their intentions.
When asked how to make sense of a collection of poems, Beckman replied cryptically.
"There is a moment," he said, "when the poem is the only thing telling you where you are."