Poetry & the Senses Spring 2021 Fellows Reading

You listened well – Ramona Naddaff
to witness the miracle of your heart on the outside. – Ken Ueno
I have never known myself any other way – reelaviolette botts-ward
What does it feel like to stretch without longing? – Vethea Cerna Cole
Fire makes a bad lover, the rumor goes – Sara Mumolo
and yet, you are still here – Elizabeth Zhiying Feng
I experience grief in space – Maw Shein Win
I put you down in the poem. – Noah Warren*

reelaviolette botts-ward opens the reading of “Conjuring of Maiden Names” from her first book mourning my iner[blackgirl]child, a ritual poem to call upon the names of her maternal ancestry. botts-ward engages with retrieval and recovery of girls from patriarchal erasure, inspiring resurrection of all who were “swallowed whole”. Vethea Cerna Cole leans “into the exposed underbelly of desire” with two love poems. To mothers and children, to chamomile flowers and fish heads, Cole adorns the details of what is sensual and exposed. Elizabeth Zhiying Feng translates a text-based poem into film. From this exploration, Feng exhibits a raw, fantastical must-see work of art—visually, sonically, and across the senses. Sara Mumolo delivers a sequence of Trauma Note[s] of life’s beholding, coffin’s kissing, and many more. Mumolo attracts the quotidian and puts it on trial. When in disbelief, one’s grief speaks to affirm, “I was there for that”. Ramona Naddaff plays with word order and rules to evoke new meanings of bodies, present or absent, in her three poems. Naddaff “split infinitives” as many times and as many ways, then restringing them again to create what was not there before. Ken Ueno confesses a testimony of survival as squeezing pressure and scars. Ueno offers the “comfort of being, just being and less afraid” as well as the impact of semiotics and sounds. In this poem, he returns to the reading and discussion with Mei-Mei Berssenbrugge, Natalie Diaz and Aja Monet. Noah Warren shares from a series entitled Talk wherein “the way we talk sounds beautiful and sad”. Warren unfurls loss and beauty, welcome and escape across the same bed: a mated tension. Maw Shein Win honors her mother, miracles of the body, and the writing of grief. Win spreads wide the illogic of sentences, its uselessness for a poem to see itself or for a poet to understand its emergency.

From the 2021 ARC Fellows in Poetry in this remarkable reading and discussion, I learned poetry touches all the senses; it is multi-sensorial. It is ancestral work, a necessary relationship to that which I cannot see. When a poem emerges, it has capacity to touch all the senses—heal all the senses. There is also power in texture: in every sound note of poetry and of the spoken that which resists.

Words cannot suffice the pride I feel listening and writing this blog piece, as a former ARC Fellow in Poetry myself. Thank you, 2021 Fellows, for continuing this legacy.

*Above, I strung a line from each poetry fellows’ shared work altogether as one stanza.

The full recording of the event is available for viewing on our YouTube channel, here.

Menat Allah El Attma is an Egyptian Muslim woman, educator, writer, and visual artist. Menat graduated from UC Berkeley with a BA in English literature and is pursuing her teaching credential. She is a logophile and linguaphile, working to affect a similar love for words/languages in her students through the practice and art of storytelling. She believes art is in the telling of the story as much as the story itself.