On Friday, November 6, Poetry Corner brought together 35 participants for a lively and rewarding virtual reading and discussion jointly hosted by Skyline College Library and English departments. Taking place three days after the national presidential election, but hours before media outlets called the election in President-Elect Biden’s favor, the uncertainty in the virtual space was palpable, making the event’s goal – of bringing together participants in a safe and democratic space to discuss and celebrate poetry – all the timelier.
Librarian Pia Walawalkar began by introducing a new theme for the afternoon’s reading: 2020: Re-enVISIONing Our Future Together. Why? To acknowledge how during these times in which many of us are also isolated amidst the pandemic, “we are all striving to find clarity and to imagine a future that celebrates both our commonalities and our differences.”
Professor Rob Williams spoke next, reminding those gathered that the College offers several creative writing courses and publishes an annual journal of student writings, The Talisman. “Poetry is a vital and important part of our college, and every chance to celebrate it, we do!”
Williams next introduced San Mateo County Poet Laureate Aileen Cassinetto who in turn introduced student poetry club president Hilary Mejia Cruz, who facilitated audience discussions between readings by the events’ featured poets, Luisa A. Igloria and Octavio Quintanilla, as well as Skyline College students and other San Mateo County poets.
Igloria and Quintanilla took turns reading several poems each, many reflecting their own experiences as immigrants to the US. This was especially true of Igloria’s poem “The Others,” “Short Manual for immigrant Survival,” and “America.” She explained, “With poetry, we are trying to imagine what it’s like when we inhabit the experience of others.” Quintanilla read several poignant poems reflecting his immigrant childhood in El Paso, including “Finding my way,“ “Loneliness,” and “Why you never got in a fight in elementary school.”
Hilary Mejia Cruz read powerfully about genocide and chaos in her native Guatemala explaining of her childhood there, “We don’t learn that history, we barely learn history.” Father and son Elijah and Kiraat Pringle each read moving poems, the son of love lost, then found, and the father of the famous Stonewall Riots in Greenwich Village during 1969.
Megan Brown, speaking to concerns outside of the election and pandemic, read a poem of motherhood called “Wings.” Skyline College student Sumaya Eskariyat followed with a poem dedicated to the Ghanian peoples she met on a visit, of singing an Adele song they knew in common that bridged their language differences. Student Katherine Alm, deeply impressed by what she’d heard, read her poem on the personal significance of LGBTQ community, in colors: “Purple marches through the street unafraid…A rainbow of color, of pain, power, and love!! Fires burning behind eyes… We will not give up on orange.” Tatiana Espinoza also read an original poem.
Another especially timely reading by San Mateo Poet Laureate Aileen Cassinetto, followed: “There are no kings in America, only gilded men we can topple again and again…,” sharing her gratitude for a place and space “where poetry might be part of real life.”
Throughout the session, the Zoom chat was buzzing with remarks on the beauty and poignancy of the verses and with compliments for the poets.
The event concluded with an opportunity for students and other members of the audience to ask important questions. About writing and reading poems in one’s native language, Igloria encouraged her audience members: “Every tongue has it’s own music…it encourages the kind of attentiveness that’s special to poetry. Even if you don’t know the language… that can take you somewhere.”
Others asked the poets about the writing and publishing process, receiving sage advice from Quintanilla:
“Just write and the publishing will come. I wasted a lot of time sending poems to journals that rejected me. Do research on the journals you like, make a list of journals where you want to be represented. Read them! Then wait until your work is ready. The work will tell you, ‘I’m ready for you to send me out.’”
You can also learn more about poets Igloria and Quintanilla here.
The Library and Learning Center would like to extend a special thanks to our courageous student poets who read aloud from their original works to an audience or peers, faculty and renowned poets, with additional thanks to faculty members Rob Williams and Lucia Lachmayr for encouraging and supporting them.
Poetry Corner will return in Spring 2021! In the meantime, poetry books and e-books are available to all members of the Skyline community. Not sure what to read? You can use the Poetry research guide to get started, search the OneSearch catalog and use Curbside Pickup to pick up your books on campus, or even Chat with a Librarian in real time about what you’re looking for. Library cards are no longer required.
Lastly, we encourage you to consider bringing your class to Poetry Corner during Spring 2021. Please contact Librarian Pia Walawalkar <firstname.lastname@example.org> if you’d like more information.