VOICES Reading: Kim Roberts

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On November 10, Kim Roberts visited St. Mary’s for the VOICES Reading Series. Roberts said she’d do her best to keep politics out of the conversation, but it was obvious that it was still on peoples’ minds—Roberts noted that it was good to be out of D.C. for a little while. Professor Karen Anderson, coordinator of the VOICES Reading Series, commented during her short introduction, “Tonight we are lucky just to have poetry.”

English Professor Jeffrey Coleman gave the introduction for acclaimed poet and historian Kim Roberts. After she received her BFA from Emerson College, and her MFA from the University of Arizona, Roberts has published reams of poetry and edited several anthologies, in addition to serving as Editor for the magazine she founded in 2000, “Beltway Poetry Quarterly.” Today, she serves as the writer-in-residence for the Science Museum of Minnesota; the influence of her interest in science and history could be seen in her reading for VOICES.

Roberts had an eccentric idea on how to pick the order of her poems—she produced a black hat, and asked a student at random to take the hat around and ask audience members to pull out the next poem she would read. The first audience member to pick a poem was actually English Professor Robin Bates, who pulled out a slip of paper reading, “The Fiji Merman.”

Each of the poems that Roberts chose for the evening had to do with marine life, or experiences on the water. She said she thought it was fitting, with the gorgeous view of the river to be found on St. Mary’s campus. Many poems dealt heavily with location—“The Fiji Merman” was set in Lewes, Delaware, at a museum where you can find the eponymous mummified creation of a fisherman; another was set in Montauk, New York; another set during the ocean voyage of a doomed expedition to Antarctica. Another called “Flu With a View of the Puget Sound” was set, well, you can guess where.

Many other poems dealt with eccentricities of the maritime world—like the Fiji merman himself, or a poem in memoriam for “Ming the Clam,” a 507-year-old ocean quahog clam, which died when it was brought up from the ocean floor by scientists wishing to examine it.

Roberts’ poetry was clear and extremely tactile—her opening sentences, as well as her descriptive titles, place the listener immediately and completely, which was useful for hearing the work of a writer who likes to delve into the depths of so many curious subject matters. Her prose-like imagery anthropomorphizes the whimsical subjects of her attention: the merman, with his grimacing monkey-head attached to his ribbed fish-body, looked “amazed that he’s lasted this long.” One poem about the yearly reproduction cycle of oysters, all of which become female as they age, described the eggs as “sway[ing] like belly dancers,” in the water that looked “like milk.”

Roberts ended the night, by random pulling from a hat, with a poem from her very first book, The Wishbone Galaxy (1994). The poem was called “Mother,” and focused in on the nature of horseshoe crabs and motherhood. Roberts’ reading, with its descriptive renderings of out-of-the-ordinary subjects, and her way of transporting you to the locations so present in her work, was a welcome escape for many that were present.

The next and final VOICES reading of the semester, which will be co-sponsored by the ENST Department, the Arts Alliance, and the Lecture and Fine Arts Committee, will bring poet and essayist Elizabeth Bradfield to St. Mary’s, and will take place on December 1 at 8:15 in DPC.

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