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Brandeis University's Community Newspaper — Waltham, Mass.

Beauty in contrasts: Brandeis alumna and poet-in-resident read selections from their works

Published: November 12, 2010
Section: Arts, Etc.

PHOTO BY Ingrid Schulte/The Hoot

Alumna Melissa Buckheit and Brandeis poet-in-residence Rebecca Seiferle read their poetry as part of the Creative Writing Department’s School of Night series. Their incredibly different styles presented their listeners with an interesting study in contrast.

When I got to the room where the event was being held, it was nearly empty. There were a few students seated in the back, but there was a large cluster of empty chairs. It was a Monday night and it had been raining, but I was still disappointed in the lack of attendees. Before the reading began, the silence was long and awkward. I wondered if this would be one of those embarrassing experiences; what’s more sad than a poet reading his or her work in an empty room?

I relaxed when Seiferle began and her vibrant talent filled the room. I was glad that I was there to witness it. A seasoned poet, author of four books of poetry and founding editor of the online poetry journal “The Drunken Boat,” Seiferle read selections from “Wild Tongue” and “Bitters” as well as a few unpublished pieces.

Many of her poems featured erotic language as well as Biblical allusions. One particularly vivid piece gave voice to a forgotten figure in the King David tale. “Comparative Religion” told the story of the 12-year-old girl who is made to have sex with the King for medicinal purposes. The disturbing image of a young girl “embraced by the corpse of man and God” was one that haunted for a long time afterward.

In fact, many of Seiferle’s lines were powerful enough to linger. I thought about “sing me a song of elsewhere” and a bird as a “soft whisper of being” for days following the event.

However, Seiferle’s reading style sometimes made it difficult to hear her beautiful language. She read her work in a nasal and rough voice, her words sometimes blurring together and becoming incomprehensible to the listeners’ ears.

Buckheit’s reading, in comparison, was very clear. She performed like she was on a stage, enunciating, her voice strictly controlled. Yet, while her reading style was more effective, I thought she was less successful with her language.

Buckheit is relatively new to the poetry world; her manuscript of her first collection of poetry, a re-working of her senior thesis, will be published shortly. Although Buckheit is new in comparison to Seiferle, she has participated heavily in the world of poetry. She has won numerous awards for her poems and is the founder and curator of a poetry series called “Edge.”

A majority of the poems Seiferle read had a plethora of inaccessible language. “Demotics,” for example, which is knowledge relative to the care and culture of a people, had a lot of scientific language. For those who are not science-savvy, the meaning of the poem was indecipherable. The poem was interesting visually, though, it was divided into little snippets of poetic language, after each snippet, Seiferle dropped the section of the poem to the floor. The scientific language stemmed from Seiferle’s interest in the subject, “In graduate school I was not talking to people and reading a lot of science, the language got imbedded in me.”

While I couldn’t grasp the meaning of Seiferle’s poems, they resonated because they seemed intimate to the author. Seiferle’s poems were like glimpses into her mind, something private that had deep meaning for her.

The School of Night event was compelling in that it presented distinctly different poets, with different subjects, reading styles and approaches to poetry.