“Until the world decides it has had enough and lights the sky on fire” Russel Brakefield recited from his unreleased poem, “The Naming of Children”. Professor Brakefield, currently teaching at the University of Denver in Colorado, came to Ohio Northern University on Monday, Nov. 8 to read for the students and faculty here.
Usually, the English department hosts 2 poetry readings a semester with published poets to recite. The pandemic interrupted this tradition in 2020. The event was further postponed as Professor Jenifer Moore, who typically organizes the event, is on maternity leave. The faculty member responsible for its resurgence this semester is Justine Post, assistant professor of rhetoric and composition and director of the writing center here on campus. This poetry reading was the first since the beginning of the pandemic.
“Running the event itself was a new experience for me, as I am usually just an audience member benefitting from all the hard work that Jen Moore does to coordinate the reading series. It felt really good to have a hand in creating this interesting and engaging moment where a room full of people could spend an hour together getting lost in words. I always get a lot of enjoyment out of attending reading series events, so the fact that I could help to make one possible feels great” Post said.
People milled about the Elzay Gallery, musing over the student artwork, and chatting about their enthusiasm for poetry before taking their seats as Post walked to the podium. Post opened the event she had organized by introducing the two speakers for the night. Chelsie Bosley would open with a short fiction story about the environment and the impact we all have on it. Bosley is a senior creative writing major here at Northern and also acts as an editor for Northern’s creative writing magazine, Polaris.
After a smattering of encouraging applause, Post introduced Russel Brakefield, an assistant professor at the University of Denver in their writing program with an MFA in poetry from the University of Michigan. Brakefield has been published in several magazines nationally and internationally.
Brakefield read from his published book of poetry, Field Recordings, and some of his unpublished poems that illustrated some familiar scenes for the audience. These harkened back to Brakefield’s life growing up in Michigan, and what the midwest looks like to a native who has since moved away.
The audience listened in wrapt silence as the speakers read their selections for the evening, and peppered the writers with questions after the performance had completed. The audience wanted to know about the writers’ influences, their quirky writing habits, and the choice to use free verse rather than traditional poetry styles. Bosley stated that she is mainly influenced by the things that she is studying at the time, while Brakefield says that a lot of his influence comes from wordplay and the names of things.
Bosley wasn’t sure of any quirky writing habits, laughing as she stated that she was still developing that integral part of the writing process. Brakefield said that his office was in the laundry room of their house, and his wife chipped in saying that there is a specific soundtrack that he plays whenever he is deep in the writing process and she knows not to enter the office when that soundtrack is playing.
In regards to the choice of using free verse, Brakefield said that he preferred it to the traditional styles because it gives him the freedom to explore his ideas without worrying about specific constraints but is excited for the up and coming young poets who are reverting back to the traditional style of poetry.
The session began to wrap up after this as people broke off into separate conversations, getting pictures together, or talking over the poems that meant the most to them, or queuing up to buy a copy of Brakefield’s aforementioned book of poetry.
“I’ve been coming to the reading series since freshman year, and it felt surreal to be the one up there reading with the visiting author,” Bosley said reveling in the event.