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Reflections and Revelations: Cherry Reading Series welcomes poets Jennifer Chang and Michael Collier

Courtesy Stephany Marchany

By Katelyn Landry     4/9/19 10:18pm

Poets Jennifer Chang and Michael Collier created an atmosphere of vulnerability and introspection with readings of their most recent work during a new installment of the Cherry Reading Series on Thursday. Both Chang and Collier painted vivid landscapes with their poetry that felt harrowingly intimate and eerily familiar to their listeners. 

About a dozen Rice professors and students gathered in the Kyle Morrow room to listen to the distinguished poets read from their most recently-published collections of work. Chang read a small selection of poems from her 2017 collection Some Say the Lark, which was longlisted for the PEN Open Book Award and won the Poetry Society of America’s 2018 William Carlos Williams Award. Collier read one narrative poem from his 2018 publication, My Bishop and Other Poems.

Rice Assistant Professor in Creative Writing Paul Otremba gave welcoming remarks before Chang took the podium. 

“I feel like I’m in a jar,” Chang laughed before launching into a series of poems that profoundly interrogated the outside world with equal parts ferocity and delicacy. 

The movement of Chang’s words mimicked the movements Chang herself has made throughout her life. 

“My life consists of walking,” Chang said before reading a poem that detailed a childhood past of venturing through forests in tandem with complicated memories of friends and family. “The best walking is without reason,” she read. 

I was surprised to feel my throat tightening and tears tugging at my eyes as Chang read “My Own Personal Patriarchy,” a poem that was like flipping through a catalog of fathers, each one different in his mannerisms and emotions. There were some iterations of “father” that resounded fiercely with me: fathers that were absent, unpredictable or pathetically apathetic. Chang concluded this poem with a line that seemed to echo beyond the room and into the past: 

“One father was not the only father I had.”

Collier took the podium after Chang and began his poem “My Bishop.” This long, narrative piece somehow retained its dark humor and gentle language as a jarring story of sexual abuse unfolded. The more Collier weaved together stories of his parents’ deaths, his friendship with the now infamous former Catholic bishop of Phoenix, Arizona, and his devastating abuse at the hands of a pedophilic priest, the more I wished it wasn’t true. This poem entices readers to confront forgiveness, cowardice, compassion and betrayal in ways that are far from comfortable but seem highly necessary to our survival. Collier’s literary talent and unwavering authority over his story shine throughout the piece, taking readers on a spiritual journey that resides not only in religion, but in the common fabric of humanity. 

Readings from both poets received enthusiastic applause and several insightful questions from the audience. Undergraduates in attendance asked questions about the process of writing, editing and revising poetry. 

“Revision is more creative than composition,” Chang said, describing the revision of her poetry as an interrogative process. 

When asked about his decision to write “My Bishop” in a long, narrative form rather than some other style, Collier explained how the language and intentions of his work demanded a certain form on their own. 

“Much of the time you think you’re not doing anything,” he said as he discussed his revision process. 

Although he felt that his revision process often consisted of sitting idly at his typewriter, he emphasized the importance of questioning the meaning of poetry over time and utilizing other perspectives to unearth the precise intentions of his work. 

Chang’s and Collier’s readings left me feeling both critical and in awe of the world around me. Both poets offered thoughtful reconciliations between our personal experiences and the environments that shape us as we grow. 

This event marked the third and final installment in the Cherry Reading Series for the spring 2019 semester. Previous visiting authors this semester include Kiese Laymon and Karen Thompson Walker. Presented by the English department and Fondren Library, the series is a valuable program at Rice that continues to connect the Rice community with diverse literary voices. 

Chang’s Some Say the Lark and Collier’s My Bishop and Other Poems are available through most major online booksellers including Amazon, Apple Books, Barnes & Noble and IndieBound. 

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