Poet Allison Joseph pulls from “agony stash” to inspire

Poet Allison Joseph reads to an audience in the Morris University Center's bookstore. Photo by H. Rambsy.

When a poet speaks of a personal “agony stash” as the source of inspiration for much of her literary work, her audience can expect a stirring poetic experience.

SIUE’s Department of English Language and Literature hosted the London-born poet, Allison Joseph, in an intimate reading of her poetry in the Morris University Center Bookstore on Sept. 9.

Joseph, who lives, works and teaches in Carbondale, read largely from two of her six books of poetry: Voice Poems and My Father’s Kites.

Joseph, reading in her smooth, passionate style, opened the evening with “Thirty Lines About the Fro.” The poem, delivered in the style of an ode to the hairstyle adorned by many African Americans, contains – playful and probably metaphorical – references to “relaxers,” “dreads” and the current President of the United States.

Many students in attendance were particularly drawn to Joseph’s delivery of the playful and sometimes sexual poems: “Ode to My Mole,” “Eating Out” and “Breast Ode” – which started out playful but climaxed with dialogue about breast cancer.

“It [the reading] was fantastic,” said sophomore Denise Clamors. “Just to hear her speaking the poetry. She just had a fun and unique style.”

Joseph read predominantly from her recent work My Father’s Kites, a collection of poems birthed after her father’s passing.

In somewhat of a “disclaimer,” Joseph warned that the poems in My Father’s Kites, were not “fun” but “sad.”

My Father’s Kites chronicles the emotions Joseph experienced while dealing with the loss of her father. Joseph described her father as a troubled man who, among other things, “hated white people” and had a “gambling problem.”

The content, construction and delivery of Joseph’s work left a number of students in attendance – many of whom are poets themselves – motivated to improve their own poetic work.

“As a writer, you hear poets who you think are good and you say ‘that was good.’ Then, you hear poets who inspire you. Joseph did the latter – she inspired me to [want to] be a better writer,” said graduate student Cindy Lyles.

Joseph, who has been writing since 13, also offered advice to students who are looking to become published poets.

“You have to separate the writing itself and why you are writing from the [concept of] publication,” said Joseph. “You can write for 20 years and never get published.”

Joseph also advised that students seek out mentors who have had their work published in the past in order to receive guidance in obtaining publication.

Poet Allison Joseph engages SIUE students and faculty with poetry from her books: My Father's Kites and Voice Poems. Photo by H. Rambsy.

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Filed Under: Black StudiesEnglish Language & LitHappeningsWomen's Studies

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