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A JOURNEY IN WILSON AUDITORIUM

A near full house gathered in the Wilson Auditorium on Nov. 14 to welcome the poet Anna Journey to our campus. She was the last writer in the Fall component of the Visiting Writer’s series, though there will be two more speakers this Spring.

Michael Waters, Ph.D and professor of English, thinks these events are an instrumental part of our campus environment and create a well-rounded education. “I’ve attended all the VWS events since coming to MU in 2008,” he said. “The turnout is always strong.

Associate Dean [of the school of humanities and social sciences] Michael Thomas has done a terrific job of creating and publicizing the series, attracting not only students and faculty, but members of the community. We’re lucky to have such a series.”

The night began with Thomas’s introduction. “Some people have accused me of loving power,” he said as he neared the microphone, “but I really don’t. I just love the feeling of approaching the podium and everything gets quiet.”

This comedic greeting set the tone for what would turn out to be a night equally funny, dark and sexual as Journey’s work brought the audience from one roller coaster turn to the next.

“Anna Journey’s work is as exciting as any work being written by any poet of her generation,” Waters said. “Her poems are smart, funny, erotic, and moving. She writes out of all aspects of her personality.”

Thomas captured the essence of poetry, and the attention of the audience, soon into his opening. He said, “We build our identities from the stories we hear the stories we tell and from what we read. Imagine for a moment where we might be headed when we read the title ‘The Spirit of the Hour Visits Big Pappa’s Barbeque Joint’ a poem by Anna Journey from her second book, Vulgar Remedies.”

“What poet’s like Anna Journey teach us is how the imagination is where life gets lived, richly, deeply. As readers and listeners, we are also making another life. Furthermore, what Anna displays in her work is that the imagination is a confession, its beauty, what is lasting is the how disturbingly truthful the imagination really is,” he added.

Waters agreed and noted, “Although her subject matter is sometimes dark, the work overall is affirmative. Her narratives are so interesting and lively, her diction so charged, that I think folks will find her and her work compelling.”

Journey soon took to the stand, beginning by describing a dream she’d had the night before where her mouth had been cut open like the Joker from the Batman franchise, causing her tongue to slip through the wounds while she talked. “So far so good!” she laughed.

Her first choice was “Adorable Siren, Do You Love the Damned?” from her first book, “If Birds Gather Your Hair for Nesting.” Waters’s note to her style was immediately apparent from lines like “The Devil pries open my red hibiscus” and “the brine of B.O.”

She followed this with an anecdote about how “the worst job I’ve ever had was as a cashier for the outdoor lawn and garden section” of Lowe’s, as well as how her mother suffered from severe paranoia. The next poem was based off these experiences, provocatively titled “Lucifer’s Panties.” In it, she wrote about how “All men who ask young girls for directions from vans are serial killers,” and how she went about renaming the flowers to more appropriate things, including one plant that she called Lucifer’s Panties, explaining the title.

Jeremy Mancini, a sophomore English major (with a concentration in creative writing), said, “I liked the imagery, especially about the eyeball sucking, which was strange.”

The next was “Warning”, a piece about a heat wave that struck one summer while she lived in Houston, featuring vivid images like “I must’ve singed the buds in his tongue to desert thistles— left a taste like a saint’s charred footprint.”

This was followed by “Vulgar Remedies (2): If You Hold a Dying Creature during Childhood” and an explanation that she draws a lot of her influence from folk tales. One in particular stuck out that holding a dying animal during childhood will make your hands shake for the rest of your life. The narrator opens with “I thought caffeine, a strained tendon from typing with my wrists curved back. I thought bad nerves. Instead, it was the bird…”

Journey continued to “Wedding Night: We Share an Heirloom Tomato on Our Hotel Balcony Overlooking the Ocean in Which Natalie Wood Drowned” which referenced the aforementioned starlet throughout. It reads, “After Natalie rolled into the waves, the wet feathers of her down coat wrapped their white anchors at her hips.”

This was followed by the poem mentioned in Thomas’s introduction, “The Spirit of the Hour Visits Big Pappa’s Barbeque Joint.” She continued on to “When I Reached into the Stomach of a Fistulated Dairy Cow: Sixth Grade Field Trip to Sonny’s Dairy Barn,” “St. Bruise,” and the final poem read was “Confessions of a Fire Starter.”

Following these, the traditional Q&A opened up. During a number of her poems, she referenced a young man “sucking on my eyeballs.” Understandably, the first person to ask a question wanted her to explain that recurring element. After a moment’s thought, she said, “I think your obsessions remain mysterious until you look back and see it in your work.”

Journey added, “There’s also something perilous about adolescent sexuality.”

In explaining her home life, she laughed about how her mother’s paranoia was paradoxically coupled with an obsession with serial killers, and how her mom will sit around the kitchen table talking about Lizzie Borden and other famous murderers.

She ended the night by reciting an excerpt from Sylvia Plath’s “Lady Lazarus,” , earning another round of applause.

Overall, it was a captivating night for the whole audience. Journey was available to talk and sign books after, a chance to which many audience members flocked. It’s clear that those who had a chance to see this latest Visiting Writer will be eagerly awaiting the next, so be sure to get out to the next one–and get there early, if you want a seat, because it’s sure to be a full house.

PHOTO TAKEN iopoetry.org

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Monmouth University
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