For Western Oregon University students Katherine Sutton, Alexander O’Brien, Amber Jahn and Nova Kohnke, a poem is more than the elements used to create it such as alliteration, rhymes, rhythms or metaphors.
Although they each have their own unique writing style, they all view poetry as a window for others to view their perspective of how they understand their world.
“I just think in poetry. I guess, it just feels natural,” O’Brien said. “I’ve been a poet for quite some time now, but I’ve always seen the world differently, and I try to put that perspective into my poetry.”
WOU literature and writing Professor Henry Hughes recommended O’Brien, Sutton, Jahn and Kohnke, whom he describes as talented student poets, to be interviewed in celebration of April being National Poetry Month.
Poetry has provided Sutton ’20 a pathway to continue to connect and share ideas during the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic.
“Even if social distancing and the state of quarantine distracts us from traditional outgoing lives that should not stem the vast potential that can be explored through poetry,” Sutton said.
Nova Kohnke said poetry is different from narrative writing, because it’s condensed. “I think in a lot of ways it better captures the stream of consciousness and creates this special kind of closeness between the author and the reader,” Kohnke said.
Poetry has allowed Kohnke to reflect on life’s moments. In Kohnke’s poem, “Who knew vultures had a taste for lamb?” Kohnke tells what happened when tenacious church members tried to persist they to join a church group.
An English and writing major, Kohnke ’22 considers poetry to be one of the most intimate forms of self-expression.
“There’s something very visceral about it,” Kohnke said. “Every time I read a poem, I feel like I get to be in someone else’s head for just a few short lines.”
Amber Jahn ’20 has continued to participate in the Writer’s Crucible, an on-campus group of writers started by English major Natalie Dean.
“We would meet once a week and share our writing with each other,” Jahn said. “This term we’re not meeting in person, just sharing and commenting on Google docs.”
Dean challenged her fellow writers to create a poem a day in April, Jahn said.
“I’m a bit behind on one poem a day, but it’s been a fun way to celebrate National Poetry Month,” she added.
Poetry occurred naturally for English major Alexander O’Brien ’23 through imposed isolation.
“I was locked up a couple different ways, a couple different times, and I would say, it was that first time that I took to poetry,” O’Brien shared.
After leaving an abusive relationship, O’Brien started writing poetry and songs while he was in a psychiatric treatment facility.
“When I ended up in jail a couple of times, like a lot of people with mental problems and trauma, I wrote in there too,” he said. “And when I’d get out, I would keep writing. I was homeless for about five years or so, and writing poetry is what kept me alive.”
O’Brien said he thinks there is a misconception that poetry is magical.
“It’s not the idea of poetry that is beautiful, but what is written down that is beautiful,” O’Brien said. “It’s what another person has to say, and the fact that they can say something to make you stop and think about yourself or something, the idea that one person’s thoughts can get you to think, that is magical.”
O’Brien’s advice to aspiring poets is if it feels good that means they are doing it right.
“A poet’s life is one of sadness, so find the happiness of the world and write it down,” he said.
During the trying times of the coronavirus pandemic, Katherine Sutton has sought solace in the lessons taught by poet Emily Dickinson.
“Dickinson practiced what could be regarded as ‘self-quarantine’ during her life as part of her profession and because of that created countless memorable and fascinating poems that are still highly regarded today,” Sutton said.
By using this time to slow down and look closely at what surrounds her, Sutton is directing her creative energy into her writing.
“I believe that now is an opportune time to be developing content that can be shared widely with various online communities,” Sutton said.
Poetry has been a valuable creative outlet for Sutton for many years. It provides her a platform to make bold statements, tell stories and question ideas.
“The rules of poetry are as complicated as the poet, and as such it offers accessibility to anyone who wants to try it,” Sutton said. “Poetry is something that anyone can access at any point in their lives.”
Two students shared their poems.
who knew vultures had a taste for lamb?
By Nova Kohnke
so some women from church came by today to celebrate my eighteenth birthday to invite me back to church— I’m missed. they’re so excited to have me in the women’s relief society, founded by joseph smith’s wife.
it always circles back here: bright young woman lost, sweet little lamb wandering too far from the flock.
and they’ll follow like vultures, pick through raw, festering flesh for something good, untouched by decay. something red and warm and sweet.
pull pull pull snap arteries and tendons like rubber bands, dig through tender meat until bloodied beaks clack against bone like wedged heels against tiled floors of church kitchens.
unless I resign slate wiped clean. but that seems like a lot for an eighteen year-old.
By Amber Jahn
A rough pink tongue
drags across a
warm white paw
An eraser nose nestles
between fat cheeks,
faded blue eyes
of fourteen years,
a life before me.
One that gave him
a chipped left ear,
and a ride to the shelter.
I love you,
I say in English.
He purrs a response.