Three graduates of Miami’s Poetry MA program—alumni Darren Demaree, Daisy Levy, and Chris Michel—visited the Leonard Theater in Peabody Hall on Tuesday to participate in a roundtable discussion. Each took radically different paths after their MA program, leading to a richly diverse conversation connected by the transference of that passion. They explained how their experience here influenced their present literary identity, with special relation to the talk’s subjects: poetry, translation, journalism, and rhetoric.
Darren Demaree is a widely-published poet with 5 collections and is the managing director of the Best of the New Anthology web magazine. Chris Michel is a personal essayist and editor for RunnersWorld.com and a former Fulbright scholar to Georgia. Together, Darren and Chris founded Ovenbird, an online poetry magazine.
Daisy Levy, a PhD in Rhetoric, is Associate Professor and Composition Coordinator at Southern Vermont College. Her studies focus mostly on dance and embodied rhetorics.
The three were brought on stage by Western Program coordinator Zackary Hill, who prefaced their discussions with an introduction that set the tone for the evening: “After they left here, each of them found ways to make language an important part of their lives, and they pursue life with such passion.”
Though their fields and interests vary widely, their conversation converged on the topics of bodies and myths. “There is the mythology of poetry and the practice of poetry, and they are often in conflict with each other.” Daisy said. “The mythology of poetry is that the mess is absent”.
The panelists shared their true “practice” of poetry, without romanticizing or leaving out that mess. Chris noted that before his time at Miami, his “practice used to be monastic. I thought that you secluded yourself you sweated blood if you needed to and you came out with something pure, but what I really wanted to do was tell stories.”
“Coming here did a lot to open up my understanding of what poetry was,” he added.
Darren described his practice as “obsessive. In school I had all of the energy directed into poetry and no language. I was fueled by hormones and substances and I had to learn to incorporate my process into it all.”
Daisy, wearing two pairs of layered glasses to substitute for bifocals, expressed a discomfort with the capital “P” serious poetry that she was always “trying to fit into.”
“The idea of it ever being a safe space is a fantasy,” she said. “I was intimidated by the capital letter Serious Poetry, and I continue to struggle to fit my body into that story.”
Most of the time, said Chris, he’d worked on fitting story-telling into his poetry, but his practice opened up when he found himself working for months on translating a piece of Georgian poetry into English.
“I had been so focused on narrative. All of a sudden I was working in a language that was all about emotion in sound,” he recalled. “I read it out loud, I read it quietly. I sang it. I paced back and forth.”
“You got it into your body,” Daisy commented. They all agreed.
The panelists mulled over the relationship between physicality and poetry, trying to reconcile themselves with the realities of their own practices. Their stories were not neat, they were not solely triumphant, and they didn’t present poetry as beautiful so much as they discussed its centrality in their lives.
“Poetry is a daily thing for me,” Darren said. “Nothing keeps me going more than that I get to go home and write some more Thursday.”
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