Whoever argues that everything worthwhile has already been said and that humans have exhausted language to the point of unoriginality forgot something crucial: poetry. This fact had never been more apparent than at “School of Night Presents: A Reading by Andrea Cohen and Alexandra Teague,” an event sponsored by the Creative Writing Department that occurred on Tuesday, Nov. 3, from 5:30-7 p.m. in Pearlman Lounge.
Andrea Cohen and Alexandra Teague are both poets in their own right and, despite their very different prose styles and subject matter, are well-established and have garnered praise for their work. As a spectator it was incredibly interesting to see the dialogue generated between the two poets as they read aloud their individual prose while the other poet sat alongside the crowd, reacting to the poetry, shaking their head in agreement at differing intervals. Despite their innumerable differences, Cohen and Teague could still appreciate the other person’s poetry with commendable grace.
Andrea Cohen, known for her more recent publications, which include titles like “Furs Not Mine,” “Kentucky Derby” and “Long Division” breathed life into the dusty volumes of her various collections with a rich and intriguing reading. Far from dull, Cohen’s recitation of her poems—most of which was from memory—materialized in a piercing way Cohen’s contemplations and reflections on life.
Reading mostly from “Furs Not Mine,” her most recent publication, Cohen gave the audience a glimpse of the range of subject matter that she has written about, with poems such as “Butter” and “My Raincoat Opens Doors for Me.” Embracing her wild side, Cohen also read a few poems that she had written that same morning, explaining that though she may regret this course of action, it pays off to experiment with prose and present the raw version of her work.
One of Cohen’s poems, titled “Clasp,” read more like a short story than a poem, each line intrinsically connected to the next, resulting in a rapid fire recitation of the piece. A poem mostly about the significance of her mother’s necklace clasp, which she mentions is “preparing me for the fumbling/ that inheritance presents, meaning death.” Her drawn reading of the piece coupled with the potent symbolism played off of each other to generate an intriguing performance that begs further contemplation.
Alexandra Teague, whose most recent collection of poetry, “The Wise and Foolish Builders,” has received several accolades, made a memorable appearance and an altogether captivating reading of that same work. Before reading the first line of prose, Teague gave a short summary, explaining the backstory and connective tissue between the poems in her collection. Inspired by the legend, Sarah Winchester, the wife of William Winchester, believed that her family was cursed by the ghosts of all the people who had been killed with the Winchester rifle. Mediums and spiritualists are said to have advised her that if she continued adding on to her luxurious home she would appease the spirits, and in a true superstitious nature believed that if construction ever stopped she would meet an untimely death.
Full of hauntingly beautiful imagery and allusions to the paranormal, Teague’s poems fit in well with the season considering that Halloween had passed only a week ago. With references to bloody knives, sheets of blood and ghosts, Teague read absolutely harmonious lines of prose, such as “We came for this/ Ghosts disappearing into walls/ like pocket doors sliding on invisible rails” and “We want you to play our pulse like piano/ keys in long-locked rooms,” both of which are excerpts from “Claims.” Jokingly Teague mentioned that if she had to describe her work many would say she has a fascination with death—but that’s not something she shies away from.
Despite consistently low turnout rates, the “School of Night” events give Brandeis students the opportunity to experience firsthand the creative abilities of well-established authors and poets, and at the very least raffle off several books, or in this case, poetry collections, at the termination of the event. There’s something undeniably beautiful about poets engaged in their craft, reading off their own prose, exposing their own internal monologues to the world. Even if it remains to be understood, poetry is an immensely engaging creative form that continues to tingle the ears of the listeners as they experience language in a whole new way.