April 21, 2011

Welish Reads at A.D. White

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As I listened to the rain pouring on outside, I counted the people slowly trickling into the A.D. White House’s Guerlac Room. The mood was quiet but anticipatory, as the original few were joined by a final flurry of spectators as the start of the event approached. As I watched more than a few professors walk in and catch a glimpse of one man intently reading a book of poetry, it became clear to me that Marjorie Welish’s poetry is not for the weak or light hearted.

Marjorie Welish has written numerous poetry books, such as Word Group and The Windows Flew Open. She has also worked with visual art, producing books with both written and visual works. The renowned poet has taught MFA programs at Columbia University, where she graduated from, and Brooklyn College.

Clearly, Welish has a learned and scholarly background, and as she began to read in her almost clipped, but purposeful voice, it was obvious that she expected her audience to have an educated a background as well. Welish’s poems are cloudy and convoluted, yet full of intensity, power and above all, thought. It is a small wonder so few people braved the rain and the endless rounds of prelims to come listen to Welish’s poems. Marjorie Welish expects you to pay attention to her words, whether written down or spoken aloud, and she expects you to think about them. Unless you actively pay attention, it is far too easy to get lost in the endless intellectualism, in all the words you may barely understand.

For those who do pay attention, a small reward awaits. Welish’s poetry contains many repetitions of words, of ideas, of sounds and of silence. But each round of those ideas, words, and sounds brings a new meaning to Welish’s subject. In “The Logic,” from Word Group, Welish focuses on “the adventures of a sentence”, as each line becomes more and more convoluted as it muses about the logic of love, words and life in general. The poem “Wanted” explores various interpretations of the history and the development of the “Dada” artistic movement in the early 20th Century, listing one after another the different ways the movement could have begun. Many of Welish’s poems follow similar routes, examining the possibilities of the world, and the many ways to interpret it.

The readings, as well as the question session afterward, illustrated that Welish not only puts much thought into the ideas and words of her poems, but also pays a great deal of attention to their composition, both in their written and oral forms. Her readings were deliberate and structured, phrased in such a way as to produce the greatest impact upon her audience. The question and answer period also made plain the fact that Welish does not simply write poetry in a highly intellectual way, she also thinks and speaks this way. Her answers to the questions posed sounded almost exactly as the poems she read, full of complex words and well thought out ideas, making it even more apparent than it already was that Marjorie Welish’s poems are not for the faint of mind.

Original Author: Fiona Modrak