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Visiting instructor shares her first poetry book

Amy Trees, Staff Writer

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“Well, hello Wisconsin!” says a slender woman with short reddish hair and black-rimmed glasses as she greets the small audience of approximately 30 Madison College students.

The poet Amy Whittemore was hosted by the Yahara Journal to present her first published book, “Glass Harvest,” at a free poetry reading event in the Truax Studio Theater that was open to the public on Oct. 5. The Yahara Journal’s mission is to promote creative writing and the arts to Madison College students.

Whittemore opened with a poem entitled, “Autumn Thinking.”

“Yes, I’m talking about being a tree again. Deciduous, thrumming with molt. I admire sycamores shedding their golden fleets and think, yes, let’s learn finance, chop wood, tattoo my arms with poppies and study etymology. Let’s tap maples, sheer sheep, discover rare fungi.”

Whittemore currently works as an instructor at Middle Tennessee State University. She offers editorial services to help poets develop their writing and to accomplish their project goals.
The author’s gold earrings looked like shivering quarters below her ears as she read her second poem, “First Visitation.” The poem was inspired by her great-grandmother whom Whittemore had never met and imagined what she was like.

“When she arrives as quiet as a thimble, I want to throw a chair at her. Instead, I weep. Kathryn scribbles out a family tree, but she might as well be a squid. This ghost unbraiding my hair, rubbing my shoulders—her voice rakes all the leaves.”

The poem, “Valatie,” was written about the death of Whittemore’s grandparents when she was living in Portland, Oregon. They died within six months of each other, which was hard for the author, being 3,000 miles away from home.

“That longed for ghost, my unborn daughter, looked like the quivery flicker of fish across a pond skin. If I held her, I’d see that other land where the dead and unborn live in lake colored clothes— hair messy with marigolds. I won’t say what I promised her to make her follow me to Illinois, my grandparent’s empty house. Where grief roosted, we unclipped its wings, opened every window, snapped all the rugs.”

Whittemore tells the audience that the poems in her book are a little bit sad. “But don’t worry,” says the author, “we’re going to get to some more amusing territory before the end of all this, so do not fret.”

The author has lived in a total of five states. Born in Illinois, she graduated with her Bachelor of Arts from the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign. She received her Master of Arts in Teaching from Lewis and Clark College in Portland, Oregon and her Master of Fine Arts from Southern Illinois University Carbondale.

While living in Charlottesville, Virginia as an educator, she was co-founder of the Charlottesville Reading Series, which presents in person readings of poetry monthly events for Charlottesville residents. She also works as Assistant Editor at Poem of the Week, which is an online anthology of American poetry.

After reading, “Charlottsville 7 AM,” she tells the audience that “Glass Harvest is her first published book. “If you are a writer, which I know some of you are, it’s hard to even imagine having a first book, so it still feels like a magical thing is in my hands right now.”

She then puts the book down to read some of her newly written unpublished poems.

As she finishes each poem, not knowing where to lay the paper the poem is written on, she simply drops each poem onto the floor.

Her poems have appeared in The Gettysburg Review, Smartish Pace, North American Review, and elsewhere. She is a recipient of a Vermont Studio Center fellowship and the Dorothy Sargent Rosenberg Memorial Poetry Prize. 

When she finishes reading, “Party Trick,” Whittemore tells the audience that she makes her students memorize a poem for class.

“When you memorize a poem, you understand it in an internal way. It gets inside your body. It’s something you can carry with you wherever you go,” Whittemore explained.

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Visiting instructor shares her first poetry book