By Charlotte Mayer
The VOICES Reading Series held its first reading of the school year on Thursday, Sept. 9. It took place in Daugherty-Palmer Commons at 8:15 p.m. and featured the accomplished writer, professor, and poet Luisa A. Igloria.
Igloria is the author of “Maps for Migrants and Ghosts,” “The Buddha Wonders if She is Having a Mid-Life Crisis” and 12 other books. She is also a professor at Old Dominion University for their MFA Creative Writing program.
Igloria was originally from Baguio City in the Philippines. She is an 11-time recipient of the Carlos Palanca Memorial Award for Literature, which is the Philippines’ most prestigious literary prize, and was the inaugural recipient of the 2015 Resurgence Poetry Prize in the U.K. for ecopoetry. In July of 2020 she was appointed the 20th Poet Laureate of the Commonwealth of Virginia. According to the Poetry Foundation, she has been writing at least a poem a day since November of 2010.
After being introduced by SMCM English professor Jeffrey Coleman, Igloria began the reading with a poem written by Emma Lazarus, called “The New Colossus.” She first read it in English and then her own translation in the Filipino language. This poem is about the Statue of Liberty and fits well with the theme of America and the immigrant experience, which Igloria has written about, sometimes in epistolary poems. These are poems written in the style of letters such as “Dear America.”
SMCM students had various reactions. “I’ve been to a lot of VOICES readings,” said senior Quincey Poersch. When asked about Thursday’s reading, she said, “It went pretty well. I felt like the intro was a little rough. The transition from zoom to in-person was a little shaky.”
Another SMCM senior, Charlotte Mac Kay, said, “I thought the VOICES reading was beautiful! Igloria was very down-to-earth and her poetry was striking and relatable. It felt like being a small part of history!”
“Poem With Statues Falling” is a piece written by Igloria that was featured in The New York Times. It was put in a new time capsule made after the Robert E. Lee monument in Virginia was removed.
One of Igloria’s books is called “Ode to the Heart Smaller Than a Pencil Eraser.” This collection contains a poem called “How to Flinch.” Igloria explained that the inspiration for this poem came from the way literary reviews often praise a work by calling it “unflinching.” As a poet, Igloria feels it is her duty to provoke a bit of discomfort or “flinching” with her work to make people feel things.
Another poem she read was called “Wanderer,” also from the book “Ode to the Heart Smaller Than a Pencil Eraser.” A particularly striking phrase from this poem was “turning sorrow into sustenance.” Igloria was inspired by the way that characters in folklore or fairy tales are often made to do impossible labor or tasks.
In the book “The Buddha Wonders if She is Having a Mid-life Crisis,” Igloria explores the idea of the Buddha in modern life with what she calls Buddha persona poems. “The Buddha goes on the internet” is one example. “It is not easy to think of the ideal as less than the ideal,” said Igloria.
In “Maps for Migrants and Ghosts,” Igloria writes not just about loss but also “the sense of being dislocated” that many immigrants experience. Sometimes “you feel like you are in two bodies,” she says. Her poem “Decryption” addresses her own personal trauma.
“The fruit isn’t to blame for its sheen, nor the star for marking the place where its light was last seen,” wrote Igloria in her poem “Orchard.” Some of these poems can be found on the Poetry Foundation website.
VOICES readings will occur throughout the semester on Thursday evenings at 8:15 p.m. in Daugherty-Palmer Commons. All readings are free and open to the public.