The poet Allison Joseph stopped by DePaul to read her poetry and answer questions from students Thursday, Oct. 5.
Joseph lives, writes and teaches in Carbondale, IL. Joseph is editor of Crab Orchard Review, directs the MFA program, and runs the Young Writers Workshop, a summer program for high school students.
She has published fifteen books and chapbooks. Joseph whispers “just can’t stop,” as she’s being introduced by poet and professor of English at DePaul, Chris Green.
Green ends his presentation by reading one of Joseph’s poem that was published in an anthology, “If Waitress Own the White House.” Joseph reflected on the importance of doing timely writing.
“I’m going to do a reading that verges from the despairing to the joyful, so it may be a little schizophrenic, because I think that’s how we’re all feeling these days,” Joseph said. “To be able to use the genre of poetry to reflect what is happening on the national news, whatever is happening individually to us because of our status as human beings.”
Joseph recognizes the dangers of writing critically about powerful political entities.
“I was teaching a class last fall, and I asked my graduate students, it was a class in which we were looking at poets from around the world, poets who had suffered exile by their own government, who were blacklisted, censored, or even killed for writing poetry,” Joseph said. “I asked my students, do you see yourselves as political poets, and they were all like, ‘no, no, don’t put that on me.’ I wonder what they would say now.”
But Joseph pushed them to continue despite their fears.
“By the end of that class I had a student that was writing things that were truly, directly political. We can’t keep out things that we think are one way or another, it all comes into our writing, into our lives,” Joseph said.
Joseph is the winner of 2017 New Georgia Arts Literary Award. Among her other honors include being in the Academy of American Poets, John C. Zacharis First Book Prize, fellowships from the Bread Loaf and Sewanee Writers Conferences, Ruth Lilly Fellowship and an Illinois Arts Council Fellowship in Poetry.
Joseph prefaced her first reading by ruminating on the importance of being a writer.
“I write to be a recorder, observer, participant, and sometimes, even judge. I want to engage the world as I see it with my whole self—all those different aspects of it.”
Joseph followed her first poem, “Headline News,” with “Ordinary Dress,” a poem about her wedding day and the fact that she didn’t have a wedding dress as she married her husband of 25 years when they were graduate students.
The poem that followed was inspired by Kellyanne Conway’s infamous phrase, “Alternative Facts”. Conway is Donald Trump’s senior adviser. The poem is based on Conway’s statement that there is no such thing as lying, but there were alternative facts.
The poem went viral, one public radio station in Illinois had Joseph come to record the poem. The station manager then tweeted the recording to Conway. Joseph joked, “If I disappear, please keep my books in print, I loved all of you.”
“Cake shall henceforth be known as alternative celery. Students, don’t be upset if you get an F. It’s just an alternative A,” the poem reads.
“The reading tonight was wonderful. Meeting people like Joseph that is so well versed is inspirational. I love her voice”, said graduate student Chandler Garland.
Joseph ended the reading by giving students advice on how to write meaningful poetry.
“Write a poem about the thing that you find most interesting poetically that is the smallest thing that you can conceive of, it could be a lady bug. It forces you to pay attention to other things that people ignore.”
“I think she’s a wonderful writer, she makes poetry so effortless,” said DePaul student Estella Achinko.
Joseph’s latest book, “Confession of a Barefaced Women,” is forthcoming in March 2018.