Francis Harvey Green Library – A diverse group of sixty West Chester University faculty, staff, community members, and students gathered in Special Collections on Wednesday September 19. The occasion that united the patrons in attendance was a publishing craft talk hosted by Dr. Eleanor Shevlin and featuring Dr. Cherise Pollard. Their conversation focused on the details of the publishing process regarding Dr. Pollard’s award-winning poetry chapbook Outsiders (MWC Press, 2016). Dr. Pollard’s collection was recognized as the Mississippi Valley/ Susan K. Collins Poetry Chapbook contest winner for 2015 by Midwest Writing Center.
“Sharing my creative work with my colleagues and students was gratifying,” said Dr. Pollard. “I felt tremendous synergy in the room.”
During their conversation, the professors discussed how Dr. Pollard chose the poems for Outsiders. Compiling the collection from a larger group of poems with shared themes, Dr. Pollard drew on experiences throughout her life and career to create Outsiders. She wrote some of the poems for Outsiders while she attended graduate school. Others were published in Daedalus, the annual literary magazine for members of the West Chester University community. The collection also features poems that were published in national literary magazines, such as African American Review. A portion of the collection responds to the African American literature Dr. Pollard teaches. Her poem “Maude’s Lament,” was written in response to “Sadie and Maude” by Gwendolyn Brooks. Dr. Pollard indicated she combined some of her most powerful poems to form Outsiders. Her craft talk with Dr. Shevlin highlighted the perseverance and determination required for poets to find a home for their work.
“For aspiring creative writers, this conversation shed important light on how a poet’s work finds its way to a publisher and then readers. Moreover, just as the event was the result of close, multiple collaborations, so too is the production of any written work,” said Dr. Shevlin. “It can be illuminating to readers to discover the process behind any given book—each will have a distinctive story. Understanding how a book—whether poetry, nonfiction, a scholarly monograph, or any number of genres—came to be can reveal much not just about a particular work but also the many hands that helped bring it to the public.”
When the craft talk portion of the program concluded, Dr. Pollard performed a set of poems from Outsiders. The poems she chose covered a wide variety of topics and experiences, from her reflection on what a family experiences when they visit an incarcerated loved one, to the reality of living with an autoimmune disease, to a lighthearted description of Keebler cookies. Dr. Pollard’s poetry displayed an unflinching eye for detail and a keen sense of empathy for the subjects of her poems. She read with passion and energy, which brought the narratives from her collection to life.
“Even though it is not in the collection, I always enjoy reading ‘Cookie Man’ because the audience is always surprised by its humor and emotional complexity,” said Dr. Pollard. ‘The Kidney’ is one of my favorites, too, because it reminds me of the ways in which doctor/patient relationships develop and evolve. The early prison visit poems have a strong emotional pull--even decades later, they continue to be evocative.”
Attendees visibly responded to Dr. Pollard’s poetry. Audience members seemed to live the poems along with Dr. Pollard as she read them aloud. Some quietly gasped or covered their mouths in surprise. Moments such as those, when the poet and her audience aligned emotionally, were compelling. The reading was a living example of what the poet CM Burroughs meant when she reviewed Dr. Pollard’s chapbook and wrote, “Outsiders is a marvel of persistence, process, and will call on your empathy as it did mine.” When the reading concluded, Dr. Pollard’s words seemed to linger in the atmosphere of the room and with those who heard her words. The audience buzzed with conversation about the collection and the reading they just witnessed as Dr. Pollard signed copies of Outsiders.
“Special Collections is the ideal venue for gatherings that celebrate the creative output and scholarship of various campus members, and the room definitely lent a celebratory air to Dr. Pollard’s reading” said Dr. Shevlin. “People feel special in that room—and for many students it was the first time they had been inside its walls, and for still others it was the first time they learned that FHG Library’s Special Collections exist.”
Many organizations from the campus community united to make the publishing craft talk and poetry reading possible. Those organizations included West Chester University Libraries, Francis Harvey Green Library Special Collections, The West Chester University Graduate Writing Program, and The West Chester University Center for Book History. The spirit of cooperation between organizations added to the sense of accomplishment after the reading.
“Collaborating with Dr. Shevlin and the English Department on this event was rewarding on so many levels. We love having the WCU community visit Special Collections to see what is surely the loveliest room in the FHG Library,” said Dean of University Libraries Mary Page. “Bring together an amazing poet and an inspiring setting, and you have a successful and worthwhile event. That there was a large student turnout speaks to how important such programs are to the campus community.”
Patrons who were unable to attend the event will be able to experience Outsiders in the near future. Dean Page indicated that a copy of the chapbook will be added to the general collection at Francis Harvey Green Library. A second copy, which was signed by Dr. Pollard, will be added to the archives in Special Collections.