How to write (and revise) letters to Greek gods

Traci Brimhall at the public reading of her poetry

Story by Yashowanto Ghosh, Staff Writer

Picture courtesy of Yashowanto Ghosh / The Saint

Poet Traci Brimhall came to Aquinas by Zoom on April 15 for the final event of the 24th season of the Contemporary Writers Series, with an afternoon lecture and a public reading in the evening.

Brimhall, who has a Michigan connection from her graduate student days at Western Michigan University, is also a professor of creative writing at Kansas State. The afternoon lecture saw her professor persona, with a full-length lecture on the art of revision. Brimhall gave us a comprehensive treatment with three different approaches to revision, illustrated with comparisons of drafts and final versions of actual poems; one particularly illuminating example was her first-hand experience of the journey to her poem “Noli Me Tangere,” while other examples were from older poets, such as Elizabeth Bishop and Sylvia Plath. 

She even threw in examples of revision from visual art, showing us x-ray studies of one painting by da Vinci and one by Picasso.  The afternoon lecture was a class session of Professor Dan Mancilla’s section of EH210 (Creative Writing), and what Brimhall brought was spot-on for an audience of students working on their own poetry; at the same time, it was also a captivating hour for people (like me) who are into the poetic art and craft but not necessarily writing drafts on a deadline this semester.

Then the public reading in the evening (Passcode: hr9DOD#S) saw Brimhall’s poet persona.  She read from her 2020 collection Come the Slumberless to the Land of Nod, whose cover art you can see as her backdrop in the photo above.  The poems felt deeply dark—one even featured the sentencing of one of the murderers of a friend of the poem’s lyric “I”—yet there was a light touch of something surreal, an effect Brimhall accomplished by juxtaposing disparate images.  She even read an essay; she told us about her “Dear Eros” and “Dear Thanatos” poems, which are two ongoing series of poems in the letter form addressed to the respective Greek gods, and she encouraged everyone to try their own hands at writing similar “letters to an abstraction.”  The poetry was impressive and the evening memorable.  

The Contemporary Writers Series will resume for its Silver Jubilee year with two writers of young adult literature in fall.

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