Stephen Cushman Delivers Wednesday Night Poetry Reading

Stephen Cushman, visiting scholar and lauded poet, read verse addressing torture and animal cruelty, in addition to incorporating sexual innuendo, last Wednesday.

Despite the dark themes of a few of his poems, Cushman gave the reading a light and informal feeling, inviting the audience to interject at any point with any questions, comments or criticisms.

“I enjoyed his sense of humor because it lightened the mood in the room and created a fun atmosphere, which is especially necessary during a Wednesday night poetry reading, when we’re all stressed enough about work as it is,” said Laurent Joli-Coeur ’15. “It was very eloquent. Hearing poetry told firsthand by the author brings a new light to the meaning of the poems, so it was a great experience to hear [Cushman] speak.”

In the intimacy of the Freeman Room, Cushman began by reading a series of shorter poems that he had selected from four of the different books he has written.

“I wanted to read poems that people would understand, that weren’t too long and that had a kind of closure and symmetry to them,” Cushman said.

One poem was titled “Toothbrush,” a bold reaction to an assertion made by Sylvia Plath, a Pulitzer Prize-winning poet, that it was impossible to write a poem about a toothbrush. Nevertheless, the poem’s subtext was not about a toothbrush, rather a sexual act.

Cushman read, “I could put a toothbrush in her mouth… or better yet, I’d like to be that toothbrush in her mouth.”

Following the short poems, which Cushman read with a constant, repetitive rhythm that he jokingly described as “Chinese water torture,” Cushman read an excerpt from a longer poem, “The Red List,” that will be published in 2014.

“I wanted to write something longer, something that didn’t rush towards closure, or neat resolution, so I started writing this, and it went on for nine or ten months,” said Cushman.

“The Red List” was a long commentary on endangerment of both animals and human interaction. The poem is a powerful ramble, interjected with short haikus. Cushman alternated between commentary on animal extinction and the detrimental effects of the internet and media on humans.

An excerpt from the “The Red List” reads, “There’s more life online than for those who are off, for those who don’t have a life or really exist! Tell it, little sister. Whatever one thinks of eagles and Jupiter and a parallel universe, where nothing plugs in, the urge to exist engines most urges from the gull of an eagle all the way up to you, who discriminate between mere existence and really existing.”