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Poetry House hosts award-winning writers

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Although it was the first night of Fall Break, students packed into the living room of the Poetry House on Friday, Oct. 10, squishing together to make room for everyone. When every last inch of floor space was occupied, people watched from the stairwell. The large crowd gathered to see Thadra Sheridan and Cristin O’Keefe Aptowicz perform poetry, which covered topics ranging from William Howard Taft to waitressing to the various stages of relationships.

A local artist, Sheridan was raised in Northfield and is currently based in Minneapolis. Her work has been published in many newspapers and anthologies. One of her poems, “Waiting,” about waitressing at a restaurant with terrible customers, went viral after being turned into a film for Button Poetry. The video has earned nearly 750,000 views on YouTube and was shared by the Web site UpWorthy.

Aptowicz was raised in Philadelphia and is the author of six collections of poetry and a nonfiction chronicle of slam poetry called Words in Your Face. She has served as Writer in Residence at the University of Pennsylvania and at the Amy Clampitt House in Massachusetts. She was also awarded the National Endowment for the Arts Fellowship in Literature in 2011.

Standing in front of a thin maroon curtain and addressing an enraptured audience, Aptowicz opened the evening with a work called “Taft.” This poem concerned William Howard Taft’s famous obesity and how little he cared about anyone’s opinion. It elicited much laughter, and Aptowicz turned the program over to Sheridan. Sheridan delivered poems in a dynamic style about a breakup, distraction from the ills of the world and the popular “Waiting.” Her words kept the audience’s attention, earning snaps and “oohs.”

Apotowicz’s performance was electrifying. With dramatic gestures and vibrant voice, Aptowicz created a theatrical effect that showcased comedy, tragedy and often the mixture of both in her poetry. She performed works about the gift of words her mother gave her, neighborhood fathers taking children trick-or-treating on Halloween and all the antics that resulted from that and moving from New York City to Austin, Texas.

However, the poems that resounded most with the audience were about romance. Three were connected in a story arc concerning her relationship and break-up with a geology major named Jason.

The first was entitled “Science” and described her love for him in concepts that he would understand, such as cold fusion and the Heisenberg uncertainty principle. The second was written after Aptowicz’s relationship with Jason dissolved, a blaze of ferocity entitled “Lit.”

In direct contrast with “Science,” “Lit” was written using references to literature specifically so Jason could not understand it. This poem was especially loved by the crowd. Lines like “inner thirstin’ to read some Zora Neale Hurston,” “the only Morrison you know is Jim,” and “go Plath yourself” earned a plethora of snaps. “Cristin’s a Bitter Bitchosaurus Rex” is the final poem in the Jason saga, contrasting Jason’s discovery of a new dinosaur with her own much less exciting job at the time, writing pornography.

Aptowicz closed her set with a poem dedicated to all the poets listening entitled “For the People Who Keep Asking Me Why I Still Slam.” This final work was a wonderful way to end, empowering all the Oles in the audience with aspirations of someday standing in Aptowicz and Sheridan’s places. When Aptowicz ‘s performance ended, there was a moment of hush before the room broke into wild applause.

walker1@stolaf.edu