Visiting Poet Laureate describes the power of poetry


In two talks on Monday and Wednesday nights, Franciscan University was pleased to host Sofia Starnes, Virginia’s Poet Laureate from 2012 to 2014, who described poetry as an odyssey and every reader as an Odysseus.

Poems are not simply short pieces, according to Starnes. They allow the reader to feel, sense and hope as they journey through the words. Starnes said, “Where memory fails, language, the word, will take us.”

The gift of language differentiates humanity from other creatures, but it also makes mankind whole, said Starnes.

Emphasizing the reality of poetry, Starnes said that the best poems are committed to what is true.

Students sat in meditative silence during her first talk, “Poetry: Insistent Call, Essential Answer,” as she explained how a reader enters a poem.

“Entering is the crucial distinction between reading poetry and prose,” she said. In order for a poem to live on, it must connect with the reader by creating an emotional landscape.

Starnes explained the emotional draw of a poem through the words of Robert Frost, “A poem be-gins as a lump in the throat, a sense of wrong, a homesickness, a lovesickness.” Following this, Starnes recited two examples of each feeling. The poems included international authors such as Anna Akhmatova, Seamus Heany and Billy Collins.

In Starnes’ second appearance, she read several original poems and spoke of their significance. “Last. Child.,” “The Soul’s Landscape” and “The Ways of Touch” were just a few of the selections presented. She explained her process of writing saying that her memories shaped many of the poems.

Following her presentations there was a brief Q & A.

When asked for advice for aspiring poets, Starnes said, “Immerse yourself in words. Just read a chapter and sink into the language.” Starnes emphasized the importance of reading authors whom one respects and to whom one feels a connection. “The poems will come,” she said.

Starnes ended her final presentation by saying that new poets should not be discouraged by rejection.

She said, “Rejections are a way of teaching us.”

The students who attended the presentations appreciated Starnes’ love for words. Emily Waun, freshman, said that Starnes inspired her.

“Poetry is really a fun way to express yourself,” Waun said.