Celebrating National Poetry Month at Highline Community College

Karen Finneyfrock with her poem "Ghosts" and me
What a fantastic event! This year for the first time, Highline Community College is putting on a grand celebration for National Poetry Month. It's less than halfway through the month and we've already put on three events: we've had a reception for the "Words on the Wall: Broadside Exhibit," which features broadsides by Highline students, faculty, and friends of the college --- including Karen Finneyfrock, Rachel Kessler, and Roberto Ascalon.

On Tuesday, the campus was treated to a reading/lecture/visual art show and writing workshop by Rachel Kessler. Her theme was water which included hand-washing poems, water fountains, and a history of the toilet. The students were thrilled --- who knew 16th century wise men pontificated and defecated  together while sitting on wooden boards?  I know this sounds stranger than strange; a juxtaposition of poetry with the profane, but in Rachel's hands --- all was gold. And speaking of hands, here is a copy of one of her pubic health hand-washing poems.

Example of Rachel Kessler's hand-washing poems
  Rachel's project of Public Health poems means that you can find her deceptively simple words in bathrooms all over campus. 20 seconds is how long a person should spend washing their hands and so Rachel wrote poems that take exactly that long to read. The bathroom at my house now boasts a few of Kessler's pieces.

On Thursday, Karen Finneyfrock performed to a standing room only crowd at the Student Union. Her balance of humor and pathos, darkness and light, poetry and prose was electric. Perhaps my favorite part of her presentation (but why would I choose just one?) was the question and answer session with my students. Karen let them know how many hours of practice are poured into acting "natural" and that she is vulnerable in front of them; that sharing one's poetry (or prose) is always going to make one vulnerable no matter how famous they are. Students told her and later, wrote about, how hearing Karen perform made them want to write their own poems.

Finally, it was the rush of students who surrounded Karen afterwards to have her sign a copy of her first novel The Revenge of Celia Door or to just tell her how much they'd loved her reading that made me  happiest. For most of my students this was the first time hearing a poet read her work aloud (unless they heard Rachel on Tuesday) and it is an experience that they deeply enjoyed.                                                                                                                                                                  


  1. "How many hours are poured into acting natural" - Wow, it really helped me to see this statement in black and white. Thanks, Susan.


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