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Students, faculty gather to share poetry in the spirit of Sister Madeleva

| Wednesday, September 25, 2019

Students and faculty gathered to hear professor of English Rebecca Lehmann and Sister Eva Hooker read their poetry Tuesday.

This event, co-sponsored by the English and gender and women’s studies departments, recognized two gifted members of Saint Mary’s faculty and also served as book launch for Lehmann’s book, “Ringer.”

Margaret Cicchiello | The Observer
Sr. Eva Hooker stands with a Saint John’s Bible, the page turned to an image of Mary Magdalene meeting Jesus in the garden, a scene featured in her poem “Mary Magdalene.”

Laura Haigwood, chair of the English department at Saint Mary’s, organized and promoted the event. Haigwood said the reading was held in the spirit of Sister M. Madeleva Wolff, the third president of the College, who was also a renowned and respected poet.

“Tonight we gather to experience [and] celebrate … as Sister Madeleva, especially, would wish us to do by making space and taking time for beauty,” Haigwood said.

Hooker introduced her colleague to the audience and said Lehmann’s second book “Ringer was the “winner of one of the most prestigious prizes given to a poet, the Donald Hall Prize for Poetry.” The Donald Hall Prize for Poetry, which was awarded to Lehmann in 2018, is an opportunity for authors that includes a cash prize and the publication of their book.

“We are gathered here tonight to celebrate Rebecca’s gift for making poems,” Hooker said.

Hooker then said she remembered spending a Sunday reading “Ringer” and praising Lehmann’s “gift for the unveiling of the soul.”

Lehmann recited ten poems, including “Ringer,” in which she experimented with repetition and recounted early days with her son, “Two Beauties,” a poem recounting staying with her father and grandfather as a child, and “Epithalamion.”

When introducing Hooker, Lehmann said Hooker’s poems are “firmly grounded in nature” and that Hooker’s language “is sometimes minimalistic but always powerfully present.”

Before she began, Hooker explained to the audience that she was “taking a risk” because she was reading fairly new work. Providing context, Hooker said she was “on the Atlantic” for these poems, near where she lived when she completed a T.S. Eliot residency this summer.

Hooker read works titled “Sea Rose,” “The Offing,” “Mary Magdalene” and “Live Coal In My Mouth.” There was a Saint John’s Bible present at the event, and Hooker used an illustration of Mary Magdalene meeting Jesus in the garden to underline the content of her poem “Mary Magdalene.”

Lehmann said her perception of the world has changed as she has grown, as reflected in her poetry.

“When I was younger, I was a lot more cynical and pessimistic about the world,” she said.

When giving context for the titular poem “Ringer,” she said that she “put aside her former self” as she entered a new stage in her life, namely, the birth of her two children.

Hooker said her poetry has also changed over time.

“I’d say my poetry has gotten quieter as the years have gone by,” Hooker said. “I’m much more interested in how we move in nature … in how caring for the earth is also a spiritual practice.”

Sophomore Natalie Davis said she was excited to support these individuals and reflect on the unique experiences and universal themes in their work.

“Events like this are important because they help get staff members noticed and they help the students realize that this is something they can do,” Davis said.

Haigwood praised the presenting poets’ works as contributing to the College’s community and offering spiritual insights.

“Professor Rebecca Lehmann’s award-winning second book ‘Ringer’ resonates with faculty and students at Saint Mary’s because she is a valued member of our intellectual and creative community whose exquisitely crafted poetry engages both timely and timeless topics, and does so from the sensitively critical perspective of a thoughtful, perceptive, articulate, contemporary American woman,” Haigwood said. “Similarly, Sister Eva Hooker’s poetry gives us finely wrought insight into the spiritual substance of human being, informed by her profoundly observant and generative Catholic perspective.” 

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