Award-winning poet Jacqueline Osherow reads at Co-op Bookstore

Award-winning poet Jacqueline Osherow speaks during her reading at the UConn Co-op Bookstore at Storrs Center in Storrs, Connecticut on Wednesday, Nov. 11, 2015. (Amar Batra/The Daily Campus)

Award-winning poet Jacqueline Osherow read from her favorite and most recent works Wednesday night, emphasizing the importance of creative writing and poetry to an audience of English students and faculty.

Penelope Pelizzon, an associate professor in English at the University of Connecticut, introduced Osherow by stressing the relatability of her poems, even when dealing with complex or unfamiliar topics. 

“There is a way where you’ll hear about a biblical situation that feels very relatable, because [Osherow’s] presented it in a certain way,” Pelizzon said.

Osherow is the author of seven books and has won awards from numerous groups dedicated to poetry and the arts, including the Guggenheim foundation and the National Endowment for the Arts. Osherow began her reading with a poem about how ordinary work can become extraordinary when one understands the labors of the artist and what the work means to them.

“It’s the sort of painting I could never stand. A white square, askew on a white background. One more incarnation of that swindled emperor...Why would you paint a white square on a white background?” Osherow read. “Better to secure a sound white square, however unremarkable, unsubtle. A person has to settle for what’s possible. A white square on a white background, askew.”

Before other works, Osherow explained what certain words mean, as many of her poems draw on ancient scenes, such as old Middle Eastern cities.

“The medina is the ancient center of the city, and in the case of Fez, it has fantastic, windy roads, like something out of a movie,” Osherow said.

Two of poet Jacqueline Osherow's books are seen during her reading at the UConn Co-op Bookstore in Storrs Center on Wednesday, Nov. 11, 2015. (Amar Batra/The Daily Campus)

Aware that the audience was predominantly students, Osherow took the time to explain some of the lines in her poem, reminiscing about familiar antiques such as typewriters.

“I don’t know if you even have an idea of what I’m talking about when I’m talking about typewriters, but they used to make this wonderful ‘clack’ noise, so that it made sound when you write. They were messy, though, so I suppose I don’t really miss typewriters,” Osherow said.

The inspirations for Osherow’s poems varied from bird watching to places she had been and even early 20th century architecture, as was the case for one poem, which Osherow explained was inspired by her travels overseas.

“I became obsessed with…architecture after I lived in Belgium for a month…This is a half-crown of sonnets,” Osherow explained. “A crown of sonnets is a difficult thing to write because the final line of the first sonnet becomes the first line of the next sonnet, but I cheat a bit here by only using something from the final line in the next sonnet.”

Prior to reading her final poem of the evening, Osherow described the setting, which was based on her personal travel experience.

“One of the places they take you to see in Fez, is the place for dying leather. They have these huge vats of all different colors…You look out and you see these mounds of color, it’s really quite remarkable. It sounds crazy, but it’s remarkable,” Osherow said.

Students responded positively to Osherow’s emphatic and emotional delivery, including some students who called it the best poetry reading this year.

“I’ve been to all of these readings, but this was definitely something inspiring,” fifth semester English and communications double major Jacob Nelson said.


Edward Pankowski is the life editor for The Daily Campus. He can be reached via email at edward.pankowski@uconn.edu.