“They Live!” A Night of Poetic Dialogue

By Jess Taylor

Davis — The MFA in Creative Writing program at UC Davis held a poetry night Tuesday evening via Zoom. Sawyer Elm, a student in the program, hosted the event and introduced each of the gifted writers. 

Beginning the program, Elm comically explained how the title “They Live!” came to be. With a big smile, he chuckled that the title is to provoke the phenomenon that happens when students realize their professors are real people. Not only are they real, but they are cool and great writers.

Starting the night was André Naffis-Sahely, who is a poet, writer and editor. He was born in Venice to an Iranian father and Italian mother, grew up in the United Arab Emirates then moved to the U.S. five years ago.

He has translated over twenty titles of poetry and fiction, has been featured throughout numerous publications and was awarded fellowships from MacDowell Colony and Dar al-Ma’mun. 

Naffis-Sahely read from his second book “The Other Side of Nowhere.” His poetry was full of scenic visuals paired with vivid details. Before reading his poem “Road Runners,” he informed that he found himself at home in the deserted Midwest once while moving to the states. This poem was his way of trying to make sense of the historical patterns that have prevailed in our nation. The rhythm of his writing was slow and smooth as he spoke each line softly. The concern for historical issues was prominent in his tone and in his poetry.

Following after was Val Brelinksi, whose energy captured her audience. Born in Napa, Idaho, much of her poetry is set in rural surroundings. She has been featured in magazines of notoriety, like Vogue, and has received prizes for her fiction writing from the San Francisco Chronicle, The Charlottesville Weekly and Boise Weekly. She teaches creative writing for Stanford’s Continuing Studies Program. 

She read part of her poem “Knock Knock,” which is about a family ready to implode in some surprising and ugly ways in rural Idaho during the mid-1960s. Reciting with a smile, enthusiasm radiated with her words while she surged her voice up and down to change with the descriptive details in the story. As the circumstances evolved, Brelinski adapted to the scene, whether it be to whisper or sneak in a giggle to add context.

Third, in line was Rai Gouirand, who mentioned she was barely older than her students when she began lecturing at Davis. Her passion to read and express herself through poetry illuminated by the way she addressed the audience.

Out of her two collections of poetry, she chose to recite from “Glass is Glass Water is Water.” Giving the viewers a preface, she noted the book is a decided central of queer sensibility. There are a number of relationships told through a series of questions the poems turn over again and again about meaning. The way she spoke was slow that enabled the listeners to process the meaning each word unveiled.

Closing the night was Greg Glazner, who teaches undergraduate education at UC Davis. In addition to earning awards comprising of The Walt Whitman Award, the Bess Hokin Aware from Poetry and an N.E.A. Fellowship, his work has also graciously appeared in magazines, like the Los Angeles Review of Books. A man of many talents, Glazner also collaborates as an electric guitarist for bands and composers. 

Glazner gave no context as to what his poetry was about and almost immediately began to read after his introduction; this created a curiosity among viewers. As he started his book Cellar Testament, the complex level of descriptive detail set his listeners amid the tornado the poem is set in. His leveled tone with brief pauses enabled those watching to process the sensations individuals have as they evaluate what is meaningful in life.  

The night ended with all the viewers on Zoom unmuting themselves to collectively clap and honor those that shared their poetry. The MFA program in Creative Writing is currently planning their next “They Live!” speaker night that is to be announced. 

Jess Taylor is in her senior year at UC Davis from a small town called Wheatland. She is finishing her studies in English and Human Rights.

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