Romance languages department hosts annual poetry reading

High school and college students joined Washington and Lee faculty members in reciting their favorite poems.


Rockbridge County High School students perform French poem “Liberte.” Photo by Grace Mamon.

Grace Mamon

Students from Rockbridge County High School and Washington and Lee University convened in the Book Nook in Leyburn last week for multilingual poetry, celebrating the romance languages department’s annual poetry reading.

Dr. Seth Michelson, a Spanish literature professor, organized the event on Nov. 8 as “a celebration of multilingual, transhistorical, and transcultural poetic expression,” according to the event program.

“Coming as it does in a historical moment rife with unusually violent divisions and antagonisms hurting so many members of our overlapping communities, it is of special importance that we come together this evening through poetry,” Michelson wrote.

Participants submitted a poem in Spanish, Italian, French or Portuguese to read at the event. Rockbridge County High School French students joined Washington and Lee students and retired members of the university’s faculty.

“Through your presence in poetry, whether as a presenter or listener, you are channeling the deep rivers of human compassion and creativity that connect us,” Michelson wrote.

Spanish Professor Jeff Barnett who emceed the event said it’s grown in attendance throughout the decades since it first started.

“This is a time for us to come together to celebrate poetry, the poetic and the aesthetic,” Barnett said.

This year, Uruguayan poet Silvia Guerra was featured as the guest reader. Guerra kicked off the event by reading several poems in Spanish from her latest anthology, Un mar en madrugada/A Sea at Dawn.

Guerra began writing poetry during Uruguay’s tumultuous transition to democracy. According to the University of Notre Dame’s Kellogg Institute for International Studies, she’s seen as “one of the most innovative and powerful poetic voices from Latin America.”

Guerra took turns sharing the mic with other performers. Some performers chose an existing poem in their desired language, while others, like Bridget Washington, ‘21, Diego Saavedra, ‘22, and Professor Cristina Pinto-Bailey read original poems.

Seven students from Rockbridge High School – Kelby Bartley, Elise Brooke, Garrison Drake, Katie Kirkpatrick, Brendan McCrady, Martha Orr, and Tanner Van Lear – read “Liberté,” by French poet Paul Eluard. They asked the audience to read the final line of each stanza, “J’écris ton nom,” in unison and held up letters that spelled the title of the poem.

Retired Washington and Lee faculty member Amy Richwine lightened up the evening by reading three Italian tongue twisters and then translating.

Andrew Crean, ‘22, read “Desde mi pequeña vida,” which he said is about a sister grieving her brother’s death.

“She’s talking about how, even though he’s gone, there are so many parts of him that still exist in her life,” Crean said. “It’s kind of a dark poem but the reason I chose it was that, even for someone who doesn’t know a lot of Spanish, it still carries a lot of meaning.”

Grace Pelosky, ‘22, and Emma Cannella, ‘22, also recited a Spanish poem entitled “El poeta.”

“It’s about a lot of things, but mainly how poetry can open the door for someone,” Pelosky said before the event.