Stokes Center Hosts Poetry Reading

By: Kaytlin Thornton | Contributor

Photo credit: Stokes Center for Creative Writing

April is National Poetry Month and to celebrate, the Stokes Center for Creative Writing held a reading at the Faculty Club last Thursday featuring the poets Chelsea Rathburn and James Davis-May. 

Chelsea Rathburn is the Poet Laureate of Georgia and is the author of three books of poetry. During the event she read several of the pieces from Still Life with Mother and Knife. Published in 2019 by the Louisiana State University Press, the collection covers a variety of topics including the female body, motherhood and the challenges of postpartum depression.

James Davis-May currently serves as Assistant professor at Mercer University and is a recipient of Poetry Society of America’s Cecil Hemley Award. His first collection Unquiet Things, a finalist for the Poet’s prize, brings light to the smaller moments of joy that can be found in everyday life.

The poets kept the audience engaged with their ability to harness emotion through language. Jaws hit the floor several times throughout the night, as the poets shared their stories of wonder, joy, depression and pain, true examples of the power of the poetic form.

When asked about the importance of poetry, and what it can do for students, Chelsea Rathburn spoke on how poetry can help people get to the root of deep emotions. 

“I think poetry can allow us access to complicated feelings,” Rathburn said, “It’s no secret that a lot of times people will go through things: break-ups, a death in the family. You know, these big serious things happen, and often they want to turn to a poem. A poem can offer some sort of solace. But, also at joyous occasions like when someone is getting married, they want to find something to give or to read to them. There’s something about poetry that allows us to gain access to the big stuff. The big feelings that maybe in our regular day to day lives, our conversations with others, we have trouble expressing or articulating.”

James Davis May also spoke about the importance of poetry and its versatility as a skill in both how and what it can help students learn.

“Poetry in general teaches you what it’s like to be a particular person at a particular time,” May said, “It teaches empathy, which we need more of. I also think that because poetry is so centered on description and metaphor it can be very useful for other disciplines. It could even be useful for the sciences. It’s about learning how to tell stories, how to construct images. So, I think for the general student who maybe doesn’t want to be a poet, I think it would still be a useful class to take.”

If you are looking to celebrate National Poetry Month during April, both poets’ collections are published by the Louisiana State University Press and can be found there.