Zoya Azhar ’20
The poetry reading by Gail Mazur ’59 took place at the Conference Center on Oct. 4 and was organized by the Poetry Center and the English department. Gail completed her Bachelor’s degree in English Literature and published her first anthology of poems – Nightfire – when she was 40. She noted that some might think 40 was not the ripest age at which to release one’s first piece of work; but that for her, it was just the right time considering where she was in her life. Her wealth of life experience allowed for an anthology full of nuance and depth.
She provided the audience, which was made up of many residents from surrounding areas, with anecdotes and witty thoughts in between reciting her poetry. In retrospect, the only comment that came close to summing up the experience of hearing Mazur’s poems was published by Booklist magazine. Booklist writes, “Mazur’s poems read like phone calls from a friend who confides a rush of contradictory feelings in a warm and compelling voice that could, dear reader, be your own.”
Her poetry is intimate and detailed, perhaps even confusing at times, since the contradictions are layered within the poem and ultimately work together to drive the point home. She started by reciting “Hermit,” from her 2011 anthology titled Figures in a Landscape, a beautiful and thought-provoking poem which touched on themes of identity and transience, and went on to recite poems from They Can’t Take That Away From Me and Zeppo’s First Wife: New and Selected Poems among others.
Her choice of diction in poetry sticks out, especially in a poem like ‘Young Apple Tree, December’ where the words are palpably precise and produce vivid imagery such as in the lines “that she outlast you; / that she prepare for the hungry world / (the fallen world, the loony world) / something shapely, useful, new, delicious.”
Hearing Mazur talk about the background to ‘Young Apple Tree, December’ was also extremely interesting. She explained that the poem had been a commissioned piece, and in a desperate attempt to stop putting the writing off, she asked her husband to say something about trees to her. He said, “When they grow they seek balance,” which was enough to inspire Gail. It serves as a powerful point to take away from the poem.
She recited poems about her time before marriage and at Smith (‘The Mystery’) and also touched on religious history with “To the Women of My Family.”
It was heartening to see the genuine responses the audience offered the poet, in between verses and at the end of poems; a quick laugh or an exchange of knowing smiles with their neighbor – everyone in attendance was thoroughly invested in the poetry, and the atmosphere made the event all the more enjoyable.