Poetry at Smith: A Review of Ellen Bryant Voigt and T. Miller’s Reading

Kitty Dymek ’14
Contributing Writer

Tuesday, the 22nd of October, was a great night for the many poetry lovers at Smith. Ellen Bryant Voigt, brought in through the Smith Poetry Center, read in Weinstein Auditorium to an audience of just over one hundred people. The reading lasted from 7:30 to 8:30 p.m., as most Poetry Center readings do, leaving time for students to book it over to the CC TV Lounge for an additional 9:30 p.m. performance by YouTube-famous spoken word performer T. Miller, brought in that night by the Student Event Committee.

I happened to attend both events, so unfortunately I missed both the 8:00 p.m. open mic that preceded the CC TV Lounge’s Feature and the weekly gathering of poets that occurs at the Hinge on Tuesday nights. However, I would definitely say that my choices were well worth their sacrifices, as I took from the evening an autograph from one admired poet, a free hug from the other, and joy in my heart.

But I am getting ahead of myself; let me review both events in sequence. I had been expecting Voigt’s reading for at least a month. As interns at the poetry center, Amber Rounds ‘14J and I had read through most her published books, including Headwaters, Two Trees and Messenger: New and Selected Poems, in our search for poems that best exemplified her work. The fruits of our combined efforts can be found in the Poetry Center in celebration of Voigt’s reading – stacks of lilac post cards, bearing the chosen poems, free for anyone to take home to those unoccupied spaces on their dorm-room walls.

Readings Voigt’s work gave me an idea of what her reading would be like. Many of Voigt’s poems, including my favorites, seemed rather somber. I had it in my mind that I would meet a serious woman, deliverer of deep pauses and harsh lines. But the woman I actually met was very different. While certainly sincere, she knew how to lay down her words with a not-so-subtle touch of humor. Her banter between poems was playful, her delivery inclusive of the audience at large. Laughter rang through the auditorium more than once. There was even a really clear musicality to her work that I somehow hadn’t noticed before.

T. Miller’s performance, while less surprising in its nature, was just as exciting. I knew Miller was a Women of The World Poetry Slam top-five finalist for three years, and I had seen performances of “Frank Ocean” and “Us – Black Women.” She already ranked high on my list of poets that I hope to meet before I die, and after the evening was through, she casually sidled over to the list of poets that I would love to meet again if Life decides to be really kind.

For the second time that evening, I witnessed poetry bring a room to life. Miller performed a range of pieces – from humorous poems addressed to ex-lovers, to heavier realities; from brand new pieces, to the poems that made her famous. When the Q&A came around, many asked questions about Miller’s career as a poet, how she got started, how she tailored poems to her audiences. Then Miller read us one more piece and ended the performance. I couldn’t believe how quickly the time had flown by. I don’t think any of us were really ready for the evening to end.”

Miller must have also felt our love and appreciation. @Tmillerpoetry posted to Twitter that evening, describing the Smith audience as “fun, engaged, present, [and] heartfelt.” She said, “Smith College, you gave me everything tonight.”

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