Lisa Sewell reads from her latest collection of poems, Name Withheld
What things inform our identity? What is the weight of a name? In her poem, “My Sole Genealogy,” Lisa Sewell explores the legends, family histories and etymologies of her last name and admits, “My tongue slips on first and final syllables, and I am not well or seaworthy…” Yet, she concludes that the very real sense of home, “the shifty underground of Southern California was a solid place,” is finally more grounding in affirming one’s sense of identity.
Sewell, an associate professor of English and creative writing, read this and other poems from her latest work, Name Withheld (Four Way Books, 2006), on October 30 in the library first floor lounge, as part of the Scholarship @ Villanova series sponsored by Falvey Memorial Library. At the outset, she noted that the collection explores those “things that inform identity.”
“My Sole Genealogy” displays much of the poetic virtuosity evident in Sewell’s poems, such as the subtle humor in her word play (“the shifty underground… was a solid place”) and the musicality in her language which resonates and echoes the sounds in her name (“Perhaps he liked the sibilance, the proximity to jewel and shul.”).
The poems are approachable, yet transformative. Some reflect a response to and a synthesis of events, as she employs the ghazal, an ancient Persian verse form, as a vehicle for phrases captured from the diaries of Iraqui peace workers, in “Ghazal for the First Day of Spring.” She also takes an unsettling first-person look at the Oklahoma City bomber in “Master of My Fate.”
Sewell has been awarded a Creative Writing Fellowship from the National Endowment for the Arts, numerous Pushcart Prize nominations and Yaddo fellowships, and a Pennsylvania Council on the Arts Fellowship in Poetry.
One of Sewell’s students, a member of the audience, attested to her professor’s ability to make poetry come alive: “She really connects with her students.”
Contributed by Judy Olsen, photograph by Alice Bampton