April 11, 2014
Professor debuts new poetrySusquehanna Associate Professor of Creative Writing Karla Kelsey read from her new book of poetry titled "A Conjoined Book" on Thursday, April 10 at 7 p.m. "A Conjoined Book" is her third book, but the first to be written entirely in Pennsylvania.
"It's very much of this landscape and of this place," Kelsey said.
"A Conjoined Book" was written over a span of six to seven years, Kelsey said, beginning a few years after she came to Susquehanna.
Kelsey explained her choice of title. She said: "What that means is that it's two books hinged together." There are two sections titled "Aftermath" and "Become Tree, Become Bird."
Kelsey read first from "Aftermath," which she described as "very landscape based" and "quite fragmented, very musical."
She also said that an unnamed natural catastrophe is underlined in the section, and that the students attending the reading might notice both familiar landscapes and ocean imagery in her poems.
The second section, "Become Tree, Become Bird," was different from the first section due to an added narrative and the use of a fairy tale for a catastrophe, Kelsey said. She said that she took the first section and wove the fairy tale "The Juniper Tree" into it.
Kelsey ran through the plot of "The Juniper Tree" for the audience, calling it one of the most dramatic folktales she has read. According to Kelsey, the tale is split into three parts. Part one is about a man and a woman who want children. The woman does get pregnant, but has a foreboding feeling and asks the husband to bury her under the juniper tree if she dies. The woman eventually gives birth to a boy. "And, of course," Kelsey said, "she dies."
Part two opens up with the father remarrying a woman with a daughter of her own named Marlene. The stepmother is jealous of the boy and tricks him into being beheaded, and then tricks Marlene into thinking she killed her stepbrother. The stepmother plans to hide her daughter's supposed crime by cooking the boy into a stew, "Which in good fairytale fashion she does," Kelsey said.
In the final part, said Kelsey, the stepmother serves an unsuspecting father the stew, telling him that the boy has gone to visit an uncle. Marlene cannot stop crying and gathers the boy's bones and buries them under the juniper tree. Her stepbrother appears in the form of a bird from the tree and flies off singing about his story. He eventually collects a gold chain to give to his father, a pair of red shoes to give to his stepsister, and a millstone that he drops on the stepmother, killing her.
In some versions of the fairytale, Kelsey said, the bird vanishes and the tree bursts into flames and then life goes on. In other versions, the boy reappears alive to rejoin his father and stepsister. "They live more or less happily ever after, with a lot of therapy, I'm sure," Kelsey said.
After she concluded her reading from "Become Tree, Become Bird," Kelsey said that she had never really contemplated using another fairy tale besides "The Juniper Tree" for her book.
"I really love the complication of blaming the daughter," she said, "because that's so awful beyond slicing your stepson up and eating him."
According to Writers' Institute Director and Professor of English Gary Fincke, Kelsey's reading was a happy occasion because it marked the third faculty book release of the semester.
"Three books in three months," Fincke said. "It's been a nice run for all of us."
Reactions to Kelsey's reading were positive.
Sophomore Megan Camarillo said: "It was lovely. I love hearing the language of the poems out loud."
Camarillo also said that she liked hearing Kelsey tell the fairytale to the audience. She said that she had never heard that particular story before.
"That's the only way I wanted to hear it -- out of her mouth," Camarillo said.
Sophomore K.C. Schweizer said: "I'm not really a huge fan of poetry, but I thought she did a good job. I thought it was really creative and interesting."
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