Awards night locks up renowned poet

The Gannon University and Erie communities will celebrate Gannon’s 35th annual English Awards Night this week, giving the university the opportunity to show off its artsy side.

The night will begin at 7:30 p.m.  Wednesday and feature guest poet Aimee Nezhukumatathil.

Nezhukumatathil is an associate professor of English at State University of New York-Fredonia and she has authored three poetry collections: “Lucky Fish,” the most recent; “At the Drive-In Volcano” and “Miracle Fruit.” All of these books will be available for purchase through the Gannon Bookstore at the event.

Assistant professor Penelope Smith, the chair of Gannon’s English department, said she is looking forward to the night for two reasons. “First of all, it showcases the English department, which for me is always a great joy,” she said.

Smith said that, secondly, she likes English Awards Night because it’s a chance for Gannon to showcase the arts.

“Some people are fond of saying, ‘Oh, well the arts, that’s Mercyhurst.’ Well, I beg to differ,” she said. “And one illustration of that is the level of attendance by people in the community. It’s a chance to share the value of the arts with the Erie community, which is really cool.”

Smith said many awards will be presented Wednesday night, including the Peter C. Braeger research writing award, the national high school poetry contest, the Gannon poetry contest and the journalism awards.

Rachael Bucey, whose artwork was chosen as the cover art for Totem, Gannon’s literary and art journal, will also be presented with an award. English Awards Night marks the first day that the 2012 Totem will be available for the Gannon community free of charge.

Katie Swaney, the first-place winner of the Gannon Poetry Contest, said she is looking forward to the night because it’s something different. She and the other Gannon poetry contest winners will attend a special dinner before the ceremony with Nezhukumatathil.

“I’m not really sure what it’s going to be like,” she said, “but I think it’s interesting that we get to actually sit down with her more privately, more or less, to speak with her.”

Swaney said she had the opportunity to read some of Nezhukumatathil’s poetry in her creative writing class, and she liked it. “She focuses a lot on nature, so I always enjoy that,” Swaney said.

Smith said she hadn’t become familiar with Nezhukumatathil’s work until it was decided that she would be the awards night guest. “I read a couple of her poems and liked them a lot,” Smith said. “She seems to focus on everyday things, but with an international perspective.”

She said that she had the opportunity to read some poems from Nezhukumatathil’s most recent book, “Lucky Fish.”

“It’s very engaging to me because it’s looking at everyday things that you and I know and experience, but from wearing a set of glasses that neither you nor I have available to us,” Smith said. “So the couple that I’ve read I really enjoyed.”

Swaney said her first-place poem, titled “The Taste of Language,” also asks readers to look through a different set of glasses, but perhaps in a different way. She said the piece is an imitation of Barbara Hamby’s “Ode to American English.”

“I was trying to focus on the way language feels when we say words,” Swaney said, “and try to convey that through the way candies taste and feel when you eat them.”

The Gannon community will be given the chance to read Swaney’s poem in the 2013 Totem, which will be available for next year’s English Awards Night. Meanwhile, the 2011 poetry contest winners are published in the 2012 Totem.

Smith said the ceremony will be a good chance for the English department to gain some attention at the university.

“Awards Night feels to me like a celebration of the faculty and the majors in our department,” she said. “It’s kind of a chance for us to be in the spotlight.”



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