MSU hosts poet Nicole Callihan

Poet and author Nicole Callihan will be reading work from multiple poetry collections at 7 p.m. on Friday, October 27 in the Bulber Auditorium at McNeese State University.

She will be reading from her recently published collection “This Strange Garment” and forthcoming collection ”SLIP” – to be published by Saturnalia Books in spring 2025 – as well as some newer poems.  

Her work is “concerned with the body, with sounds, with gaining access to the inner world,” she said. 

In the midst of the pandemic in September 2020, she was diagnosed with breast cancer. She underwent five surgeries and radiation treatment the following year, and began a decade of taking estrogen-suppression medicine. “This Strange Garment ” was written during this time. The collection recounts her experience during treatment, and explores themes such as womanhood and mortality. 

Michael Robins, assistant professor, McNeese Department of English, said her work resonates with the Southwest Louisiana community and vocalizes the experience of “grief, trauma and healing.”

“These things deserve acknowledgment and understanding. Loss is deeply personal and, let’s face it, the aftermath can be both confusing and isolating. Poetry is an opportunity to share those struggles and connect with others.” 

Callihan said that she uses verse to connect with herself and those around her.

“I find life without words to be quite lonely. I feel like I can know myself and be known by others much more deeply on the page than wandering around in daily life. Poetry works for me as a conduit to the unseen; the unsayable said or at least attempted to say.”

She began her poet’s journey in Oklahoma as a “lonely teenage girl with a giant volume of Anne Sexton.” 

“My mother was always reading–mostly suspense novels–but at some point, I realized if I could put words on the page she’d read me too. I could be the thing that would distract her, the thing she’d always get lost in. In college, I started studying poetry more seriously. I didn’t know you could ‘be a poet,’ but I knew that’s what I felt like I was.”

In 1996, she was a 22-year-old in New York City attending NYU’s graduate creative writing program for poetry and waiting tables. In the years that followed, she taught poetry in public schools through the Teachers & Writers Collaborative.

I worked mostly with kids with autism, just letting the sounds wash over us, trying to find an entry point which we almost always did.”

In 2002, she began studying fiction at NYU and taught in the Expository Writing Program for 20 years.

Currently, she is the founder and curator of “Braving the Body,” a collaboration with Poetry Well that involves a series of online workshops and an anthology that will be published by Terrapin Books in 2024.

The collaboration encourages poets to meditate on and honor the experience of living in a body. “Braving the Body” will make its way to NYC’s Metropolitan Museum of Art in the middle of November, where participants will observe the way bodies have been depicted over time.

For Callihan, the endeavor is an exploration of new ways to learn, teach and live poetry.

“I love being in the classroom, but I think over the years, I’ve begun to imagine how to cultivate educational experiences beyond the classroom. A poem read in a park or a museum or on the shore of a beach feels very different than a poem read beneath fluorescent lighting.”

In a post-pandemic world, live readings like the one taking place at McNeese are refreshing. 

 

“The transfer of a digitized voice accompanied by a filtered screen may work in a pinch, but there is nothing like feeling the heat or hearing laughter or encountering true, thoughtful silence.So much of poetry is responsiveness–recognizing that your own internal rhythm may be aligned with someone else’s internal rhythm; that your attention may be shifted along with their attention–and I think public readings reveal that responsiveness in such an immediate way.” 

She is being sponsored by the McNeese MFA Program and the Juliet Hardtner Endowed Professorship.

This event is free and open to the public.

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