An outlet for creativity
UB professors Rutzmoser, Victor read from their eclectic poetry collections
When your adjunct English professor from freshman year asks you to hand him a beer, you know you're a long way from UB's lecture halls.
Most students wouldn't expect to see their professors on stage reciting risqu?(c) poetry, but that was the scene when English professors Jon Rutzmoser and Divya Victor performed at Rust Belt Books, reading poetry from their books shhhh! It's poetry and Things To Do With Your Mouth on Friday evening.
The evening spanned a variety of stylistic performances, from the fast-paced reading of Rutzmoser's "seven + ways to score a penis," which had the audience running to keep up, to Victor's performance of her own poem "This Whiteness Is..." in which she explained her youthful fascination with Bob Saget to the audience.
"The musicality of the poems really comes out in their performance," said Josh Lam, an instructor in the English department, in an email. "It's like finally hearing a piece of music performed after trying to imagine it while reading the score."
There is a small room behind the literature-cluttered bookstore. Lines of chairs faced the stage, as the room was packed with local poetry enthusiasts, graduate students and professors from UB.
Poetics Plus put on the reading with the help of students, faculty and the director of UB's Poetics Department, Steve McCaffery. Some of Buffalo's most prevalent poetry supporters attended the event.
The space was small enough for conversations and intermingling. Victor and Rutzmoser walked around the crowded room, embracing friends and chatting with students who were there to appreciate the work on display for the evening.
"In a space that has hosted so many UB poetry readings over the years, I think that the familiarity of the poets and readers with some of the audience creates a more open and dynamic space for performance," said Lam, who is married to Victor.
The audience was transfixed - laughing when the poets laughed and falling silent as the words grew more solemn.
"It was so exciting," said Chloe Higginbotham, a graduate student in the Department of Media Studies. "Rust Belt Books is the best place for readings, but the work was so stimulating."
As a poet, performance is crucial to Victor's work.
"The embodied race, gender, sexuality or visible ability-status of the performer can radically alter the reception of the text," Victor said in an email. "Performance re-makes the poem. Every time."
Lam was familiar with the poems before they were published because he'd seen his wife's work. But the event gave him a sense of fulfillment.
The evening provided insight into the minds of two people, with the poems offering an unlocked door for the audience to walk into and look around at their leisure. It wasn't the free alcohol creating the buzz around the room - it was the poets' presence.
"Like electrical outlets (and unlike Gap outlets) art can allow for an entity (audience) to plug in and become re-animated (electrified)," Divya said. "Poetry, for me works as an outlet in the same way an electrical one does - I sometimes stick my finger in where I shouldn't and get shocked by what happens."
The audience had the chance to plug themselves into Rutzmoser's and Victor's poetic minds for the evening, an experience that altered perspectives and expanded the minds of the poets and audience members alike.