West opens Appalachian Lecture Series, shares personal poetry

(Photo by Abby Davis)
Summar West poses with her mother, Kathy West, after her poetry reading.

On Sept. 25, Maryville College professor and alumna Summar West discussed and read her own poetry in Lawson Auditorium, kicking off the Appalachian Lecture series at the college. West grew up in the Appalachia area.

Much of her poetry is centered on the area and her Appalachian family traditions. “Place has always been important to me,” West said. Other themes West discussed and displayed in her poetry were her connection to her grandmother, spirituality, gender and various relationships, both familial and romantic.

“I don’t want to be just another Appalachian poet,” West said. West wrote her first poem when she was eight years old about looking out of a window at the rain. However, she did not fully embrace her role as a poet until undergrad and graduate school. Her undergraduate advisor pushed her to pursue poetry, joking that her fiction writing never had a plot.

While attending graduate school, West’s advisor, Mary Ruefle, taught her one of the most important lessons to remember as a poet: “The experience is not the poem. The poem is the experience,” Ruefle said. West said that when she becomes distracted in trying to capture a specific moment within one of her poems, she remembers that the poem needs to be “treated and respected as its own separate identity.”

Most of the poetry West shared was written in free verse form. These poems allow the reader to engage into West’s personal experiences and an exploration of Appalachian culture and scenery. She also read from a collection of her poems that are currently in the process of being published. This particular collection delves into significantly into landscapes.

“I’m interested in the exploration of not just in the physical landscape, but in the emotional landscape of individuals, as well,” West said. Her exquisite integration of natural metaphors produces a tangible level of emotion within her poems. For instance, one of her poems featured happiness in the garden becoming contentment with life.

Another form of poetry that West has been working with and shared was that of erasure poetry. Erasure poetry is a method in which a poet takes any text and then removes words, in order to create a poem from the remaining words.

“It’s a very nontraditional form in poetry,” West said. The selection of the text to act as the basis for the erasure is a careful and personal process for any poet, she said. West decided to use several letters that her grandmother had sent to her. West typed up the letters and then carefully removed certain sections, in order to create poems out of the remaining words.

She said that the experience allowed her to feel closer to her grandmother and interact with her grandmother’s words on an intimate level. After attending West’s poetry reading, Emily Boren, an MC junior majoring in writing communications and history, said that she enjoyed hearing West’s poetry and her take on Appalachian culture.

“I had not heard her poetry before,” Boren said. “I did not even know [West] was publishing a manuscript. I’m very excited for her.” She said she connected emotionally with West’s work, especially with the poems about Appalachia and West’s grandmother. However, most students agreed what was most enjoyable about the reading was seeing West’s non-professor side, as well as gaining an insight into the well-loved teacher’s life experiences through her poetry.

Friend, stranger or student, West’s accomplishments and beautiful, flowing poetry inspired those in attendance. Her vibrant imagery, passion and sweet spirit will resound in the minds of all present.

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