Coffee Night saw its thirty-fourth incarnation April 12 with featured speakers Sara M. Robinson, UVa-Wise staffer and author Neva Bryan and several students and area residents featured in the spring 2017 edition of the college literary journal “Jimson Weed.”
Outgoing “Jimson Weed” editor Shelby Roberts and 2017-2018 editor Heaven Parridgen introduced the evening’s roster of 14 authors from the college and surrounding region.
More than 50 people gathered in the Rhododendron Room of the Slemp Student Center to listen to readings from “Jimson Weed” and other works from guest authors. Robinson, a literature instructor at the University of Virginia, opened the evening with a discussion of Ekphrastic poetry – the act of writing poetry based off a specific image.
Robinson’s journey to writing poetry is unusual because she originally worked in the chemical mining industry and she decided to start writing poetry later in life.
“I was 70 years old when I published my first two poems in “Jimson Weed,”” Robinson said. Her career switch has led to three successful poetry books in eight years.
Robinson explained her love of small communities, which are often the focus of her poetry. In “Your Eyes Which Gazed So Confidently,” she described her adoration of her aunt: “But courage is a special trait that only few can carry.”
Bryan, UVa-Wise’s assistant director of professional and career development and the author of three novels and a collection of poems, has been a longtime contributor to “Jimson Weed” and a recurring Coffee Night guest. Advising audience members never to give in to frustration, Bryan read from her poem “Persistence” in the new “Jimson Weed” edition.
“This poem is for all of you writers out there who get really frustrated when you get yet one more rejection,” Bryan said.
“I’ve attended Coffee Night off and on for the past dozen years,” Bryan said. “I’m always surprised and impressed by at least one piece that’s read, sometimes more. This year the works by our students were bold, and often political or very personal. I enjoyed it.”
College adjunct English instructor Lavonne Baker offered poetic and musical commentary on the impact of war with her poems “Healing of the Nations” and “War” and a performance of the song “It’s All the Same” from two Charlottesville-area songwriters.
““I know there’s one God above us/ and that God made everything/ it don’t matter how you worship/ how you see the clothes you wore/ it’s all the same, it’s all the same,” Baker sang.
Faculty member Mike Samerdyke added some deadpan topical humor to the evening’s readings with his essay “Life With Facebook,” a look at how re-establishing long-ago connections with acquaintances through Facebook can have humbling consequences.
“I think it was very cool, it was interesting,” said UVa-Wise freshman and audience member Thomas Wheatley. “My favorite speakers were Lorraine Dresch and Samerdyke. These two really stood out to me.”
Professor Gillian Huang-Tiller, advisor to the “Jimson Weed” staff, found the unplanned interconnections between the speakers to be significant and memorable.
“It is also touching when the presentations of different speakers come together in unexpected ways,” Huang-Tiller said. “Robinson’s reading of her poem “Under Garments” in juxtaposition to the photo of her aunt, a young woman’s confident gaze into a world she wanted to make her own beyond her well-fitted suit, was not fully realized as a high point until Henry Stout-Keuling emerged in his late poet-wife’s Fran’s “garment” to read her poems and the bonding that transcends gender and other categories.”
Other readers from the college and community included Brianna Williams, Veronica Presley, Emily Puckett, Karl DeLuca, Frankie Lynn Holbrook, Sandy Yun and “Jimson Weed staffers Roberts, Parridgen, Lorraine Dresch and Dylan Mabe. Their work can be found in the latest “Jimson Weed,” available across the UVa-Wise campus.
“Jimson Weed” editors encourage anyone who is interested in writing poetry or short stories to submit their writing for possible publication. Students, faculty and local community members can do so each semester.