Poet Cynthia Dewi Oka visited Widener on Nov. 12 through 14 as a part of the English and Creative Writing Department’s Distinguished Writers Series.
Oka, a three-time Pushcart Prize Nominee, published her debut collection of poetry with Dinah Press called Nomad of Salt and Hard Water in December 2012, celebrating journey and its relentless precision of language. A second edition with new and revised poems was published in April 2016 with Thread Makes Blanket Press.
Much of her poetry has been published online and in print in such places as The American Poetry Review, Guernica Magazine, and Apogee Journal. In addition, Oka is a contributor for anthologies such as Women of Resistance: Poems for a New Feminism and Who Will Speak for America among others. She has also been awarded the Fifth Wednesday Journal Editor’s Prize in Poetry as well as the Leeway Foundation Transformation Award and is currently pursuing her master’s in fine arts as a Holden Fellow at Warren Wilson College.
Oka’s latest collection is titled Salvage: Poems. Published in December 2017 with Northwestern University Press, Salvage interrogates what it means to reach for our humanity through the guise of nation, race, and gender.
On campus, Oka was the feature speaker at the Honors Freshman Composition Forum. She also met with several students within the department for tutorials and visited numerous creative writing courses. For many students, Oka’s visit was transformational and eye-opening.
Rohan Suriyage, a senior English and communications studies double major, found Oka’s presence and communication to be like that of a friend. Suriyage, along with several students in the Creative Writing department that received tutorials with Oka, believes he gained so much incredible insight from the visiting writer in such a short amount of time.
“Her prowess for effective writing, aesthetic, and finding a writer’s voice is truly incredible,” Suriyage said. “I’ve rethought the way I approach my writing, for the better, of course, and I thank her.”
Oka concluded her visit with a public reading during which she read new, never before published work surrounding Indonesian history and culture, specifically the mass killings that took place in the 1960s which the Indonesian government and citizens now act as if did not happen. She utilized documents once deemed to hold classified information on the killings to formulate a narrative, bringing to light the tragedy of what happened as well as the integration of Indonesian culture. After the reading, Oka took time to answer questions regarding politics and poetry, sign copies of her book, and speak to students.
Domenic Gaeta, senior Anthropology major, found Oka’s new poetry on the tragic killings in Indonesia to be powerful, rich in detail, and attention grabbing.
“I would have never though to use classified documents as the general vocabulary makeup of a poem, nor would I think to write about such tragic events,” Gaeta said. “Still, I knew each time she was telling a story that needed to be told.”
Oka also sat down with me for an interview with The Blue Route during her interview. The full conversation will be featured in our 21st issue set to be published in the next couple of weeks. For a preview of the interview, read below!
I was reading some of the reviews on Salvage and some of the descriptions were that it is almost as if you have “one foot in time, the other in timelessness”, that the poems exhibit “mythical depth, civic outcry, and lyric inventiveness”, and that the collection is almost as if “entering a dream world”. This is what other people have said about your work. I’m curious as to how you view this collection and what your vision was in building it.
Every project I’m working on is an effort to grow and transform. That is the superpower of creative writers. We get to remake ourselves. For me, Salvage is an enactment in life, it was happening parallel with life. What was happening on the page was an attempt to sort of recuperate, to integrate a lot of the worst things that I’ve seen or have been through.
My first book, Nomad of Salt and Hard Water, was really an affirmation of strategies of survival. Part of the process of surviving difficult or traumatic things in our lives is that we end up having to bury a lot, so you can keep moving. Salvage was an effort to actually unearth those things and to bring them back into conversation, to reintegrate them, to repurpose them, to make them useful again.
I think of the structure of the book like an onion where you’re looking at the most external forms of violence, war, displacement, gentrification. Then you move inwards to the family, the legacies, and the exchanges that happen in that space. The final layer is intimacy, relationships. That was the vision. It is a trajectory moving inward.
I find that if I’m writing something from a darker place or something that is slightly out of my comfort zone, a little less like me, it takes me a bit to get into that headspace. Are there any poems in Salvage where you had to remove yourself and get into another headspace? How did you get there and then how do you shake it off?
For me, it feels less like going somewhere else and more like being your whole, true self at a given period of time. I give space for all that I am, everything I shut out to arrive when I’m writing.
I tend to be one of those people where, if I finish something, I’m like, “Okay, on to the next thing!” Salvage really taught me that I can’t just do that. A rest period is important. For example, when I finish working on a poem, I can’t necessarily switch out of it. There has to be a transition period where I’m slowly moving back into the pace of my daily life and I think it’s good to plan for that rather than feel cut-off. This is why I stress it is so important to have a writing practice, because then we learn what our tendencies are and what is optimal for us in how we take care of ourselves after we finish. It’s labor, so much labor when we write, and we need sustenance after it. If you’re an extrovert, your sustenance might be from surrounding yourself with people, whereas introverts need alone time. We have to build that into our writing practice so that we don’t become—at least for me—so that I don’t become a terrible person to the people that I love.
by Carlie Sisco
Susquehanna University hosted the sixth annual Forum for Undergraduate Student Editors (FUSE) conference at the beginning of November 2018. FUSE is a national organization that provides a network for undergraduate student editors and writers and their faculty advisers. The three-day conference brought together about 60 students from 13 universities for a series of writing and editing workshops and panels centered around the theme of representation and resistance.
The conference aimed to display the importance of understanding resilience within the publishing and editing industry in “an age of political disparity, mass digitalization, and hyper-information.” Each workshop was dedicated to speaking out about challenges in our members’ publishing and editing endeavors and exploring solutions to rise above, whether it be through UCLA’s “Finding and Emphasizing Character Resilience,” Gettysburg College’s “Politics for the Apolitical Literary Magazine,” or SUNY Geneseo’s “Resilience in Writing: How to Keep Writing When You Feel Stuck”.
Poet and activist Martín Espada returned for the second year in a row, kicking off the conference with a captivating reading of his poems, which “explore the immigrant and working class experience.” He read passionate poems from his published works as well as moving poetry in response to today’s political climate. Espada also hosted a workshop on identity where he encouraged students to write and present their own poems on reclaiming identity, the literal meaning of their names, or the differences between their names and what they represent.
Andrew Ciotola, managing editor and book review editor of West Branch, Bucknell University’s nationally distinguished literary journal, joined FUSE along with Jessica Hensen and Caitlin Friel for a panel and Q&A session regarding West Branch, the publishing industry for online and print publications, and the editorial profession. During the panel, Ciotola stated “literary magazines are a service for the writers” and assured books are as popular now as they have ever been and they need editors.
Dr. Cheryl E. Ball, director of the Digital Publishing Collaborative at Wayne State University and editor of Kairos: A Journal of Rhetoric, Technology, and Pedagogy, also gave an engaging lecture on “Digital Publishing and the Liberal Arts”. During her lecture, Dr. Ball shared her journey, the relationship between creative writing and digital writing, and reminded those in the audience that “getting things done is not the same as having a vision.”
Widener University was represented by Kelly Bachich, Sarah De Kok, Carlie Sisco, and Rohan Suriyage along with several of their professors. Below are reviews from Widener representatives regarding the 2018 conference:
The FUSE conference this year was a much needed reminder of the importance of having a community for undergraduate writers and editors. It was my first year attending and I was lucky enough to be afforded the opportunity of presenting on a panel with fellow Widener senior, Carlie Sisco. This experience was invaluable in what it taught me about public speaking and sharing my journey. The support we received from attendees during and after the presentation was a much needed pat on the back for us as we press on for bigger and better things for our campus literary journals. While the other panels and workshops were wonderful, my favorite part about the conference was the camaraderie between the students having just met from all over. At the student-led open mic, everyone wanted to share their journey with us and trusted us with it from up on stage. It’s important to feel like you are a part of something and, at FUSE, we did.
Sarah De Kok
Hearing Martín Espada read his work was a magical experience. I had the pleasure of sitting in the second row, right in front of the podium where he was reading. His voice was deep and passionate. If he were to record an audiobook of his poems, I would listen to it in a heartbeat. I felt a sense of inspiration at the poetry workshop he held the next morning. We were instructed to write a poem about our names in forty-five minutes. Everyone spread out to different corners of the room or even left the room to find a comfortable place to write. I took a few minutes to think about what I wanted to write, then started writing. I tried not to concern myself with whether or not it was “good”. I just wanted to get my thoughts down. After the forty-five minutes, we all regrouped back into the conference room. Some people read what they had written. It was amazing to hear what people were able to create in forty-five minutes. I will remember this experience every time I think I don’t have enough time to write. All I have to do is set a timer and start writing.
I typically feel like I’m pretty comfortable reading in front of people, but it was something about that Friday morning at Susquehanna, reading a poem I wrote about myself in 30 minutes to a full room of people and Martín Espada sitting behind me that had me near shaking. Looking back, I think it was being a newcomer to the conference scene for things regarding the English major. As a whole, I was pleasantly satisfied with the conference and the experiences of other schools with their respective literary journals, seeing students like me construct panels and presentations to communicate their knowledge and research. By the end of the conference, I left with a more substantial appreciation and understanding of student writing, editing, and publishing. I even feel like my desired career path with research and education is more concrete as well. I’m still interested to see how other schools and their English and Creative Writing programs operate and, after my conference experience, I’m craving another opportunity to interact with those like me.
Attending the 2018 FUSE conference felt very much like reuniting with old friends, but I think that is bound to happen when you surround yourself within a positive environment of talented, passionate, creative individuals. I had the opportunity to attend FUSE for the every first time in 2017 where I got to run a workshop with several of my peers on writing resistance monologues and experience the community I am so proud to be a part of. This time was no different. Fellow editor and senior, Kelly Bachich, Professor James Esch, and I had the chande to present the topic of institutional support at our own panel, creating an open discussion bout challenges, trials, and ways to persevere as well-respected literary journals within our colleges and universities. Each panel at the conference did just that: start a dialogue between like-minded individuals, faculty members, advisors, and students alike. I think that is the most important and valuable part of FUSE. This is a place where creators can freely generate, share, and discuss new ideas, where you can be vulnerable with complete strangers and only feel the upmost support. You leave a conference like this with prompts, tools, ideas, suggestions, sometimes new conent, perhaps a new friend, and a renewed sense of love and hop for the writing world.
by Carlie Sisco
A few years ago, I read a book for an English class I was taking. When I first picked up
the book, I did not think it was going to be something that I would be interested in. Looking back, I can’t believe I ever had that thought. People of the Book by Geraldine Brooks became my favorite novel – and I have read a lot of books! This story has so much depth to it and the themes are still extremely relevant.
Throughout history, people have suffered hateful intolerance. Whether this be caused by
religion, skin color, or gender, it has been revealed that during times of hate some people can come together to accept and support each other while others turn on one another. This is shown in the many stories depicted in Brooks’s realistic fiction novel. The tales in the novel illustrate the impact that a single individual can have on history as a whole.
While there may be violent intolerance, People of the Book incomparably represents interfaith acceptance and humanity’s unwillingness to live and let live.
By portraying different cultures, Brooks displays examples of both multi-ethnic and
interfaith acceptance in her novel and the reader gains a sense of the societal standards at that time the stories take place. This allows the audience to better understand just how brave the accepting the characters were. Hanna Heath, the main character, says it best when she states, “Then somehow this fear, this hate, this need to demonize ‘the other’ —it just sort of rears up and smashes the whole society” (Brooks 195). The Inquisition, Nazis, and extreme Serb nationalists all played a role in creating the hateful intolerance that is present in the novel by bringing about fear through violence toward helpless people.
History has a tendency to repeat itself and People of the Book represents this beautifully.
By showing the repetition of anti-Semitism and hateful intolerance, Brooks represents the beauty in the brave few who persevere through the fear. People of the Book brings to life the history of the Sarajevo Haggadah while teaching valuable lessons of respect and forgiveness. All the while showing the hamartia of humanity —the unwillingness to live and let live.
If you’re still skeptical, give it a chance! It may turn out to be your new favorite novel, too.
People of the Book can be found on Amazon.
If you have any novels that you unexpectedly fell in love with please share with us so we can love them too! Happy reading!
by Allison DeHaas
There’s a reason Watchmen made Time Magazine’s list of the 100 greatest novels of all time. Without a doubt, fans of Alan Moore’s 1986 classic and comic book purists alike will likely despise HBO’s upcoming television adaptation of the famous, graphic novel, whether or not the work holds merit or receives critical acclaim as a TV show.
Simply, Alan Moore taught a generation of comic book authors and fans that the combination of sequential art and dialogue, the comic book, is a unique artform. Since its release, Watchmen has been dubbed the “unadaptable graphic novel.” Watchmen was designed to demonstrate the unique qualities of comic books, and demonstrates these elements in a way that is not just difficult, but impossible to be replicated in any other medium.
For instance, every page of Watchmen is structured on a nine-panel grid layout. This gives each page a central focus, the middle panel, and emphasizes key plot points or artistic renderings in the narrative flow. Issue five of the series, “Fearful Symmetry,” mirrors each page’s panels until converging in the center, which displays a character foiling his attempted assassination. Not a single page of the first 11 issues is a “splash page,” where a single panel makes up the entire page. Instead, the final issue opens with six absolutely breathtaking, haunting, splash pages depicting the destruction of Manhattan.
The emotional impact of these and many other moments is not possible to replicated in other media because Watchmen is not so much about the story being told, but how the story is being told. As Alan Moore said, “If we only see comics in relation to movies, then the best they’ll ever be are films that don’t move.”
I wish HBO the best on the Herculean task they have undertaken. Watchmen is not only the greatest comic book I have ever read, but is one of the greatest works of literature I have encountered. To keep with the original’s artistic integrity, HBO’s Watchmen should utilize the unique elements of television as a medium. Hopefully, the show can succeed on its own merits, if only it allows for more people to experience Moore’s masterpiece.
Creator Damon Lindelof and HBO are set to debut the series in 2019.
by Evan Davis
Just a reminder to all undergraduate students, our submission period for Issue 21 will be closing October 1, 2018.
We accept poetry, fiction, and creative nonfiction from all students currently enrolled in an undergraduate program. Our goal is to find good, highly imaginative writing about contemporary life as you see it!
We do not accept previously published work, but we do accept simultaneous submissions. We also pay twenty-five dollars upon publication.
Get your submissions in to The Blue Route before it’s too late!
For more information, please check out our submission guidelines.
Hi everyone! As we all know, social media plays a big role in a lot of people’s everyday
lifestyles. If you’re anything like me, you go on social media every day! Recently I discovered that there were a lot of social media-based reading opportunities. These are just a couple of fun pages that I have found and enjoy keeping up with in my feeds! If you have some free time, be sure to check them out!
New York Public Library
Facebook: NYPL The New York Public Library
These guys post “insta-novels” on their story and in the highlights of their page! It is a fun way to read a quick, classic tale on your social media! Their blog also has great content and insight from librarians, curators, and staff posted daily!
This is an online book club! I stumbled upon this page one time and I love it. Even if I’m not able to keep up with what books they are reading, it is awesome to see the titles that are picked and add them to my list of “Must-Reads.” Also, if you go on their website you can sign up to get newsletters from them! They send out book recommendations, author interviews and even quotes of the week!
Do you follow any social media accounts that share literature or art? Let us know so we can check them out too!
See you online!
by Allison DeHaas