This Wednesday night, poet Jennifer Boyden recited her lyrical work to a warm audience in the Faculty Room in Massachusetts Hall. Boyden read from her first poetry collection, "The Mouths of Grazing Things," for which she won the 2010 Brittingham Prize in Poetry.
"The Brittingham Prize is awarded each year and is usually judged by a very established poet," explained Associate Professor of English Peter Coviello. This year, renowned poet Robert Pinsky awarded the prize to Boyden.
"Her style is vigorous and exacting in its language and unpredictable in its turns of thought," said Coviello. "She is someone who is making the poetic tradition lively by reinvigorating it through invention and imagination."
Although "The Mouths of Grazing Things" is her first full-length collection, Boyden has already established herself as an accomplished poet. She has contributed to a number of poetry journals and won awards such as the PEN Northwest writing residency and a Washington State Artist Trust Grant.
Boyden lives in Washington State, where she teaches literature and writing.
Boyden's career as a writer began well before she received any of these formal accolades, however.
"I majored in creative writing with an emphasis in poetry in college, but I have really been writing since I was a kid," she explained.
Boyden described her style of poetry as "primarily lyrical [and] highly image-driven."
"I never begin with an idea, it always starts with the language or an image...I'm kind of a word-grabber," she said. "For poetry, what inspires me is language. I love rolling around in words; I love the tactility of words."
Boyden also expresses her views on the human condition in her poetry.
"The theme of 'The Mouths of Grazing Things' is a really deep concern for the ways that humans have historically pushed nature out of their own experience," she explained. "This is a deep concern that I have: the theme of environment and our connection to it."
Coviello commented on the thematic significance of Boyden's poetry.
"It speaks to a long and deep tradition of writing about the natural world," he said.
Boyden explained that she strives to attain a "sense of longing" in her poetry.
"When I write, I think of yearning," she said. "I make giant intuitive leaps in the poetry, and a lot happens in those gaps. A lot of it is about trusting that the reader is emotionally available."
Boyden considers reading her poetry aloud in front of an audience as an opportunity to actively engage with these readers.
"I think that poetry is a great vehicle for conversation and I think that when artists show their work it should lead to a broader discussion," she said.
The poet also expressed how she shies away from the "power structure" of an author pontificating at the front of a classroom.
"I don't think that my ideas are any more valid than anyone else's," she said. "I really welcome all conversations and ideas," she said.
"Hearing [poetry] in someone's voice can be a kind of thrill," added Coviello. "It is unpredictable. You get to talk with the person and ask questions; you can be more intimately involved with an author."
Attendees of the reading were able to do just this on Wednesday night.
"What she's trying to do with poetry is really wonderful," said Katie Kinkel '13, one of the many students who attended the reading. "She's communicating how people have lost their connectedness with nature, but doing so without an agenda; she's just speaking to a certain truth."
"My real advice would be to people to make themselves available to the world," said Boyden. "Get out and take a trip in a car that might break down without a cell phone. Understand that there is a world out there with people who are open to experiences."