The student news site of Francis W. Parker School

The Parker Weekly

The student news site of Francis W. Parker School

The Parker Weekly

The student news site of Francis W. Parker School

The Parker Weekly

Calvocoressi Conversates and Collaborates

Visiting poet shares work and connects with Parker
Photo credit: The Parker Weekly

At their Morning Exercise (MX), visiting poet Gabriele Calvocoressi spoke about vessels: the vessel of one’s body, the vessel of love, the vessel of a piece of writing, and a number of other possible vessels. Later, when asked about their writing process, Calvocoressi urged young poets to write rough drafts, and “let it be its own vessel.”

Calvocoressi’s visit was all day on Friday, April 26. Chosen last year by the English department and some administrators to be the 10th annual Jeanne Harris Hansell Endowed Poet, Calvocoresssi spoke at Morning Exercise, had  lunch with those involved in poetry at Parker, led a workshop with juniors, and read at an evening reading and book signing.

Laufer called the visiting poet program a “light under the bushel” at Parker. The program has attracted accomplished poets such as Billy Collins and Joy Harjo, and benefits from the connection of Parker alumnus parent and poet Elise Paschen.

Calvocoressi has authored three books of poetry titled The Last Time I Saw Amelia Earhart, Apocalyptic Swing, and Rocket Fantastic. Along with many other awards and fellowships, Apocalyptic Swing was a finalist for the LA Times Book Prize, they won the Audre Lorde Award for Lesbian Poetry, and received a Stegner Fellowship and Jones Lectureship from Stanford University. Calvocoressi has had work appear in publications including The Baffler, The New York Times, and The New Yorker.

They live in Old East Durham, NC, and teach at UNC Chapel Hill as an Associate Professor and Walker Percy Fellow.

Calvocoressi was not entirely sure how to structure the various meetings of their day at Parker when they showed up. “It seemed like a really engaged and active group of students who are interested in being in conversation, and so I thought, ‘let’s be in conversation,’” they said.

The MX began with Calvocoressi discussing their difficult upbringing. They were raised primarily by their grandparents, faced bullying, and struggled with disabilities affecting their eyesight and mobility. When Calvoressi was 13, an eighth grader, their mother died by suicide, prompting them to begin writing and reflecting in a notebook.

Calvocoressi knew they would talk about mental health and suicide after going through childhood without the subjects being approachable in their family.

Calvocoressi later had a queer summer camp counselor named Matt who recognized their writing as poetry. Calvocoressi shared the importance of moments when someone “looks at you and sees you and in seeing you helps you see yourself.”

Calvocoressi primarily speaks to university students but appreciated the change of pace with their visit to Parker.

“I love getting asked to come to high schools and middle schools because I think it was such a formative time in my life,” Calvocoressi said. “It was when I became a poet.”

In addition to conversations about their life and with audience members, they shared several poems over the course of the assembly including “She Ties My Bow Tie” and “Some Thoughts on Building the Atom Bomb.”

“The poems are lyric in that they are very finely felt and rendered,” Upper School English teacher Matt Laufer said. He described them as a mix of “accessible, relatable, real, unaffected-feeling and artful and nuanced, risk taking, and experimental.”

Junior Scarlett Koenig, a Poetry Club Head and Slam Poetry Team Member, helped to introduce Calvocoressi at the MX. She had the chance to discuss and prepare for the visit with the poetry club throughout the year, read some of Calvocoressi’s poetry with their class, and read some of their poetry on her own.

Koenig said Calvocoressi’s writing style was unique in that “they talk in the second person a lot and the context is very ambiguous.” She also called the poetry “dark,” which was a welcome contrast to art Parker might regularly feature.

“I thought that the poet was really eager to connect with the audience instead of performing for them,” Koenig said.

Laufer also spoke positively about Calvocoressi’s presentation technique, lauding their ability to make the room feel comfortable enough to discuss the “hardest things imaginable” including identity and mental health. “I thought it was pretty rare,” he said.

“It felt so fun,” they said. “Friday assembly must be a very lively place.”

At Gabrielle’s session with the junior class, they were asked to talk to the students about what it is to be an American poet. The session had a workshop style according to Laufer, and students wrote and some shared their own poems.

Laufer said he was dubious and then pleasantly surprised about the level of engagement Calvocoressi could evoke from the juniors. “Three or four or five different folks read their poems and they were vulnerable, intimate poems, and they were good,” he said. “So I thought that was pretty remarkable.”

Before the evening reading, a number of faculty members spent time with Calvocoressi and Laufer fondly remembered the openness and happiness of their gathering.

“Gabrielle seems to have remembered every single name of every single student, and that’s kind of uncanny,” he said.

Laufer noted the significance of having a speaker who expresses the struggles and lives of people who are non-binary and survivors. Koenig agreed, adding that it can be important and validating to other people’s identities for people of different identities to come and for their identity not to be the focal point of their presentations.

UNC, where Calvocoressi teaches, has made headlines in recent years as the conservative North Carolina legislature controls the Board of Governors. Calvocoressi said the university has been working to strip the students and faculty at UNC of their “free speech” and their “ability to congregate.”

“It is a campus that is full of extraordinary students who are deeply interested in freedom, who are deeply compassionate, and deeply interested in freedom of speech and expression,” Calvocoressi said. “Students with all kinds of different political views, we need to give them time to speak.”

After Calvocoressi read the poem titled “Most Days I Want to Live” at the MX, the audience filled with snaps. “What does that sound like?” Calvocoressi says to the audience. “It sounds like rain falling, all over.”

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About the Contributor
Harry Lowitz
Harry Lowitz, Editor-in-Chief
Harry Lowitz is a senior who is animated to be in his second year as Editor-in-Chief, and fourth year on "The Weekly." Outside of the "The Weekly," he is the DCA in Student Government and a member of the Second City Teen Ensemble. Harry’s favorite journalism movie is “All The President’s Men.” Inspired by the film, he hopes to break into the college counseling office to hide listening devices. Perhaps, after that, he will swing by the Parker Democrats.