The Ibis Literary Reading and Performance Series returned Thursday evening for its spring event with performances from distinguished visiting writers Mary Ruefle and Staceyann Chin.
The two drew a crowd that packed the College of Arts and Sciences (CAS) Gallery at the Wesley Foundation beyond capacity.
Currently a creative writing professor at Vermont College, Ruefle has published several books of prose and poetry and has received numerous honors, including a 2009 William Carlos Williams Poetry Award and a Guggenheim fellowship.
Ruefle demonstrated her literary prowess by kicking the evening off with several poems, including “Cracker Barrel” and “Goodnight, Irene.”
Ruefle’s poetry, recited in a lulling voice that could be described as the female counterpart of Garrison Keillor’s, touched upon themes of life, death, nature and social conventions.
She also recited Michael Burkhard’s poem “Black and Green.” Burkhard himself was unable to perform at the event due to the flu.
Reading her prose piece entitled “The Woman Who Couldn’t Describe the Things She Could,” Ruefle took the audience on a whimsical venture that provoked initial laughs from its razor-sharp wit and naive charm, only to then shock listeners with its understated tragic ending.
Following Ruefle was a performance by Chin – a performance in the truest sense of the word. Chin, a poet, human rights activist and actor, has performed on and off Broadway and was featured on the Oprah Winfrey Show.
During her reading, Chin never stood still for a moment. She stood among the audience, gestured with her arms and danced from heel to heel.
Chin interspersed candid jokes between poems and made the audience members writhe in their seats with her pointed remarks on politically charged issues, ranging from feminism to racism to lesbian sex.
Her electrifying voice, tinged with a slight Jamaican accent, ran “deep and wide and strong,” as described by University of Miami Creative Writing Director M. Evelina Galang.
The poems Chin chose, including “Words Like Rape,” “White Noise,” and “Litany of Desires” rioted and flouted social convention.
In a question-and-answer session that followed the event, Chin said she found inspiration in the “uncontained, crazy mess” of life.
“We all posture that we live lives that are better than they are,” Chin said. “What I say, I know that the writing programs really raise an eyebrow at me sometimes … [but] life isn’t always neatly pinned. It’s not always beautiful.”
Students, though initially surprised, enjoyed the impassioned and genuine performances.
“When [Chin] started speaking, I wasn’t really prepared for how raw and unfiltered she would be,” said freshman public health major Stephanie Kenney. “At first I felt uncomfortable, and then I thought, if she’s comfortable putting it on paper and sharing it with us, then why should I feel uncomfortable?”
The Ibis Literary Readings, which are free and open to the public, are hosted once a semester by the UM Creative Writing Program.
The event on Thursday was also sponsored in part by CAS, the English department, and the Department of Women and Gender Studies.
Though the 2014-2015 series is now over, there will be USpeak, an open mic event, taking place at 7 p.m. on Feb. 26 and March 19 at the CAS Gallery.