Student Poets Collaborate with Area Artist on "OED Project"

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By Emily Hollenbach ’18

Who knew that reading the dictionary could be so interesting? Associate Professor of English Lea Graham did; with this insight in mind, she engaged senior-level students and area artist Krista Bates Fragos in creating “The OED Project,” a chapbook of student-written poetry based on etymologies and definitions found in the Oxford English Dictionary.

In her own poetry, Dr. Graham has often focused on evocative terms in our language: for example, several of her poems have explored the word crush from a variety of angles. With this experience in mind, Dr. Graham began this project by asking members of the Marist community to name some of their favorite words. “We received a wonderfully diverse list of words,” recounted Dr. Graham, noting that choices ranged from breeze to chimichanga to syzygy.

english poetry creative writingDr. Graham then provided the list of terms to senior writers with creative writing experience, and gave them the chance to build a poem around one or more of the terms. Each of the writers treated their word as a kind of archaeological artifact. “The Oxford English Dictionary is about excavating language,” Dr. Graham noted. “It gives us a look into the multiplicities of language. I am often humbled when I look into the O.E.D. and realize that a word has so many pasts, so many presents.”

Once the poems were completed, Dr. Graham gave them to local artist Krista Bates Fragos, owner of Mapleshade Press in Millbrook. Ms. Fragos bound the poems into handmade chapbooks and produced 50 copies for distribution across the campus community. Ms. Fragos described the work as rewarding: “The entire process was exciting -  from working with Dr. Graham on the design and layout of the poems to the late night hand-stitching with all of the letterpress printing and sourcing of beautiful materials in between. I feel honored to have been a small part of the whole experience.” Dr. Graham also received crucial assistance and resources from Associate Professor of English Angela Laflen, designer Courtney Kaufmann, and SLA Dean Martin Shaffer.

The project culminated in a student poetry reading and artist Q & A held in the James A. Cannavino Library and attended by students, faculty, and staff. Noting that the project as a whole “pushed me out of my comfort zone,” poet Paige Moran ’17 described the event as an ideal senior-year experience: “Being able to share my poetry with my English Department family was an amazing opportunity. I am happy I was able to be a part of this in my last year.” For her part, Dr. Graham said she plans to continue engaging the community in this and other creative enterprises: “It has been a delight to see the love of language in the Marist community.”

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