A Passion for Poetry

Elisabeth Tavarez

March 11, 2019—Congratulations go out to Raphael Kosek, Adjunct Instructor of English at Marist, who was appointed Dutchess County’s 2019 Poet Laureate by County Executive Marc Molinaro. Kosek will serve a one-year term in this role, sharing poetry with the local community through a series of readings and events. The first of these events was Molinaro’s 2019 State of the County Address on February 27, at which she read her poem “Always the River.” Other readings will follow throughout the year, including at libraries, galleries, bookstores, and schools around Dutchess County. Says Kosek, “I want to be an ambassador for poetry, to bring poetry to people and vice versa.” The position of Poet Laureate was created four years ago and is a collaboration of the County Executive and Arts Mid-Hudson. 

Kosek has taught college writing and American literature in Marist’s English Department since 2003, but she’s been writing poetry since the age of 12. After completing her bachelor’s degree at Vassar College, Kosek got married, obtained a master’s degree in American literature from Western Connecticut State College, started a family, and had a successful career as a high school teacher. While poetry was always important to her, she wasn’t able to return to it in a sustained manner until later in life. Shortly after getting back to writing, she started teaching at the college level. Says Kosek, “Poetry has always been therapeutic for me, and I often write new poems when I’m stressed or anxious. I keep a journal in which I record conversations, dreams, quotes, a painting I saw, whatever I’m thinking about, and that’s how many of my poems originate.” 

Asked to describe her poetry, Kosek explains, “I write short lyric poetry rooted in concrete images of the natural world. It’s not just nature poetry, however. There’s a real human element, and nature is just the backdrop.” Her influences include literary giants like Emily Dickinson (Kosek admires her “enigmatic verses”), as well as contemporary poets such as Jane Kenyon, Jane Hirshfield, and Billy Collins (former Poet Laureate of the United States). Kosek doesn’t write every day, but she appreciates the process of writing poetry as only a poet can. “I love the concision of poetry, the search for the exact right word. For me, there’s no better feeling than writing something that you know has turned out well and that you’re really happy with.” Associate Professor of English Lea Graham, Kosek’s colleague in the School of Liberal Arts, is a fan of her work: “Whether Raphael is writing about the natural world or about visual art (particularly the works of Georgia O’Keefe), she is interested in the momentary and liminal spaces of thought.  Her domestic scenes capture daily routines while juxtaposing them with imagery and meditations about the artistic and natural world.  In Raphael’s work, we find the human condition at its most contemplative.”

Raphael Kosek

Kosek has thoroughly enjoyed the experience of being a faculty member at Marist, and her classes are popular because of the passion she brings to them. “Intellectually, I find college-level teaching to be engaging, fulfilling, and challenging. The students are wonderful.” She teaches students from all majors the breadth of the American literary canon, beginning with the Pilgrims, through the Civil War, and into the modern era. For Kosek, the same themes that are present in American literature can also be found in today’s world, and her goal is for the students to make this connection. As she puts it, “We’re dealing with some of the same issues now as we did two hundred years ago. The rights of the individual versus the community. Who’s an American and who’s the ‘other’? Literature is really about us; we’re reading about ourselves, and there are elements of psychology and philosophy thrown in, and that’s what makes it so fascinating.” Kosek finds it useful to use examples of art in her classes to help students understand literature in the context of its time period; for example, the differences between romanticism, modernism, and realism can also be observed in literature.

An active member of the Hudson River Valley’s robust arts community, Kosek has received numerous awards for her poetry writing, including Rough Grace, which won the 2014 Concrete Wolf Chapbook Competition. She has organized poetry events for young people, including a poetry slam for special education students; taken part in numerous poetry readings with fellow poets; and participated in the “Writing Across the Arts” panel at the Millbrook Literary Festival. In addition, Kosek has a full-length book entitled American Mythology, published by Brick Road Poetry Press and scheduled for release this year. Much to her satisfaction, a love of literature runs in the family: her daughter is also an award-winning writer who teaches English and writing at a community college in Connecticut.

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