Lily Weber and Jaylen Pearson co-represented Cabrini University at the State Street Reading Series college night on Jan. 19. The event was hosted by the Media Arts Council and Widener University and featured poems and fiction pieces by undergraduate students from Cabrini and Widener as well as Swarthmore College and Villanova University.
The State Street Reading Series is a recurring, monthly, literary event featuring the poems and short fiction stories by post-graduate writers, published writers and local writers. This month, the Media Arts Council extended its series to include undergraduates.
Dr. Amy Persichetti, assistant professor of the English department and coordinator for the writing program, was invited to the series by colleagues who work with her on the Forum of Undergraduate Student Editors. Persichetti had the opportunity to select two of her students to represent Cabrini at the event.
“[Art] is a stimulant for change, because when people realize that they’re not alone, they can work together to make the changes they wish to see in the world.”
Lily Weber, sophomore graphic design major, was one of the students selected to read her poems at the event.
Persichetti said, “I selected Lily because she is one of the most talented poets in our writing program. Her work is risky and raw, yet has a sense of craft that is extraordinarily hard to achieve.”
Weber said she was excited and gratified to have been chosen but was simultaneously anxious about exemplifying Cabrini.
“I was super flattered and honored, but I was also super duper nervous. I had read poetry at poetry slams before, and there was a body image conference I had read at, but I was just representing myself then.”
The first poem Weber shared was “Too Big,” a feminist poem about the desexualization of women who do not meet the unrealistic body standards depicted in the media.
“I thought about things that people don’t like to talk about,” Weber said. “Things that make people uncomfortable, things that bother me. And one of the things that bother me is, obviously, I’m a bigger girl, but just women in general feel like they can’t be sexual beings. Even if I was 90 pounds, it goes both ways. We’re slut-shamed and called whores for having a libido and being a human being.”
As Weber read “Too Big,” the audience laughed with her and she encouraged it. She knew they laughed because they were uncomfortable and her point was to make them uncomfortable.
Along with “Too Big,” Weber presented “Lessons My Mother Taught Me About Death,” which was inspired by the loss of her mother.
Weber actually wrote the extremely emotional piece leading up to the event, in an attempt to create a new, significant poem to unveil.
“I wrote it a day before the actual event.” Weber added, “I had been working on three or four ideas at the time, which is usually what happens— I kind of just throw stuff at the wall until something sticks. And I was really struggling. I had poetry I could have presented, but I wanted something more substantial. So the night before, I stayed up really late. I knew I had this idea of what I wanted to talk about, I was just looking for something that flows. And then finally, I was just like, ‘oh, that’s what I should keep saying over and over again,’ and then it all kind of just came out.”
While at moments it was difficult to share all of her feelings and experiences with the audience, Weber said that writing poetry is one of the healthiest and most helpful parts of the grieving process.
“It’s definitely one way that’s helped me deal with [her death]. Ever since it happened, which was two years ago, I would paint, I would write, I would do all kinds of stuff to kind of let it out, but this was the most frank and public thing I’ve done. While I was writing it, it definitely felt very relieving and healing, and it really helped that other people liked it and that they were connected with it.”
Having the opportunity to share her art with others is extremely important to Weber because she recognizes the necessity for expression for both the writer and the audience, as well as understands the impact poetry can have on listeners.
Weber said, “the best thing about the arts is that no matter who you are, you can get something out of it. It transcends social, political and even, in some cases, language barriers. It forces people to empathize and understand each other. It’s a stimulant for change, because when people realize that they’re not alone, they can work together to make the changes they wish to see in the world. So, that’s what artists are essentially doing, letting others know that they’re not alone and others feel the way they do.”
“[Art] is one of the most challenging ways of expressing yourself.”
Jaylen Pearson, English literature major and founder of Cabrini’s new poetry team, the Live Poet’s Society, was also recommended by Persichetti to represent Cabrini at the State Street Reading Series. Pearson agreed with Weber regarding the impact of art.
“Poetry is important because it’s a form of expression. It’s art. It’s a way for people to look at the world differently and examine it.”
Pearson read two poems as well. The first dedicated to his future daughter as a warning about the endeavors she will face but also an encouragement that she will overcome those endeavors.
“I wrote ‘Dear Daughter’ to my future daughter, if I ever have one. I never really meant to write it, it kind of just happened. I basically wrote about how she will deal with sexism, because I don’t think that’s going away as much as it should. It’s basically just what she’ll deal with and just ‘be strong as you deal with it.'”
The second poem, about the struggles, challenges and successes of being a slam poet with a speech impediment, remains nameless. Pearson said he did not bother to name it because he felt it did not require a title.
Pearson said, “I never felt a need to name it. It’s about what it’s like to be a slam poet with a stutter because I’ve had stutter since I can remember. It was about the difficulties of being a slam poet who has trouble speaking.”
He recognizes the difficulty in slam poetry with his stutter but overcomes that setback, addresses his stutter and embraces it.
“I feel like it has hindered me,” Pearson said, “but I can also use it to my advantage because I can use those pauses as sort of speed bumps for dramatic effect and to keep me from reading too fast.”
Poetry is immensely important for Pearson. While he realizes it may not be for everyone, he encourages people to try it because it can be life-altering for those who do enjoy it.
Pearson said, “honestly, it’s not for everyone. But for creative people, poetry is very— I almost want to say it is one of the most challenging ways of expressing yourself because you have to essentially almost lay out simple facts and in complicated, beautiful ways.”