Chrystal Savage, Staff Writer |
The Red Dragon Reading Series welcomed poet Melora Wolff to campus on March 29 at 7:30 p.m. in the Craven Lounge of the Morris Conference Center. Wolff recited original compositions, appropriately inspired in conjunction with Women’s History Month.
Dr. George Hovis, professor of American literature and creative writing at SUNY Oneonta and Chair of the Red Dragon Reading Series, briefly welcomed the audience, introduced the series, and thanked those who were crucial to making the event a reality. He then invited Bob Bensen, a professor of Literature at Hartwick College, to introduce Melora Wolff.
Dr. Bensen began his introduction in explaining that he had “fallen to the darkside” and that “George always makes [him] cry,” setting a comedic mood that only remained intact satirically as the night progressed. Bensen read a quote from a prose poem by Wolff, explaining that he loves such passages because they truly immerse readers in the voice of his colleague of 10 years. Wolff also turned to the “darkside,” and now works as a Professor of the Arts at Skidmore College, where she has been teaching for the last 12 years. Bensen went on to illustrate Wolff’s brilliance in her undergraduate and graduate education at Brown and Columbia University, respectfully, along with other honors and achievements. Bensen thanked contributors, including Ruth Carr, the Secretary of the English department, as well as Dr. Hovis. Bensen then turned the podium over to Dr. Wolff.
Wolff took to center stage and extended her gratitude to those who sponsored and attended the event. After the typical formalities, Wolff began with an original piece on the spot, titled “Mad River,” which she was reminded of as she listened to Dr. Bensen’s introduction. The composition was Wolff’s first ever formal attempt at writing a prose poem in the collective voice. The piece began detailing a high school biology class before gradually shifting into a poem about the objectification of the female mind and body.
One of the most interesting takeaways from the evening was that Wolff’s themes were never abrupt in their shifts, nor did they dwell on the same points. The plots of the pieces were constantly evolving towards topics more meaningful than before. Wolff would then remind readers of a detail that, at the time, had seemed insignificant, but was now was an intrical part of the piece as a whole. Wolff’s readings were relaxed and methodical. As the readings progressed, Wolff noticeably became further immersed into the world of her own writing, something that was truly miraculous to witness.
“Mad River” was a shorter piece which complemented the long, roughly 40 minute essay she read next, titled “Mystery Girls.” She introduced the piece, explaining that she wanted to experiment with the collective voice, as it presented opportunities of expression impossible with other points of view. Additionally, Wolff wanted to further explore the journeys young women of high school age go through. Wolff explained that she had never read the following piece in front of an audience before. She also wanted listeners to note the spelling of the “Kuntz” art collection.
She then began a piece that would undoubtedly inspire women of all walks of life. The tale chronicles women for women, the rape culture of the possession of female bodies, which is at the forefront of the twenty-first century society. Girls today are subjected to masculine-coded rage, which quickly turns into abuse.
It covered how victim blaming and silence are just as horrific as committing the act yourself, equating the crime with the Bystander Effect. Wolff detailed the murders of women and the objectification in the statements following the crimes, including articles that explained the attractiveness of the mystery girl, targeted at random. Wolff’s explanation of field days, strength in numbers, and the discrepancies in gender discrimination served as a point of hope among all the violence.
Wolff articulated that books could not save murdered schoolgirls and that the sketches of their murders were always changing. She detailed a story of a man so driven to rage from the assault of his daughter that he chased down her rapist with a hatchet. The speaker was only able to picture a tired man running endlessly, until he became a speck, and finally disappeared.
Wolff mentioned to the mothers who grieved for their daughters “too soon” the night of a school social, though they had been grieving for the young women of the world since the day they were born. Wolff asked, “Where had all the flowers gone?” and then explained that Persephone collected the blossoms before being dragged into the earth by Hades; it was just another murder with another 44-caliber weapon.
The piece concluded with the speaker’s hunger for freedom, her frantic mother at her absence, and a made up story about a man who had tried to “kill” her, and in turn, her mother’s remarkable calmness at the news. Wolff then brought the piece full circle, back to the Bystander Effect as neighbors watched the embrace of a mother and daughter in the streets of the city.
At the end, the audience was able to ask questions, and Dr. Hovis asked Wolff’s opinion as to how to effectively construct a short story. Wolff cited a piece she had written on Anton Pavlovich Chekhov, a 19th century Russian playwright, and explained that her pieces always start as something she believes to have an immense amount to write about, but then finds that the condensing of the piece often yields a greater effect, and thus results in a composition of shorter length. Furthermore, she believes that when giving a reading of her works, she is often challenged to evaluate the elements that are of most importance due to time constraints, and sometimes that is how a shorter edit is born.
Wolff left the audience with a question of her own, asking if the second and final piece of the evening seemed more like a short story or an essay. Wolff then thanked the audience again, and headed to sign her two book: “Fathers and Daughter” and a collection of her various prose poems, both available for $20.00.
Students who attended were given the opportunity to receive LEAD credit and to actively participate in discussion with open dialogue, both throughout and after the reading.
Wolff was the second of four authors in the reading series. Christine Kitano on April 17 in Craven Lounge at 7:30 p.m. and Sandra Steingraber on April 18 in the Hunt Union Ballroom at 7:30 p.m. are the next guests.
The Red Dragon Reading Series is made possible by the generous support of the SUNY Oneonta Office of the President, the Department of English, the Public Events Committee, the Office of Sustainability, Africana and Latino Studies, the Office of Equity and Inclusion, and Damascene Book Cellar.