Event Review: Sandra Alcosser at Living Writers Series

sandraRoom 430. Many have stood in this room, presenting their work in and outside of academia, sharing their lives after their own journey through college. On December 3, at San Diego State University’s Love Library, the Hugh C. Hyde Living Writers Series presented Sandra Alcosser, founder of SDSU’s MFA Program in Creative Writing.

Along with being a mentor to aspiring poets and teachers, Sandra has won multiple awards for her poetry, including the National Poetry Series Award and the Associated Writing Programs Award in Poetry. She is Montana’s first poet laureate and has published seven books of poetry.

Before learning about the event, I’d never read any of her writing. I decided to look up some of her work and was pleasantly surprised. Immediately, I learned her poems contain a lot of life. They contain small narratives with language that made them seem intimate, letting the reader feel the moment, now frozen in time.

Come event day, I sat in the crowded room, pen and paper in my hands, and felt the warmth and appreciation for Sandra. She got up, and the experienced poet jumped straight into the reading. Her first poem was about viewing nature as an entity. It gave it a personality and significance. “Spirit doesn’t exist like blood, it exists like the air we breathe,” Sandra mentioned afterwards. I saw it in most of the poems she read. The relationships with nature and people were crucial. They were open and free, moving in and out like a dance.

“The memory of the exact location and the hour of the nectar — birds came draped in cobwebs, butterflies wore pollinia like slippers on their feet. A body grows from its erotic entanglement and then is reprimanded, as if nature and culture were opposed….We were given to ecstasy, my grandmother and I — as she rested from heart failure, she said if you’d slip your arm under me, I think I could dance.” This excerpt of a prose poem that I found from an interview (link), also speaks of the influence nature has on us. It speaks of a truth: we all grow old and begin to break down but Sandra still finds beauty in that, bringing in familial relationships and bonds as cures, mimicking the ecological relationships, like a bee and a flower.

My favorite thing she said that night was about “odd” family members: “They’re the ones that show that you can be odder than everyone else and still survive.” Following the laughter of the audience, she began the prose poem, “Hats”(adding link). The speaker in the poem, while watching her dying Auntie lying in bed, recalls her wearing extravagant hats. She was known for her kindness but the speaker also recalls her aunt talking about being laughed at by young girls. But Auntie “carried her head high…her neck straight under pounds of roots and vegetables that shimmied when she walked.” The poem celebrates the uniqueness of Auntie and Sandra tells us to be nothing but proud of the person you like to be.

Towards the very end of the event, Sandra talked about once “feeling like nothing.” She remembered listening to Interstellar mission recordings that included President Kennedy and remembered listening to Martin Luther King Jr.’s “I Have A Dream” speech; never was a woman mentioned, she noted. Sandra then began asking where the role models for women were, until she found hers in Rachel Carson. Besides being an marine biologist, Rachel was a conservationist and is credited for advancing the global environmental movement. It is no surprise then, that in her poetry, Sandra gives us the many facets of nature and its beauty. She celebrates life and the many possibilities out there for everyone. To hear and read her poems is to be reminded of the loveliness of our experiences with the world.

Christian Benavides