Guest speaker shares feminist poetry, discusses nonprofit work

Poet Cate Marvin provided listeners with a sample of her poems when she visited campus as part of the All-College hour speaker series on Wednesday Nov. 12. In addition to reading her work, she discussed the nonprofit organization VIDA: Women in Literary Arts, which she co-founded with fellow poet Erin Beliu in 2009. Published in 2001, her first book World’s Tallest Disaster was chosen for the Kathryn A. Morton Prize. She also received the Kate Tufts Discovery Prize a year later.

Marvin co-edited the anthology Legitimate Dangers: American Poets of the New Century with poet Michael Dumanis in 2006. Her poems have appeared in over ten acclaimed literary journals. Her second book Fragment of the Head of a Queen was published in 2007 and she received a Whiting Award for her work. She now teaches at Lesley University, Columbia University and the College of Staten Island.

She read 11 of her poems covering a variety of subjects. Marvin described her poetry as "dark and comedic.” One of the opening poems was “Whether to Reel For,” a two-part poem which Marvin called “more of an apocalyptic poem than the first.” It focused on how nature is “symbolic of a human emotion, which is, of course, a fallacy because nature does not have emotion.” The third poem “Scenes from the Battle of Us” compared a volatile relationship to a war.

“My poems are funny in a dark way,” Marvin said. “They’re ironic in the sense that any sort of ironic statement is both true and false—kind of a messed up observation.” Marvin continued on to read “Lying My Head Off,” focusing on how sometimes we have no choice but to lie.

“At times they say one must lie in order to survive,” she said, comparing lies to “an oil slick on my tongue.”

Marvin has a new book coming out in March 2015 titled Oracle, which took about seven years to complete. It draws material from Marvin’s high school days—encounters with the opposite sex, stereotypes and popularity.

Oracle’s poems vary in subject range from classroom time to eye color to wisteria trees. For example, one poem named “Industrial Arts” tackles the divide between female and male roles in the form of an industrial arts class.

In the poem, an imaginary teacher yells, “Ladies, stand back! We don’t want you cutting those pretty fingers off or sawing yourselves in half. This is a man’s work.”

According to Marvin, the “nonprofit feminist literary” VIDA organization she co-founded “helps expose the same amount of opportunities to women and men as writers.”

She noted that the birth of the organization was somewhat of an accident.

“I wrote a letter to a panel who rejected me about the fact that females are underrepresented in the literary world,” she said. “The email went viral, and the next day I woke up and had over 300 emails in my inbox. [Beliu] had been on this panel, and she became my co-director that day.”

Although Marvin is working to correct the gender imbalance in her field, she said that there is still room for improvement.

Marvin said that she draws inspiration from Lord Alfred Tennyson, T.S. Eliot, Wallace Stevens, Thomas Wyatt and Robert Frost, naming them amongst her favorite poets. The poet most influential to her, however, is Sylvia Plath. Many of Marvin’s poems deal with similar themes to Plath’s, especially those concerning suicide and lost love.

“[There is] a tradition established by Plath in dramatic monologues that are very artificial in their construction,” Marvin said. “It is rare that you find good novels or poems in which everything goes right. Good literature is about conflict.”