Jun 12, 2019
Alumni News, Poetry

For nearly 20 years, UVA’s Area Program in Poetry Writing has taught undergraduates to see through the eyes of a poet.

“The praxis and love of poetry is a lifetime engagement,” says professor Lisa Russ Spaar (Col ’78, Grad ’82), who founded the program in the College in 2000.

About a third of the program’s students go on to publish poems, Spaar says, but regardless of their chosen profession, “the fact that they’ve studied poetry informs whatever they are doing. It’s part of their life going forward, whether they become a published poet or a doctor, a doula or a lawyer, a teacher or a restaurateur.”

Here’s a roundup of recently published poets from the program along with a small sample of their work.

Credit: Marlene Hawthorne

Kyle Dargan (Col ’02) read Rita Dove in high school and was determined to learn from her at UVA. His poetry is about the tireless challenges to humanity and its riveting potential for growth and evolution. “Poetry is a way of communing with the world, and in that sense I’m always doing it,” he says, “not just when I’m actually sitting down and crafting a poem.”

Dargan teaches literature at American University. His fifth book, Anagnorisis, came out in September.

From “Separating”

And I know nothing
about industrial farms. And I
understand so much of blackness

as what I do in spite of my caging.
But I know I cannot buy another
egg not laid by a bird
I believe foraged, walked freely

under the sun—

Corrie Williamson (Col ’08) double majored in archaeology and creative writing. “Both are about excavating and holding things to the light,” she says. In 2020 she will live off the grid in the Oregon wilderness, writing in solitude. Williamson’s newest book, The River Where You Forgot My Name, slated for September, combines her voice with that of Julia Clark, wife of William Clark (Meriwether Lewis’ partner), to explore women in the wild, separated by centuries.

From “Chestnut Sabbath”

Time is its own

form of idle malady, which
stirs, brews, fruits, or

readies its black powder
beyond our knowing. All

things abide here between
summon & pluck.

Laura Eve Engel (Col ’07) loves free writing, without punctuation, without stopping. “I’m interested in the fluidity or flexibility of ideas, and the grammatical ways units of language can connect,” she says. “I like to let language lead me to the subject rather than sitting with a subject in mind.” Her process is undisciplined and chaotic, and then she listens to that chaos, and finds the poem within.

Engel is a freelance writer, editor and teacher. Her book, Things That Go, was released in December.

From “Home on the Range”

Being in love is like

almost knowing what is about to happen

before you are ripped apart by the sun

and its belly.

Like finally finding inside a haystack

there’s a more beautiful


For Matthew Gwathmey (Col ’05), a poet is a magpie, picking up bits and pieces, phrases and images and ideas, and figuring out later if they work into a poem. Each night he writes, after his doctoral classwork and his job teaching literacy at Canadian First Nation schools, and after his evening with his wife and their five kids. “Sometimes nothing comes,” he says, “but I leave that time open.”

His book, Our Latest in Folktales, was released in April.

From “Turning Thirty”

I’ll sling kingdoms,    glistening tweets    cut from the stuff    of
bandwagons.   I’ll document   lessons learned   in quick-fire   mobile
photographs.   As my data turns   into a gas   and rises out   of

For Chelsea Wagenaar (Col ’11), a poem begins as an idea or an image, a landscape that she paints with words, then rereads and revises until she discovers its meaning. “I’m always looking at what’s around me and how I would put it into language,” she says. “Really good poems show the complexity and mystery of something rather than convey something simple.”

Wagenaar teaches creative writing at Valparaiso University. Her second book, The Spinning Place, will be released in October.

From “Prelude to Circulatory System”

The earthly currents begin to swish
through you. It is as though
my skin is an eave against which
a curled bird begins to stir.

By: Janine Latus
Original Publication: Virginia Magazine