Back to Issue Thirty-Three

Bucknell Feature Introduction

In many high schools and even colleges around America, we as students are taught that creative writing workshops are grade-boosting pursuits, that—while they may be fun—they are ultimately irrelevant because they do not subscribe to traditional academic objectives. I would count myself extremely lucky to have the chance to be a part of the Seminar, and to connect with student poets who truly, voluntarily, and proactively take poetry seriously.

—Excerpt from my cover letter for the 2015 Bucknell Undergraduate Poets Seminar.

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When I accepted my spot in the 2015 cohort of the Bucknell Undergraduate Poets Seminar and set off for the refreshing, quiet town of Lewisburg, Pennsylvania, I didn’t know quite to expect—but I knew what I wanted: a new community. A new tangible, passionate, galvanized community. A discussing-poems-like-they-are-good-friends community. A community that sometimes just needed to write, a community that understood.

Over the course of those three weeks in June 2015, I spent many hours reading and working on poems with Dana Levin, Mary Szybist, G.C. Waldrep, and more. And along the way, I found that community; I had the extreme fortune of meeting and learning from a number of supremely talented writers, many of whom I still call friends today.

Perhaps even more importantly, however, my weeks at Bucknell were transformative because for the first time in my admittedly short poet-life, I was not an undergrad poet, nor a high school poet, nor a young writer or even an emerging writer. I was taught to see myself as just a poet—and to see that I’d been one the whole time. During my time as a “Junie”, I learned so much about the craft of poetry and, in many different respects, I left my comfort zone in the rear-view mirror. Gone were the cozy couplets with lyric language that had gone un-interrogated, gone were the poems afraid to just say the damn thing.

It is with this collective experience that I’ve cheered on each subsequent class of Junies. When I learned that the 2020 Seminar had been canceled due to the world-wide COVID-19 pandemic, I knew immediately I wanted to extend an offer to support the 2020 Junies in some way. I’m thrilled that this feature came together as it did. Please enjoy our selections from each Junie’s writing portfolio—and remember these names!

Peter LaBerge
Founder & Editor-in-Chief, The Adroit Journal


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For me, one of the wonders of the Bucknell Seminar for Undergraduate Poets each June is in listening to how twelve unique poets interact in a shared space. During this pandemic year, with the cancellation of the 2020 Seminar, I am grateful to Peter LaBerge and the Adroit Journal team for creating a shared space through this feature so that these twelve voices can come together.

In these poems, I witness different ways of charting origins. I travel from Fang’s “laundry shop, where all the / towels we washed turned into stones,” to Powe’s “boy who / draws an atlas with the reds of himself,” and on to Jensen’s anthropologists, who “spatchcock me from my bones.” I witness distinct views of severance, brokenness, theft, and what cannot be mapped. Huang writes, “For you, I have cut off my mother tongue: my Mandarin name,” and Pursel writes of “an inheritance of shattered glass.” Dalton speaks of a brother who “dresses in stolen sunlight” and Baban notes “my hand on the outline of each / country I can’t reach.” As with origin stories, love between two people includes brokenness and unexpected turns. I feel those turns in the leaps between Wooten’s stanzas: “I look at him and I am warm. // He looks at me and paints me gills.”

Of course, each poem here is just one piece of the poet’s larger, growing, changing body of works. Each poem is, however, a little world on which to linger—and, too, an invitation. “I was // once told that writing a stanza / is to stand in a place,” writes Escamilla. “So, exist // in this place with me.” Yes. In each poem, I feel invited to “see the world, seconds before it changes,” as Garrison says. No mind, no place, no history, no love is fixed, or easy, or fully knowable. Writes Lauver, “I’m suddenly sorry for thinking any town / static out the window, any place epitome.” With this understanding, each poet offers a compelling story, whether that story is of mind, place, history, love, or some combination of all. Each story is nourishment, is a way to survive. Writes Vitasta:

We, with our familial ghosts and tricky minds, know that the
stories are how you keep all of us alive. Give us the threads –
the good and the bad – we will weave another generation out
of it.

This summer, I trust each of these 2020 poets will attend to “the threads—the good and the bad” and “weave another generation out of it” from their different locations, different voices, and different selves. I trust, too, this group’s poems will continue to intersect, to converse, to create valuable tensions and interconnections. I hope that you’ll find, as a reader, what Potluri does: “In the dry slant of late / Summer, aliveness…” Aliveness. Yes. That. May you feel wonder in witnessing this group of poets along with me.

K.A. Hays
Director, Bucknell Seminar for Undergraduate Poets


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K.A. Hays is the author of three books of poetry, most recently Windthrow (Carnegie Mellon University Press). Hays’ work has appeared in Best American Poets, Best New Poets, American Poetry Review, and other venues. She is at work on a new collection, work from which appears or is forthcoming at Los Angeles Review, Gettysburg Review, and elsewhere. Since 2016, she has directed the Bucknell Seminar for Undergraduate Poets.

Peter LaBerge is the author of the chapbooks Makeshift Cathedral (YesYes Books) and Hook (Sibling Rivalry Press). His work received a 2020 Pushcart Prize for Poetry and has appeared in AGNI, Best New Poets, Crazyhorse, Kenyon Review Online, Pleiades, and Tin House, among others. Peter is the founder and editor-in-chief of The Adroit Journal, as well as an incoming MFA candidate and Writers in the Public Schools Fellow at New York University.


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