Well-Versed Talent

Poetry thrives across campus

As Ohio's poet laureate, Dave Lucas, PhD, a lecturer in Case Western Reserve's English department, travels the state to encourage poetry reading and writing and promote the broader importance of the humanities.

With the end of his two-year term nearing, Lucas said he's been most surprised by how pervasive the art form is statewide.

"That no matter where you go in Ohio," he said, "poetry is happening."

The same might be said of Case Western Reserve, where poetic inspiration and scholarship thrive.

"We have some seriously talented student poets at this school," said Sarah Gridley, MFA, an associate professor of English who teaches poetry workshops, "and often, they are contradicting the perceived ‘divide' between humanities and STEM [science, technology, engineering and math]. You can be a ‘both-and' kind of person here, which I think is great."

In fact, artistic creativity and STEM, Lucas said, are more aligned than one might think.

"Both of those worldsthe sciences and the artsare seeking to express profound complexity in ways that are approachable and even elegant," he said. "That's really where the two worlds meet."

Read how six student poets steeped in a range of disciplineshave taken to poetry to express their thoughts, explore new perspectives and preserve memories.

— Bill Lubinger
Photos by Michael F. McElroy

Image of CWRU student and poet Darnelle Damu Crenshaw El

Darnelle Damu Crenshaw El is a senior majoring in history and sociology. “I write poetry as a form of creative expression. I’ve always been a quiet person and expressing what’s in my heart and my inner thoughts has always been a challenge. Poetry allows me to have that outlet.”

Mama Said

I break my back every day
all to carve a safe path across these scalding seas
maneuvering malleable through the ebbs and flows
caution is needed in these murky mercantile waters

we've been docking from bay to bay
for a long time now

Lord Knows I have done everything for youto live
Child Now Live and mind you that

My Back Births
it never breaks

Image of CWRU student and poet Brian Eckert

Brian Eckert is a fifth-year student majoring in English with a minor in creative writing. “I write poetry to explore new perspectives and reflect on past experiences. Writing poetry helps me process memories and view experiences through new lenses.”

To the Dead Horses of the Ohio and Erie Canal

Horses are not like mules
or oxen, or humans.

Horses do not quit working
when they get tired.

Horses work themselves to death
if they can.

On this same towpath
used to test my own limits
horses pulled canal boats all day
until their hearts exploded.

I always think of you,
dear dead horses
when I feel
my heart thumping
and blood rushing
through wide open
veins and arteries
pushing forward
to the parking lot
where I left my car
and water, hoping
someday I might perish
from the same relentless
determination, but for
a better purpose.

Image of CWRU student and poet Paige Lilly

Paige Lilly is a sophomore majoring in English and biology and minoring in creative writing. "I think of poetry in the same way that a lot of people think about photo albums. In my case, I’m collecting emotions, moments and thoughts in a way that only I can, and I’m putting them in words that are meaningful to me. Writing the poems allows those experiences to live on."


the bones of this dotted earth
that hold the sea to its cliffs
and graze the sun with its mountains

clack with the hooves of agile precision
and crumble before them
into empty plains below
that taste of goading
and the echoes
of interlocking horns

from the ground I see nothing
but a tightening air like a needle
run across a balloon
that does not pop
does not collapse
does not submit

mindful chaos
How do you

Image of CWRU student and poet Kevin Pataroque

Kevin Pataroque is a third-year student majoring in chemical engineering and minoring in creative writing. “I write poetry because of its potential to open a dialogue between the writer and the reader. Poetic devices such as sensory imagery and comparisons turn the stanzas of words into a snapshot of my own identity, which is something tangible I can give away to begin a conversation with my reader.”


heat left through
the open window
Snow: falling
lines of grey frost
popped blisters across
the iridescent face of the earth
slowly we shivered in our bed

to spend the infinitesimal
space between us
ice forms in our cracks
are we amphipathic
like wind and window
at the surface of glass
or is this love incredible
are we to
wake in the warmth
of the midday sun

Image of CWRU student and poet Camila Ring

Camila Ring is a second-year PhD student in English focusing on poetry. “Sometimes I write poetry to more fully inhabit or reclaim wonder, especially regarding aspects of experiences that are easy to take for granted—like perception or sensation or just life lived in a body. I think I write poetry not to understand or ‘give words to’ something, but to press into what it's like to not be able to give words to something—be it commonplace or miraculous or both—and to be OK with that.”

Origin of the Hyacinth

surely you were born in the heart
of a compact starteaspoon
of white dwarf so dense   you dropped
       from your cosmic raceme
straight into earth's secretly violet
heat core.   and how
did you resurface?    how did you cool?
through the powerful spring-
up of your sprouting?     wind of falling
reversed in your veins
              back-flinging each of your petals
till their tips touch     the middle of their backs?
You drink down the sound of sprout:   sprouted milk
tongues from fountain milk heartpetals
that arch their backs to stretch in the sun
till they swallow the heat     and become
swift baby fireworks        cooled.
Must I pluck you to see
                                         your many beings
that on your side you are the blue
silhouette of hummingbird? That, flipped
and twirled onto your stomach, you are
thick cascade     of willow shade,
ecstatic ends upturned?    I unroll
and reroll your ends      until I think to make
one hang on my finger. There you are, petal-cling:
cool     slick     crisp thing         floating,
gentle and

Image of CWRU student and poet Jahci Perry-Richardson

Jahci Perry-Richardson is working toward a bachelor’s degree in English and a master’s degree in public health. “I write to explore aspects of this world that I find taxing, difficult to understand, or that otherwise elicit notable emotion. Poetry allows me to inhabit a space where I can work to step out of my mindset, examine my own views and embrace alternatives. It is my limitless space.”

Reaping in Resistance*

I want to say the tree I planted centuries ago
was not cut down by my sister and your brother
before it could provide enough fruit and cocoa
to feed thousands of generations of color.

But our siblings sit fat and strong
lifting fingers to give commands.
We may bend in their winds, but birdsong
escapes in tunes only we understand.

We may not gain this year's harvest
but melody carries the seed through our fields.
Our family before us is a shell, a carcass.
Wind carries husks, and we will reap our yields.

*As a response to the poem "A Black Man Talks of Reaping" by Arna Bontemps