Slam at the Benton: “Food Stamps”

by Jacob Lowell

Food Stamps
by Jacob Lowell

When I was 5 years old
I would sit with my mother and cut out
the coupons in the newspaper,
all spread out on the dining room table.
They tell me I couldn’t remember being on food stamps;
I was only a kid.
But I remember shopping trips and
shaking white knuckles on the steering wheel.
cutting milk with water,
cutting juice with water,
eating only mac and cheese and
picking the marshmallows out of the off brand lucky charms.
It would always go bad in a few days.
We’d still eat it anyway
We would have breakfast for dinner because it was
cheap and
My mother hated cooking.
Correction,
my mother still hates cooking.
So I learned how to make grilled cheese
and french toast.
I learned how to steal food
from the cafeteria.
It wasn’t hard because
my friends always had leftovers,
which is to say I begged them for it
I knew we had enough at home but
we didn’t have pudding cups
and we didn’t have pretzels and
granola bars and
we never ever had fruit snacks.
I was caught in fifth grade with
someone else’s lunch box.
I had already eaten half of it so
they called my mother,
who had to call the other kids mother
and I got in trouble for lying
but not for stealing.
I had to learn to wear humiliation better after that
learn to say I didn’t need it.
I called myself guilty.
The last time I stole something
I was in sophomore year and trying to starve
Myself.
It was an apple off my art teacher’s desk
I wouldn’t let her offer it to me
So I took it after hours
These days
I hide my food in the back of the pantry
so I won’t eat it all
or won’t eat at all
I haven’t yet learned the difference
These days
I scavenge for half eaten lunches
with a beast’s eyes I haven’t unlearned
Hunger is a strange beast.
Makes strange beasts of us.
Teaches us how to howl and
hide and bury
how to crack open bone and
make nothing left
feel like a feast you should be lucky to attend
Hunger follows you even when full belly.
even quenched mouth.
Hunger will always be there
behind you
if you are given a reason to fear it.

~

Jacob Lowell reading his poem, “Food Stamps” for the Long River Review’s 2017 Reading Series: Slam at the Benton.

Ben Schultz – Videography (Filming and Editing)
Nicholas DiBenedetto – Interviews
Brandon Marquis – Interviews
Mairead Loschi – Podcast Audio

~

Meet the Poet: Jacob Lowell

Prior to the reading, Poetry Editor Nicholas DiBenedetto and Creative Nonfiction Panelist Brandon Marquis sat down with Jacob to talk about his work with Poetic Release and the story behind his piece.

Brandon Marquis: So just starting with your name, introduce yourself.

Jacob Lowell: My name is Jacob Lowell. I guess I’m a poet, an artist—I do a lot of everything… I try to do a lot of everything. I’m involved with Poetic Release; I guess that’s a talking point.

Benjamin Schultz: Poetic Release? Like a student organization here?

JL: Yeah, it was started by Devin Samuels in 2013, or 2011, or something like that. Devin actually coached the youth team—Connecticut has a state-based youth team that they send to Brave New Voices—that I’ve been involved with for the past two years, possibly three, but in an administrative stance this summer instead of competing. He was my coach my first year, and he was like, ‘oh man, when you go to college you should totally join Poetic Release because I absolutely—you’re always loved by the things you create.’ He absolutely adores art, and I really—I love poetry, intensely, and it kind of freaks people out sometimes because they’re like ‘oh man, have you seen this video on Button?’ And I’m like ‘actually, I’ve seen every video on Button, ever.’ And they’re like ‘what!? Dude there’s like a thousand poems.’ And I’m like ‘yeah I just don’t sleep anymore.’

So I’ve been working with (Poetic Release’s) admin board, I’m doing their social stuff so follow their Twitter @UCPoeticRelease, and, you know, it’s a great time. It’s a really good space for kids on campus, because art’s really important.

ND: You said you really like poetry in particular, what do you think draws you to that as opposed to other forms of writing?

JL: I actually started writing short stories, which then became fanfiction—I love fanfiction so much—but I think poetry is really interesting. I actually really liked classical poets when I was younger, so like Emily Dickinson and Robert Frost and all those dead white people they make you read in English, and I was like ‘oh my gosh,’ poetry is like really romantic, it’s also really historical, it’s really political, all the time.

Emily Dickinson has this poem that we talked about in like 6th grade, “I like to see it lap the Miles –” she was around for the industrial revolution and so she was like ‘yeah like, y’all invented the steam engine but it’s not a horse, so I don’t really care.’ We talked about that and a lot of people think that all Emily Dickinson wrote about was feeling lonely, and even that in itself is a movement, like is power, and is important. I think something that’s really cool about poetry is that it’s constantly challenging you; it’s not easy to write. It’s never easy to write poetry. It can be natural to some people, but it’s never like ‘oh man I’m gonna sit down and like write this poem in a day—bam, done.’ That used to be my writing style and then people were like ‘look Jake, you gotta edit,’ and I was like ‘what?’ So, you know, yikes.

BM: Could you talk more about that power in poetry you mentioned?

JL: Poetry is always giving power to the artist, I think. You always hear these like really sad, romantic stories about these writers who couldn’t find any purchase anywhere else. One of the books I was obsessed with when I was a kid was Little Women. There’s an artist, Jo; she used to write these really long stories, and she didn’t start getting published until she started writing poetry—publishing under a pseudonym—and then she got her plays published. That was her breaking into art; there’s Yeats, didn’t really get a lot of things published except his poetry. Shakespeare! Hated his sonnets. One of the things he’s remembered for the most. So it’s always the thing that’s going to outlive you I think.

There’s also more modern poets who’ve found power in poetry. Andrea Gibson didn’t know what to do with their burgeoning identity, their activism, their anger, their love and their joy, so then they just started putting it into poetry and someone was like ‘you’re actually like kinda good at this thing,’ and started paying them to do art, and travel, and tour nationally, and have like three chapbooks and like four albums, that’s amazing.

Rupi Kaur, and other Instagram poets like Warsan Shire, but definitely Rupi Kaur. They’re traumatized women of color, and they had nowhere to put their pain, and they were like ‘I guess the only thing I have left is my art.’ So they started putting it out. Art is valid without recognition, but the recognition they get is really important for them and for others. I recently just finished reading Milk and Honey, and everything about it really hurts, but it’s also really great. And… Man, I just really like art.

ND: Especially with the intersection of the illustrations with the poems, I love the hybrid work there. You mentioned earlier that Emily Dickinson’s ‘sad and lonely’ connotation she gets, that even that, in a way is a political statement, and from what I’ve read of your work, it has that personal element. What do you think about navigating the space between the personal and the political?

JL: I think personal experiences are almost always, and can almost always be a political statement. In my poem, I write about my weird relationship with food insecurity, and being on WIC for a while, and how that affected me more than people would think. “Food Stamps” kind of came as a surprise, it was written by accident.

We were meant to do a community outreach thing for our creative writing class, and there was a nonprofit organization called Feed the Children—which is an entirely tacky name, but they’re a good organization—they were holding a silent auction for art and exposition for poetry. So, we signed up to do it, and then everyone completely forgot about it until like two days before the event. My friend was like ‘oh my god just like read what you have’ and I was like ‘no, if it’s about food insecurity then I’m going to write about food insecurity, it’s something that affects me.’

So I sat down and wrote this poem in like a day, which completely goes against what I said earlier (laughs). I read it, and people started crying, it was very strange for me. It was something I never really thought a lot about, but when I was a kind I used to straight up steal food from people, and was constantly worried about where my next meal was even years after we got off WIC and food stamps.

I think I got off topic, but when I sit down to write from personal experience, I always am forced to think—especially as a performance poet—who is going to read this and what are they going to take away, what is the art there. There’s something they call the ‘So-What Factor’ in what makes your art important in performance poetry, and that ‘So-What Factor’ is what am I saying politically, and what am I putting out into the world. I can write “Food Stamps” and the ‘So-What Factor is that you think once a person is economically secure this ends, and it doesn’t. In the other poem I submitted, “The Year of Klekolos” you think that when you cut a toxic person out of your life they’re gone and they aren’t. Other stuff like that.

~

Jacob Lowell is a Human Rights and Political Science major, as well as a performance poet currently associated with UConn’s Poetic Release. He really likes coffee, sustainability, and other poets. He’s proudest of his bad taste in fanfiction, and great taste in music.

Slam at the Benton: “Hardwood Laxatives”

by Jacob Nelson

Hardwood Laxatives
by Jacob Nelson

I think HGTV is trying to redefine what a home is
After realizing that at 3000 Sq ft two bedrooms
And a home office
No one under 35 has a home

Open floorplans and hardwood are timeless
So they switched greatrooms to microhomes and studios.

We’re bringing yards indoors with growboxes
And terrariums and organic-stocked fridges

And I kinda like the idea of temperature-regulated boxes in temperature-regulated boxes in temperature-regulated boxes designed for comfortable living.

You can only own a home when you stop
Spending Saturday Mornings in the living room
Fingering yourself to Fixer Upper.

~

Jacob Nelson reading his poem, “Hardwood Laxatives” for the Long River Review’s 2017 Reading Series: Slam at the Benton.

Ben Schultz – Videography (Filming and Editing)
Nicholas DiBenedetto – Interviews
Brandon Marquis – Interviews
Mairead Loschi – Podcast Audio

~

Meet the Poet: Jacob Nelson

Prior to the reading, Poetry Editor Nicholas DiBenedetto and Creative Nonfiction Panelist Brandon Marquis sat down with Jacob to talk about his thoughts on poetry, and the role of popular culture in writing.

Brandon Marquis: So, just starting off, introduce yourself.

Jacob Nelson: I’m Jacob Nelson, I’m a senior English and Communications major, I take a lot of poetry classes, but don’t read a lot of poetry.

Nicholas DiBenedetto: Tell us a bit about what you like to write about, and what inspires your writing.

JN: Personally, I feel like in a lot of the writing and poetry that I read, it lacks a lot of modern entertainment, and modern… not necessarily references, but things like television and video games and those things are kind of seen as taboo to talk about in a form like poetry, so I like to include them as much as I can. Anything from sitcoms, to TV dramas, or video games, I like to throw them in there.

ND:  Would you consider yourself—as someone who enjoys having modern references in your approach to poetry—an ultra-talk poet or part of the ultra-talk movement?

JN: Not directly in the ultra-talk movement, because I think that that itself is a little outdated, but someone coming off of that—definitely inspired from people in that movement, people coming out of that, like a second generation, even a third generation from that movement, yeah.

ND: What’s appealing to you about having these references, whether it be to TV or film or music? Why have those in a poem, why is that important to you to explore?

JN: Well for me it’s really two things: one of them is that I fall into the idea that poetry often seems elitist to outsiders, and I think that by including more culturally prominent things to people of our age and time, it makes it more accessible; and secondly, poetry for me comes from what I’m inspired by, and that’s what happens in my day-to-day life. You know, I’m not going to Paris or walking through museums, I’m watching television and playing games and hanging out with friends, so I think that should reflect my life and not someone else’s life.

BM: So if you were in an argument with an elitist about whether or not these things, culturally prominent things should be included in poetry—whether or not they are or aren’t art—what would you say?

JN: I would ask them whether they felt comfortable reading only at some poetry club or at some museum or at some poetry event, or whether they would think that anyone could read their poems. Could someone read them in the middle of the street, and still keep up with them, or could someone read them in a Walmart, you know? I think that not all poetry has to be accessible and made for everyone, but poetry can be made accessible.

ND: Given how much I think you stress the importance of accessibility in your own writing, do you find yourself gravitating towards things like slam poetry, Button Poetry, or like Instagram poets and the kind of innovation we see with poetry in terms of video and social media integration?

JN: I’m definitely interested by that. I like watching it, I like listening to it; it’s not something that I enjoy writing. I think that for those poetry mediums there’s a different quality of something that needs to be said out loud, and said quickly and firmly. My poems aren’t that dire. They’re more something that I’d rather people read off a tablet while lying in bed and needing something funny to read, not something to sit in a chair and stand up and rally around, you know?

~

Jacob Nelson has been an English major for 7 semesters and still writes all of his poems on his phone while walking to the class they’re due for. He hasn’t felt shame in years.

More of Jacob’s work is forthcoming in the 2017 issue of the Long River Review.

Slam at the Benton: “tops of trees”

by Jillian Cundari

tops of trees
by Jillian Cundari

today for the first time in a long time I saw the tops of trees.
I rolled to a near stop in drive at the top of the hill
to see the trees and farms

rising in heaps and the bubbling people, pushing through the top
like a bulb
from tulip.

I thought of Mom. the plastic tarp white by weather, the kind you see on afternoon       drives, was

covering something and it was held down by tires.

Thought it was the bodies
of dead farm things.

I aimed the wheels between the jaundice, just before we go
full yellow

I thought about the pile, after that until I called Mom and she told me
she had a pneumonia and I lay on my back crying, flecks of mascara in pools of me

ousted
by a hose, rolling onto the pillow, the corners of aged glass on starch

it was a yellow afternoon too. I consider who I love most in the world

drooling from the trees
like the final pitter-patter of
rain ever.

watching again, I see how air purples out from between the smallest spaces like

sweat between fingers in a peace sign
until it turns fevers up blue and falls back into the hill, dancing like
wonderful

with bitten grass and biting animal

I pity that purple, sucked and bruised and tapped like maple,
Snacked on
by bark and the eyes of the looker

The gas is so thin now that I can’t help but
see myself, in my mothers’ old horned-rims,
lubricated by the oil

of my too-small nose

Told her to try and cough up the mucus until finally it happened and I
rewound the small intestine like yarn around my wrist, collecting and collecting
and collecting until I command the inside and she can’t unravel anymore

~

Jillian Cundari reading her poem, “tops of trees” for the Long River Review’s 2017 Reading Series: Slam at the Benton.

Ben Schultz – Videography (Filming and Editing)
Nicholas DiBenedetto – Interviews
Brandon Marquis – Interviews
Mairead Loschi – Podcast Audio

~

Meet the Poet: Jillian Cundari 

Prior to the reading, Poetry Editor Nicholas DiBenedetto and Creative Nonfiction Panelist Brandon Marquis sat down with Jill to talk about her work and her writing process.

Nicholas DiBenedetto: Tell us a bit about yourself: who you are, your writing, etc.

Jillian Cundari: Well, I’m Jill, I’m graduating this May, I major in English and Human Rights, and… I only really write when I’m feeling very sad or very scattered. That’s when my best writing happens, I would say. I usually write early in the morning as well. That’s when I’m fresh.

ND: Do you think you use writing as a coping mechanism?

JC: Oh, absolutely. I feel like it gives you a chemical burst in your brain and… it pieces together all the confusion that I have, every day.

ND: Do you get any kind of a similar burst when you’re showing your work to other people or performing it for other people? Or is it just the burst of writing and getting it all out?

JC: Well, I feel like when I’m reading my work out loud honestly I’m like, (shudders) Am I gonna mess up? What will they think? Yeah I think it’s definitely a rush to put yourself out there in a different kind of way.

Brandon Marquis: What’s special about early morning? You said you do best poetry in the morning; what’s special about that?

JC: I feel like I write in the early morning because it’s before I care about anything, and I feel like when I’m trying too hard or I’m caring… whatever I’m writing, it’s not authentic.

ND: Where do you think you draw the line between being honest with yourself and with being a craftsman in terms of your writing and crafting a poem? How do you navigate that gray area?

JC: Well I would say that when I write—just in general—it’s more of a free association. I’m not really thinking while I’m writing; my fingers are kind of doing it and then I’m like Oh, this is what’s kind of coming out. And so, it really just depends on how I’m feeling, the level of craft and the level of pure emotion that’s coming into my poems. I would say that I tend to more air on the side of craft, in that I’ll go back and I’ll be like Well, this isn’t right for some reason. It’s usually because I’m not being fully honest with myself or with what I’m trying to do with the poem. I feel like emotions sometimes come after, at least in the way they end up in the poem.

BM: This is just a really broad question; do you have any funny stories or little tidbits about writing? Just any funny little scenario, or even just like a small thing that’s important to as you define your craft?

JC: I don’t know about funny; I feel like my poems are never really funny. That’s not really your question, but I feel like, for me… Bruce (Cohen) said something to me that stuck with me; he said Write better poems and I was like Ah, cryptic, but kind of helpful: when you know there’s something that’s not quite right, but maybe you can’t say to yourself This is bad, and sometimes someone says it to you, you’re like Oh, I’ll just write better poems and sometimes it happens, and sometimes it doesn’t.

ND: What are some of your biggest inspirations? It could be personal stories, people in the writing community you look up to, or just reasons for why you’re writing.

JC: I feel like the moments I’m most inspired to write are when I’ve been outside and when I’ve been looking around. For me, writing is about being receptive to what’s around you, and so, I feel like my better work comes from when I’ve been around my family and when I’ve been outside. And usually I think it’s a pretty common trope in my poems to have, like nature mixed with family.

~

Jillian Cundari is an eighth semester English and Human Rights double major, and is a member of the Honors Program. After graduation this May, she hopes to return to UConn to earn her Master of Public Administration and Master of Social Work degrees.

Jill is the recipient of the 2017 Wallace Stevens Poetry Prize, Third Place. More of her work is forthcoming in the 2017 issue of the Long River Review.

Slam at the Benton: “Splinter People”

by Kelly Stoldt

Splinter People
by Kelly Stoldt

My mother has announced her worry
That living in a single dorm room is bad for me.
She asks if I’ve been socializing
If I’ve made friends
Leaves out “since the last time.”
I tell her I’ve gotten really close with my mattress
(It goes by many names and I tell her they’re all really nice)

When I make friends, I like to give them some warning.
And by that I mean
I have a tendency to attract splinter people
Who wedge themselves into my skull.
Become tweezers.
Remove themselves.
Until I am left with hole in my head.

See I fall in love the same way I used to sleep at night
Grinding my teeth so loudly my mother could hear it in the next room
I have only ever known how to be restless
To clench my jaw even on the quietest of nights
No matter how many times I’m told that the sun will rise in the morning
I will hold my breath until the sky is on fire
And then some
In case I am the one who has to put it out.

The longest I’ve gone without sleeping is 76 hours.
It’s the most routine thing I do
To wake up on the floor of my room
Dressed for yesterday.

Some days I will look at people like I’ve never seen them before
Or maybe like I am seeing them for the first time
(There is a difference).

Showers are a kind of loving yourself I am not familiar with.
And by that I mean
I really love showers
But they make me hate myself
So I stand there under steaming hot water until I forget where my bones begin.

On cold days, I am always the warmest body in the room.
I don’t know how to hold onto heat the way I’m supposed to
But I know it draws people closer to me
And I like that.

I like to confuse the past with the present
And by that I mean
Most days I disgust myself.
Most days I don’t know if I am disgusted with myself
Or the parts of him left inside me.
Most days I don’t know if it is me or the parts of him left inside me
Who is disgusted with myself.
But I do know that people are meeting Matt over and over again
When I open my mouth and everyone I’ve ever known comes pouring out.

I tell them
“Don’t feel guilty when you become what I fear most
It has more to do with what you could be than what you are”
I am always confusing time that way
Friends are just the passage of time for me
And I should probably stop looking for ghosts in everyone I meet
It’s less that I’m seeing them for the first time
And more that I’m seeing someone who I never thought I would again.

Mom wants to know if I’m isolating myself.
I tell her I am never alone
I’ve got all these ghosts living with me
Why would I ever need more?

~

Kelly Stoldt reading her poem, “Splinter People” for the Long River Review’s 2017 Reading Series: Slam at the Benton.

Ben Schultz – Videography (Filming and Editing)
Nicholas DiBenedetto – Interviews
Mairead Loschi – Podcast Audio

~

Meet the Poet: Kelly Stoldt

Prior to the reading, Poetry Editor Nicholas DiBenedetto sat down with Kelly to talk about her writing, and slam poetry in a time of political turbulence.

Nicholas DiBenedetto: Tell us a bit about yourself: who you are, your writing, and why you write poetry.

Kelly Stoldt: Well, I’m a Psychology major, and I really got interested in poetry because I found it was a really good outlet to connect with people. So rather than—especially because I want to be a therapist—trying to take things so scientifically, relating to somebody by sharing my own experience seemed to be the most effective way to help them get through things. And opening up my own experiences, especially in the mental health community, seemed to make people a lot more comfortable.

I got into poetry probably my sophomore year of high school, and I started reading and performing my junior year. I never really had a mentor, which a lot of people in performance poetry seem to, so I taught myself off of Youtube videos from Button Poetry, and it’s been something that I actually transferred to UConn to perform.

ND: Could you talk a bit more about not having a mentor? And, going off of that, do you have any poetic idols or people that you look up to or emulate in terms of the performance aspect of poetry?

KS: Most people within the poetry community that I’ve experienced—meaning spoken word or slam poetry—they had a professor, a teacher in high school, took classes, or a coach that got them into performance poetry, and that’s how they found themselves there, whereas I’ve had to seek out spaces for me to do performance. I taught myself namely off of Sarah Kay videos—she’s pretty well known—but I’ve definitely branched out, and now my coach, his name is Hanif Willis-Abdurraqib, he’s on campus coaching a few of us; he’s a really well known poet on Button Poetry as well.

ND: Is he a professor or is he someone a bit more established?

KS: He’s very established. He also writes for MTV, so he’s just a really good essayist and poet. But, right now he goes to universities and does a lot of performances, reads there, he has a book that just came out, and he works with UConn specifically because he lives in the area. I know he did a lecture at Yale about poetry, so he’s very well established and I’m very lucky to work with him.

ND: I know that you’re involved with Poetic Release and the slam poets that have this community on campus; when you think about your peers in the community, what do you think you learn from them in comparison to someone who’s more established like Hanif? Do you think it’s a different way of learning about writing and expressing yourself through poetry with the two, or do you think they overlap?

KS: It does overlap a little bit, but my peers definitely contribute to my poetry in a way that I learn a lot more outside of specifically just writing. Being a slam poet means that you’re generally in a very activist space because it’s meant for people who aren’t able to speak most of the time. It’s supposed to give a voice to a lot of marginalized groups. A lot of my peers are from various marginalized groups that I may or may not be in. I get a lot of help from them educating me so that I can use my outlet of poetry, or I’ll help them use their outlet of poetry to better articulate what they’re trying to speak and teach people about, or they’ll even correct me when I do something that’s offensive or possibly not really my area to talk about. So we support each other a whole lot, but also remain educators to each other, because we can’t know everything as poets.

ND: Given the current climate we live in, where a lot of marginalized groups might feel more threatened or uneasy just in the environment we live in, do you think it’s important to have poetry and people writing as a kind of outlet for that? Do you think it should be more of a call to action? Do you think poetry is itself a political act?

KS: I think being a poet—specifically a slam poet—is a radical act in this political climate. A lot of the viral Youtube videos from Button Poetry are about marginalized experiences. It’s a way of teaching people who are in privileged groups who’ll watch these videos and compelling them, because it’s taking them to the experience rather than giving them a lecture with statistics and whatnot. Hearing those personal accounts are really effective at educating people and getting them more involved and aware of what’s going on, because some people have no awareness of what is going on in the political climate. To get up on stage and voice your experience in that way and be very vulnerable is a political act. Signing your experience away like that for other people’s consumption is something that is very hard to do at times, but it’s really important and it provides a lot of empowerment to a lot of people.

ND: I guess as a final word: if there was anything you wanted to say to a prospective writer or a prospective slam poet, maybe someone who might be struggling with mental health issues and be interested in using poetry or slam poetry as an outlet for that, what would you say to them?

KS: I would say that all art is important. Whether or not you write it, and then a week later you hate it and think it’s awful, at one point it was really important to you to express. Some writing is meant to be shared, some writing isn’t. But keep writing, because the more that you write and that you accumulate about your experience, sometimes it means that you can shift things together to make one new piece or sometimes it just means that it needs to be put away and looked back again later. Writing is a really important outlet to be able to work through things, whether it’s personal, political, or to be shared with a large room of people, it’s really important to your own self-discovery. My own best writing always comes from something that I’m discovering about myself while I’m writing it. Just constantly writing is probably the best way that I make progress as a writer. There’s no way to really learn without continuing to do the art, and making progress in that way is probably the biggest stepping stone on the way to becoming an ‘established’ writer.

~

Kelly Stoldt is a psychology major as well as a performance poet affiliated with Poetic Release.  She’s been writing poetry for four years, loves music, and watching the UConn women’s basketball team.  She used to play on a quidditch team and is well known for her easily recognizable Kim Possible ringtone to go along with her red hair.