Juliana Spahr and Jena Osman were the only two women in the Ph.D. program at the State University of New York at Buffalo.
While they studied together, the two decided to create Chain, a literary journal which was in publication for 12 years.
“We decided that we wanted to start a magazine together that was doing something different than any other literary journal that we saw at that time,” said Osman, now an English professor at Temple and the director of the MFA Creative Writing program. “We were trying to include as many women and people of color as possible. It was important for us to see diversity.”
This was diversity they “weren’t really seeing elsewhere” at the time, Osman added.
Their connection continued when Osman invited Spahr, an award-winning poet, as well as an author and editor, to participate in this semester’s “Poets & Writers Reading Series” on Thursday.
“You know, you read stuff in class, and it’s in the book,” Osman added. “You don’t really think of it as alive, and I feel like because we are teaching contemporary writers, it’s a great opportunity if they want to ask them a question or go up and talk to them.”
Spahr spoke to students, alumni and members of the Philadelphia literary community at TUCC.
Philadelphia has a “very lively poetry scene,” Osman said. She keeps the series open to the public, and it is held in Center City so it can be more easily accessible to Philadelphia residents.
“These events bring a community of writers together,” said Natalie Risser, a sophomore English major.
Spahr, who holds a doctorate in English, spoke to a room so full that many had to sit on the floor. She read examples of her work including her newly released extended poem, “White Feminism.”
“I had never read anything by [Spahr] before, so this was an entirely new experience,” Risser said. “I enjoyed her perspectives on feminism and some other issues mentioned.”
“I feel very lucky that anyone will show up,” Spahr said. “It feels very nice.”
“I think that her writing really speaks to the contemporary moment in very useful ways, in ways that some people might not consider conventionally poetic,” Osman said. “Her work is very much about how we can think about the world in ways that only poetry can provide.”
The series as a whole will feature four writers total, continuing on March 10 with author Susan Howe at TUCC.
Osman said that speaking with poets in person is important to the development of young writers.
“There are a lot of students here who are studying writing, and it gives them models to see, ‘Oh yeah, I can do that,’” she said. “They can imagine that it is actually something within the realm of possibility, that being a writer isn’t some distant thing that only people in another decade or century would have done.”
“I think that it’s important to understand that literature is a living art,” Osman added. “It is not just something that existed in the past.”
Erin Blewett can be reached at email@example.com.