Thomas Nelson students at the Historic Triangle campus are passionate about poetry; in all forms and styles, and from a wide range of writers.
For the first open-mic Poetry Coffeehouse of the semester, held Jan. 29 in the library, more than two dozen students turned out. Some read their original poems, some recited works from E.E. Cummings, Maya Angelou, Emily Dickinson, Shel Silverstein, Edgar Allan Poe, or even Lil Wayne. The formats ranged from limericks to sonnets to free verse. One student read an excerpt from “Beowulf.”
It all pleased Janice Hoffman, an English professor at the Historic Triangle campus who helps organize the events.
“Isn’t that something? I love it,” she said. “I wasn’t surprised because that’s kind of the norm. You have a wide range. As many different personalities, you have different sources for the poetry. I think it accentuates how we’re all individuals. It’s just fun.”
The number of students who attended was a nice surprise, she said. Yes, her creative writing students are required to attend because it takes place during class time, and other students of hers can receive extra credit for attending and for reading a poem. However, she said more than half of the people in attendance were not her students.
Krystian Harston, a second-year student from Williamsburg working on an associate degree in Social Science, came last year in support of a friend. She now is in one of Hoffman’s classes, but would have attended anyway.
“I just like hearing people’s different perspectives and their different personalities coming through in the poetry,” she said. “And just hearing different things in general.”
There are suggested topics for each coffeehouse, which are held simultaneously once a month on the Hampton and Williamsburg campuses. January’s topic was “The Magic of Rhymes,” and February’s is “Love and Romance.” However, students don’t have to stick to those themes. Hoffman coordinates with Tom Rockson (English professor) and Bob Harrison (head librarian) to set up the themes. Hoffman said having a theme is a big benefit, even though students can stray from it.
“If they have a topic, they’re more likely to have something,” she said. “Otherwise, if you just say bring a poem (not many do). But it’s open to anything.”
Hoffman sees growth in the students who attend the coffeehouse events on a regular basis.
“It’s very therapeutic,” she said, noting students often are dealing with a lot of issues. “They do come out of their shells.”
And students needn’t be self-conscious about revealing personal topics.
“When somebody is bold enough to read something like that, everybody else respects it,” Hoffman said.
While the coffeehouse is not a formal class, Hoffman likes to sprinkle in notes about poets. After one student read a poem from Poe, she told them of his connections to Richmond.
“They’re not all creative writing students so they don’t always know the history behind the poem or the sonnet,” Hoffman said. “I think that’s important. You have so much more appreciation for the piece if you know something like that.”
The numbers for the January coffeehouse in Hampton weren’t as large, but Harrison said the “students who did show up who read some really great poetry.”
He said they have had great numbers in the past, but a lot of those students have graduated. It’s a matter of cultivating new enthusiasts.
“We are highly motived to give students and faculty a chance to have their voices heard and share their artistic talents,” he said.
He added it’s nice to see the bonding and mutual respect when students and teachers get together to share their love of poetry.
“The students are amazed that the faculty and staff had similar experiences to theirs,” he said.
Hoffman likes to think everybody has that in them, it just might need to be honed, developed or nurtured. And it’s great to see the growth in the students.
“What’s been really, really nice (is) it seems like the more we do it, students are used to it now, and they’re more comfortable,” Hoffman said.
The themes for the rest of the semester are “Love and Romance” on Feb. 19, “What is Freedom?” on March 18, and “For the Love of Rain” on April 15. The Poetry Coffeehouse meets from 1-2 p.m. in the library at the Historic Triangle campus, and in Room 158 of Diggs Hall on the Hampton campus.