Western Connecticut State University Professional Writing student Isabella Bullock recently was named one of five Connecticut Collegiate Poets by the Connecticut Poetry Circuit for 2022-23. As a result of this honor, the Westport resident will travel the state participating in poetry readings and events from Feb. 6 to March 11.
After graduating from Staples High School, Bullock planned to study Creative Writing with an emphasis on playwriting and screenwriting at a New York State public university. A year into her studies, Covid forced her classes online and Bullock realized it didn’t make sense to pay the out-of-state tuition to continue her education at home.
“It was definitely a lane change,” Bullock said. “I started looking at college options in Connecticut to transfer to, and only Western Connecticut State University had the same creative opportunities. I transferred to WCSU in 2020 as a Professional Writing major with a focus on creative writing and a minor in marketing.”
In addition to Bullock, this year’s winning student poets are Sara Greene of Eastern Connecticut State University, Oliver Egger of Wesleyan University, Alisa Mejia of Quinnipiac University and John Nguyen of Yale University.
Junior English major Sara Green of Eastern Connecticut State University submitted a handful of poems from her chapbook, a small collection of poems she is writing with the end goal of publication. The chapbook, titled “Sporadic Resurrections,” has been worked on by both Green and English Professor Daniel Donaghy during her independent study, “Writing for Publication.” Green aims to submit her chapbook for publication by spring 2024.
“Professor Donaghy has been an outstanding and consistent mentor who has given me, along with many other students, the permission to explore our ideas in lousy first drafts, try on different forms that suit us, and above all else, read the works of many other poets, particularly those with silenced narratives,” said Green. “I’ve been really fortunate to have been given a safe space to confront difficult truths in my work as of late, including honoring my own wickedness and examining generational and institutional traumas from different perspectives and points of reference.”
As a nontraditional student, Green finds herself being stretched in many different areas, making the recognition even more valuable. “At school, I am a student, but at home, I am a partner, coordinator of the home, dog mom, and most nights I'm out late at roller derby practice as Sylvia Wrath! I have a lot of late nights, so being recognized for my work has been very validating of the hard work I put in when I’m wearing either hat.”
Once in WCSU’s Professional Writing program, Bullock met Professor of Writing and Literature Dr. Brian Clements, who has authored or edited more than15 print and digital collections of poetry — and her love of poetry was awakened.
“The Connecticut Poetry Circuit is a longstanding tradition that recognizes the best undergraduate poets in the state, and the Writing program at WCSU is delighted to have had one of our student poets selected for the Connecticut Poetry Circuit in each of the first two years we’ve nominated our poets,” Clements said. “Isabella’s poems have a rich sonic layering that accompanies a calmness of spirit unusual among poets her age. She’s already an accomplished poet, and I’m sure we’ll be seeing her widely in print in coming years.”
“I had always liked poetry, but never realized how much I love it,” Bullock said. “Poetry is the foundation for a lot of my writing, so when Dr. Clements sent me an application to be considered to be a Connecticut Collegiate Poet, I trusted his guidance and what he believes I’m capable of and applied. It was a shock that I was selected.”
Bullock, who commutes to WCSU and works two part-time jobs while taking classes, said her poems are about life, real experiences and what she’s witnessed as a people watcher. “God is also a big part of my poetry as an inspiration,” she said, “and a lot of what I write about is based upon my faith.”
Thinking about what made her transfer to WCSU, Bullock said, “I love where I am now. I didn’t expect to love WCSU as much as I do. I’ve learned so much and I appreciate my school and my professors.” When she graduates in May, Bullock plans to take a working gap year to teach English in Vietnam.
“I’ll be getting my feet wet with teaching,” Bullock explained. “My minor is in marketing, so at some point I could do corporate writing. I’m also considering pursuing a master’s degree and I aspire to write a book one day. With Covid, I stopped planning, but I like to stay open to possibilities and options.” For now, Bullock’s “lane change” will have her traversing Connecticut on the Collegiate Poet public readings circuit.
Mejia, a senior psychology major from the Bronx, New York, was one of the five poets chosen.
“Being selected is something I can hardly put into words,” Mejia said. “I am always pretty self-critical when it comes to my work and am constantly revising my pieces and, to be quite honest, I never thought I would be able to go up against such talented poets. When I found out I had been selected, I was honestly in complete disbelief, I could not believe that my work was actually good enough to be selected. The biggest thing that this has done for me is reinforce my passion for poetry.”
“I had a period of time where I stopped writing because I was struggling to express the things I have been going through on paper, but being selected for this reminded me how important it is for me to keep pushing myself, and to keep writing,” Mejia added.
Green’s love for poetry sprouted unexpectedly. “I sort of discovered what I was writing was poetry, so I began taking creative writing courses at a community college and going to poetry workshops at a neighboring university,” she said. “I made my way to the slam poetry circuit at Providence Poetry Slam where I had the honor to hear and share a stage with some seriously talented and vulnerable humans. I started at Eastern in 2019 and have since found the beautiful love child of all my interests,” said Green, who majors in English and aspires to become a language arts teacher.
Regardless of her busy schedule, Green is excited for the upcoming poetry tour. “It's a new opportunity to both share truths and cultivate connections,” she said. “Plans for school and poetry projects tend to always be metamorphosing, most of the time, inconveniently. I'm going to go in with a lot of trust in myself and that whatever needs to be written will find a way out.”
The Connecticut Poetry Circuit was established in 1968 to continue the work of the New England Poetry Circuit, which was founded in 1964 by the Academy of American Poets and Holly Stevens, daughter of the acclaimed poet and Hartford insurance executive Wallace Stevens.
Each year, the Connecticut Poetry Circuit enlists a panel of poets to judge a statewide contest of college-student poets. Five student poets are selected to tour the circuit each spring and will read their work at a number of universities and events. The Connecticut Poetry Circuit Director is Professor of English James Gentile of Manchester Community College. This year’s judges were Randall Horton, Clare Rossini, Kate Rushin, Vivian Shipley, and John Stanizzi.
The Connecticut Poetry Circuit is not funded; the panel and director volunteer their time to encourage student poets and to bring poetry to Connecticut colleges and communities.
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