Poet Angela Sorby entices with insightful social commentary

By Terese Swords

A large crowd gathered in the Warch Campus Center last Thursday, Feb. 26, as award winning poet Angela Sorby gave a short poetry reading. Sorby, an associate professor of English at Marquette University, is the author of three poetry collections: “Distance Learning” (New Issues, 1998), “Bird Skin Coat” (Wisconsin, 2009) and “The Sleeve Waves (Wisconsin, 2014).

Sorby’s poetry collections have been a collective success and her poetry is recognized with multiple awards. In 2009, Marilyn Nelson selected “Bird Skin Coat” as the winner of the Brittingham Prize in poetry, and her newest poetry selection, “The Sleeve Waves,” was awarded the Felix Pollak Prize in Poetry in 2014. The English department sponsored the reading, which is the first in the Mia Paul Poetry Series this year.

Assistant Professor of English Melissa Hope Range, introduced Sorby stating, “ I love her poetry’s sneak attack rhymes, razor intelligence, grappling ironies, and the ability to bend an idea into a direction you didn’t think the poem was going to go.” Sorby, standing with a stack of poems in hand, assured the audience that she would keep her poetry reading to less than fifteen minutes. Her poems utilized different poetic forms such as rhyme, metaphor and ekphrasis—poetry describing art.

The landscape of Sorby’s poetry is present within a “real life” setting. Her poems comically, yet poignantly portray the emotions of living in today’s world. For example, the third poem she read, “The Diagnosis,” addresses her past frustration of listening to other parents who are oblivious to the fact her son has never been invited to a birthday party, complain about the inconvenience of buying presents.

“They x his name/ off their kid-party/ guest lists/they are totally. Fucking. Meticulous.” While her poetry is funny—for instance the above line describing parents in “The Diagnosis” elicited roaring laughter from the crowd—underneath the comedy her poems offer thoughtful social commentary. In the case of “The Diagnosis,” Sorby reflects upon the exasperation and anger felt by a mother whose child is never socially included.

Sorby stated she writes her poetry with an image in mind before she knows what the theme or “idea” of the poem is going to be. This descriptive imagery is apparent in the ekphrastic poem she read, “The Thorne Rooms,” which describes the tiny dollhouses on display at the Art Institute of Chicago. This poem is a favorite of fifth-year Andrea Parmentier, who commented, “She uses the poem to say so much and bring her own experience of viewing the art to the reader.” Before reading the poem aloud, Sorby noted that she has always had a life-long love of dolls and called for an end to “doll shaming” people who like to collect and admire them.

When I asked Andrea what she thought about the deeper meaning of “The Thorne Rooms,” she said, “Sorby comments on how women are crowded out of men’s spaces and while they can still have power, their power is concentrated into a smaller space.” Sorby was able to portray the exhibited miniature dollhouses within the poem while also adding her own meaning by commenting on women living within a patriarchal society.