Three Poets, Three Poems

The poems and their creators

  By Meagan Thomas


The first reader to take to the lectern, she wears a yellow dress over a black turtleneck and tights, like a cheerful shell over mourning clothes. Her voice wavers for a moment, then takes on a smooth legato quality, lulling, soothing with a touch of sadness underneath.

Excerpts from: Yom Kippur, 2019

By Vivian Altopp

I thank Kaddish for its community.
Thank you to the sterile wooden book room chairs that we sat in
where I felt
so deathly uncomfortable, naming my raw, hurt memories with strangers—
but thank you,
to kaddish, for surrounding the bodies I cherish; whose hands I held around
the Eve tree,
where we placed a white rose in her vagina
and the leaves wept on our shoulders.

 I returned, once, without the kaddish, at night. Alone.
Not intentionally.

I’m sorry.

I’m sorry
that I didn’t come sooner.
The flies, they bit your hands and hair.
I touched your every branch and begged you to help me cry,

falling on my scars. Weeping by the hole
in your trunk.

After your death
I would almost forget to eat
because I felt the filling poison of grief start
to swallow my stomach
and try to make me feel
full. So, from February to May,
I sat
with my face in my food and listened
to the sounds.
And drank, so much coffee,
black waste covered the table and my notebook.

I hope.
And wherever I sit, I hope

that somehow, I will someday cry in some way as a way
to release this hurt.

Releasing the guilt I feel over death.

* * *

Vivian Altopp, 20, did not approach “Yom Kippur, 2019” the way she approaches most of her poems.

“I was thinking about longer forms,” Altopp says.

Normally her poems are no more than a page but for this piece she wanted something longer.

“Every poem that I wrote I wanted to capture all these conflicting feelings that sort of cancel each other out,” Altopp says.

So for “Yom Kippur, 2019” Altopp sat down and tried to work through them all. When she was through, it felt done.

“There’s this sense of healing,” she says.

The poem is visually interesting compared to Altopp’s other work.

Much of what she wanted with this piece was to get off the left margin and play with space. Altopp says her friend is good at visuals, and showed her tools in her word processor to help her.

With the use of space, a reader can feel the thought process and the breath of the poem. It is a thoughtful, reflective piece.

“Yom Kippur itself holds space for reflection,” Altopp says.

“Yom Kippur, 2019” is filled with religious imagery. But Altopp says she didn’t originally intend for it to be there.

“I’ll have to go back and look do it,” she says.

She thinks it makes sense that the religious imagery would naturally weave itself throughout. “Yom Kippur, 2019” is about death, specifically a friend of Altopp’s who passed away last year.

“There’s this looking out for somewhere else where that person might occupy a space,” she says. Grief and death take on the religious imagery of the time in which the poem was written.

For Altopp, poetry comes from real events, and writing it is a process of stepping back and noticing their parts.

“I do like to use a lot of nature imagery,” she says. “It is okay to take life symbolically.”

References in the poem are real world events made symbols.

Take the dining hall imagery, for example. After her friend passed, Altopp would spend hours every day in Erdman dining hall.

“There was something comforting about being in a public space,” she says. She would also use it as a way to process, remind herself to eat, and practice self-care.

To Altopp, poetry is another way of processing the world around her.

“Whenever I’m having trouble writing, I put things into poetic form,” she says.

She does it especially with presentations, using the lines and stanzas to force herself to slow down and breathe as she presents. It helps her keep herself less nervous.

The reading was a different story.

“I definitely was nervous to read my poem,” Altopp says. “I was nervous to not do it justice.”


She comes up cautiously but holds her voice steady, tone firm. Her blond curls shine under the lamplight, and her long eyelashes shade her eyes as she reads so they almost appear closed, sybil-like. She is the only poet who gives a trigger warning.

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A Stitch in Time

The craft of embroidery is alive and well at Bryn Mawr College

An embroidery design circa 1760

By Meagan Thomas 

At Bryn Mawr College, the art of embroidery is a secret trend.

“I just don’t think people do it in groups” said senior Margaret O’Hare, 21, speaking to the trend. Each embroiderer seems to know a few others, but there doesn’t seem to be any way to do it collectively the way students might with knitting circles or other clubs.

“It’s harder to do in public,” said senior Beckie Bull, 21.

O’Hare said she hadn’t seen anyone collectively embroider at all.

“Except when my friends wanted to learn and I taught them,” she said. Seeing it makes other students want to try it, which O’Hare used as an opportunity to teach her friends. Most of the people she knew who embroidered have graduated, but she still sees it around.

As to why it might be less visible, Bull offered a potential reason.

“I actually once got in trouble for embroidering in a French class,” said Bull, “Because in sewing you have to look at your work and so the teacher thinks you’re not paying attention.”

Fifteen of the most popular stitches used in embroidery

If it’s hard to see, one might ask how anyone knows where to find it at all. Each embroiderer knows a few other links in the chain, like an underground network about which no one has all the information.

“I do know other people here who do embroidery,” said Bull, though she agrees that it’s not as collective.

“A supervisor at [the dining hall] would bring embroidery to our meetings,” said O’Hare of her on-campus job. It would give her something to do while she listened. There are students who brave practicing it in class. They make door signs, samplers, and other projects.

Social media is another way to spot the patterns, no pun intended.

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