Writers shed new light on lit

Three women gave presentations on their original works, showcasing modern poetry.

The Daily Pennsylvanian
January 23, 2003

And you thought Janet Jackson was only good for sugary pop music and push-up bras.

In fact, the multiplatinum singer is just one cultural symbol that was altered and utilized in art at Tuesday evening's Kelly Writers House event.

Writers Deborah Richards, Brenda Coultas and Kathy Lou Schultz made the trek through the cold to Locust Walk to read about 25 minutes of their work for a warm and eager audience at an event, "Three Contemporary Women Writers."

Richards, originally from London, was introduced as a "world traveler who made prolonged stopovers in places like Hungary and the Unites States."

Currently residing in Philadelphia, Richards read two poems, entitled "One" and "C'est l'amour," from the upcoming poetry compilation book, "Callaloo."

"One" was a work made up of poignant images of Africa and the Caribbean, incorporating lines from the Wizard of Oz and early Tarzan films to show what happens when our visions of the world are manipulated in movies.

Following this poem came a short slide show in which out-of-focus pictures of Janet Jackson's face, smile, midriff and figure were thrown onto the screen with haste, serving as a segue into "C'est l'amour," which challenges modern society's images of women and the constraints it places on them.

Like Richards, Coultas also is a poet, but that wasn't always the case. Before writing poetry, Coultas worked such jobs as a farmer, a carny, a taffy-maker, a park ranger, a waitress in a disco ballroom and was also the second female welder in Firestone Steel's history. Her poetry has appeared in numerous publications, including Conjunctions, Epoch, Fence and Open City, and she currently resides in New York City.

The city that never sleeps was the subject she read about on Tuesday, specifically the one-block- squared area known as the Bowery. The piece was called "The Bowery Project," and is one that Coultas has been working on since August 2000.

Her selection from "Project" utilized elements such as the sidewalk and the garbage people leave on it to create her work of literary art.

Coultas remarks in her poem that her working with trash almost interfered with her personal life.

"Now that you are married, you cannot bring that shit home anymore," Coultas said, imitating her husband. "I thought, 'OK,' and instead committed them to memory."

Even after spending years in an area that many might consider inhospitable, Coultas said she learned that "people... if they really want, can have it all."

"One thing that struck me with Brenda was how she was using everyday objects" in her work, College freshman Meira Levinson said. "Objects like chairs... I thought that was cool."

Schultz is the author of three collections of poetry and experimental prose: "Some Vague Wife," "Genealogy" and "Re-dress." She received her master of fine arts degree in poetry and American literature from San Francisco State University, and she is currently a third-year doctoral student in English at Penn. She has taught four English courses during her time here on campus.

Schultz read two prose chapters and two sonnets from "Wife" as well as a collection of poems that she called "The Apparatus Series."

"That's one reason!" Levinson said while pointing to Schultz, her poetry teacher, when asked what made her attend the event. "I was curious to come and see what her poetry was like."

The main surprise for Levinson was how significant the actual reading of the writing was to its overall quality.

"I thought it was really cool how they read the poems," Levinson said. "I've never been to a poetry reading before.... [The writing] sounded like music while they were reading it."

"I liked all of them, but I guess I am a little biased because [Schultz] is my teacher," she added.