Today: Apr 21, 2024

SCSU professors share life stories through poetry

photos courtesy Amazon.com
Robin Troy (left) and Vivian Shipley (right) are both published authors and as well as professors at Southern.

RYAN FLYNNStaff Writer

Robin Troy and Vivian Shipley, both published authors and professors in the Southern English Department, hosted a fiction and poetry reading Thursday night. 

Shipley, a veteran of such events, read a trio of poems from her Pulitzer Prize nominated “All of Your Messages Have Been Erased,” her eighth book of poetry. Troy followed this by reading a few passages from her latest novel, “Liberty Lanes.”

These women are linked not only by profession and love of literature, but also by way of near-death experiences each of them encountered. Troy, while three months pregnant, was diagnosed with Hodgkin’s Lymphoma and had to go through six months of chemotherapy. 

Her child, now 1, was born healthy and Troy has been cancer-free for a year now, she said. Similarly, when Shipley was in her 30s, she too had a brush with death. Also pregnant with her second child, Shipley’s doctors discovered a brain tumor “the size of a baseball.” 

She began writing poetry for the first time after this news.

“I had never written any at all before,” Shipley said. “So, I really consider myself a born-again poet.”

Shipley led off the evening by reading “Praying: Be Whole” and “Obeying Glands,” two poems that dealt with aging and the fear of death. 

Finally, came the title poem from her book, titled “The First Poem I Have Labeled: Love Poem.” This was an ode to her husband Ed Harris, speaking to the life that they have and will share together. 

It ended, appropriately, with the line “All of your messages have been erased.”

“My book is about a lot of people whose messages, whose lives, whose voices were drowned out,” Shipley said. “Just a lot of lives of people who, you know, didn’t really surface and have their voices heard because of one bad thing or another happening to them.”

Shipley said she read these three specific poems because they fit in with the theme of Troy’s novel.

“I wanted the bulk of the evening to be for her,” she said.

Troy also read after being introduced by professor Tim Parrish, who hosted the event. Troy’s work, “Liberty Lanes,” was inspired by a group of bowlers she met while living in Montana, she said. 

“I’ve always known age is just a number, and you might meet one older person who represents that,” Troy said. “(Meeting the bowlers) was sort of the first time I’d walked into a place and seen this entire group of people who so solidly personified that message that I think is so important: that age is just a number, you know, you can live your life every day. And so I wanted to write a story that would express that message.”

Troy read from the book’s eighth chapter, detailing a sometimes-awkward and often-comical date between two very unique characters. 

In the chapter, a 79-year-old widow, Clarette, goes ice fishing with the 62-year-old Louis, who Troy’s narration depicted as weighing north of 300 pounds. Both she and Shipley played to their audience, drawing laughs and applause throughout the night.

“Robin’s story was hilarious and very engaging,” Elyse Pedra, a senior English major, said. “I like that it was like a story within a greater story. I’m really interested to read the whole book.”

Joe McCarthy, also an English major, said he found his reaction to be similar.

“Robin’s an exceptional teacher, so it was a pleasure to see how skillfully she writes,” McCarthy said.

Following the reading, copies of “Liberty Lanes” were sold, and signed by Troy.


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