By Jackie Delaney
Author Meena Alexander’s visit to the College has been years in the making.
When INK President and senior English major Rachel Friedman was researching poets to invite for the Visiting Writers Series in her writing communities course in Fall 2014, she was captivated by Alexander.
“I knew from the moment I started reading her I would have to get her here somehow,” Friedman said in her introduction of Alexander.
The internationally renowned poet, essayist and scholar spoke at INK’s final Visiting Writers Series of the year, held on Monday, April 11, in the Library Auditorium. The event was co-sponsored by the Asian American Association.
“And here we are about three years later, and I am proud to say that I was able to fulfill my promise to the TCNJ community that I would get Meena Alexander to campus,” Friedman said, smiling.
As a distinguished professor of English at the City University of New York, Alexander has an impressive collection of accolades. With 10 books of poetry, two novels and an autobiography under her belt, she is deserving of her assortment of awards from the Guggenheim, Fulbright and the Rockefeller foundations. Her poetry has been translated into several languages — one poem has even been set to music — and has been praised by notable writers, such as Billy Collins and Maxine Hong Kingston.
Alexander is known for her lyrical, sensory style of poetry.
“When I read a Meena Alexander piece, I am not just reading a poem. I am experiencing something with a sense of the touch and sight, as if I’m being transported to places I have never been,” Friedman said.
The audience was treated to this enchantment as Alexander read aloud from one of her books of poetry, “Birthplace with Buried Stones.”
“It’s a book of journeys,” Alexander said of the collection.
She started it at the beginning of a year-long trip that took her to India, Venice and Palestine. While traveling, she carried a book of poetry with her — the title of which translates to “The Narrow Road to the Deep North” — by the 17th century Japanese poet Matsuo Basho.
Several of the poems she shared were influenced by Basho, her travels and events that happened while she was abroad. Her poem “Near Sendai” was written after the 2011 tsunami hit parts of Asia and triggered the Fukushima nuclear meltdown. Alexander was in Italy when she wrote the poem, which recounted places Basho visited during his walking tour of Japan. She sent the poem to a friend of hers in Japan after the disaster, who wrote back, “You know, Meena, all the places where Basho walked are underwater now.”
Alexander’s other poems featured rich imagery from her journeys to Venice and Palestine. She wrote the poem “Impossible Grace,” which arranges itself in short couplets, during a night in Jerusalem. The poem has been turned into a song, but Alexander stressed, “I can’t sing, so I will just read the poem to you.”
It still sounded like music.