Sweet Briar College will host a poetry reading by 2004 graduate CM Burroughs at 4:30 p.m. Monday, Oct. 22 in Pannell Gallery. The event is free and open to the public. A Q&A with the author will take place earlier that day during lunch from noon to 1:30 p.m. in Johnson Dining Room.
Burroughs has been awarded fellowships and grants from Yaddo, The MacDowell Colony, Virginia Center for the Creative Arts, Cave Canem Foundation, Callaloo Writers Workshop and the University of Pittsburgh. She has received commissions from the Studio Museum of Harlem and the Warhol Museum to create poetry in response to art installations. Her poetry has appeared in various journals, including Callaloo, jubilat, Ploughshares, VOLT, Bat City Review and Sou’wester. She holds an M.F.A. from the University of Pittsburgh and has been teaching composition and poetry for seven years, currently as the Elma Stuckey Poet-in-Residence at Columbia College of Chicago.
Her debut collection, “The Vital System,” was released by Tupelo Press in September. On its website, the publisher praises Burroughs as a poet who is “already setting off sparks among readers across the globe.”
As the title of her collection suggests, “The body is the most significant figure of my poetry,” Burroughs says. “The beginning and end of all acts, the body is the harbor of all my thematic obsessions: vulnerability, modes of strength, the female body, and the ‘I’ in relation to all Others, namely the relationship of the ‘I’ to threatening and/or intimate Others.”
Fellow poet Douglas Kearney sees “vivid grief, livid vulnerability and bristling sensuality” in her texts, as well as “terrible resilience and dangerous vitality.”
These emotions are driven and enhanced by the poet’s deliberate use — and abuse — of linguistic conventions and imagery.
“The Vital System,” writes Laurie Sheck, is a “provocative” collection in which Burroughs engages with the page “as a visual field.” In it, Sheck adds, Burroughs “enacts the ways in which the very nature of thought is brokenness and disruption.”
Tupelo Press explains that “Burroughs’s compression of phrasing, subverted syntax, and ability to release a story through cinematically sequenced images allow her to expose particular tensions that are gendered and racial as well as essentially human.”
The cinema connection isn’t a coincidence. After all, the poet says that much of her inspiration comes from French movies.
“Godard films always draw contemplation,” she says. In 2011, Burroughs spent a month in France “in order to have quiet, the observatory quality of foreignness and to work on my second book.”
Burroughs says her poetic voice began developing when she was a student at Sweet Briar. Back then it wasn’t France, but the Central Virginia campus, that served as her “quiet place.”
“I used Sweet Briar’s landscape in order to have quiet, an open observation to what my poetry wanted to be, and cultivate a careful listening for who I was then and, perhaps, who I would become,” she remembers.
While at Sweet Briar, Burroughs, who graduated a year early, took advantage of many other opportunities. She was a resident advisor for two and a half years and held other leadership positions.
“I found it the perfect place to develop myself and to develop what have become decade-long friendships,” she says.
This will be her third time returning to campus.