A meaningful break in the pattern

Kenyon CollegeAt the Kenyon Review Writers Workshop this summer, an aspiring poet uses writing to reflect on the lives and deaths of special people in his life.

By Colin Criss '17
Artist Development Fellow 2016

Colin Criss ’17, a resident of Kirkland House concentrating in Sociology, was awarded an Artist Development Fellowship to attend the week-long Kenyon Review Writers Workshop this summer. A senior writer for The Harvard Political Review, he is exploring, through research and interviews, how social support networks affect people’s experience of grief. Criss’ future plans include attending graduate school.

Colin Criss '17 in class
Colin Criss '17 in class at the Kenyon Review Writers Workshop
The bulk of my Artist Development Fellowship was a flurry: a week-long trip to Kenyon College, in rural Ohio, for the Kenyon Review Writers Workshop. The workshop ended June 25 after a week of writing, reading, workshopping, listening, and connecting. I went for poetry: I hope to create a collection of elegies this summer, reflecting on the lives and deaths of special people in my life.

I had the honor and pleasure of being placed with Carl Phillips, an award-winning and prolific poet. We met in a small workshop setting seven times, and for each meeting, students were assigned a prompt to engage with. Though this may seem incompatible with a preconceived project, it was not: Carl’s prompts were structural, rather than thematic, which allowed me the freedom to begin to take on my project of writing elegies.

Living in an environment and community where writing is a constant was invaluable. As I considered death and its impact on my life, I was forced to consider it through the English language, and through the insights shared by Carl and others.

Kenyon Review Writer’s Workshop at Kenyon CollegeCarl taught me to see poetry as, among other things, patterned language. And in creating a poem, the poet should look for an opportunity for a meaningful break in the pattern. Upon reflecting on this insight, it struck me how simply that applied to death. Is a mourned death not “a meaningful break in the pattern”? No longer is your patterned life the same, and the fallout from that break—bereavement, some aspects of which could be permanent; and the actual, permanent absence of that person—is the subsequent re-patterning. To reflect this deliberate, solitary shift in a poem might signal a tip towards grief, and mourning, and elegy.

Death could be considered “a meaningful break in the pattern,” or I could be considered clumsy to reduce a loss to a poetic phrase. Still, the relation of these two realms—death and poetic creation—allows me defined dimensions to explore as I try to put my own losses within margins.

The Artist Development Fellowship program, jointly administered by the Office for the Arts at Harvard, the Office of Undergraduate Research and Fellowships and Office of Career Services, awards 10-15 fellowships annually to promising and/or accomplished student artists and creators who have an unusual opportunity for artistic growth and transformation. The program is open to all undergraduates currently enrolled in Harvard College, and applications are evaluated by the Council on the Arts, a standing committee of the Faculty of Arts and Sciences. For more information, visit the OFA website or call 617.495.8676.