One senior has decided to take a pass on the footnotes and selected bibliographies. Instead of polishing off a research paper, Liz Rowland ’14 is avidly penning the last few poems for her Senior Composition thesis.
Drawing on poetic material she’s gathered for years, as well as more current work, Rowland’s poetry thesis centers around love and relationships and their interplay, often in free-verse with internal rhyming.
“I’m interested in things that are emotional but have something wrong about them, something that’s a little bit dark and twisted,” said Rowland, adding, “which sounds so cliché, like I’m an eighth-grade goth or something.”
She admitted, “I didn’t think I would be able to write a thesis like that.”
Although writing a thesis became optional in the English Department in 2006, Rowland felt that it would be a fitting way to sum up her college days.
“I knew I was signing myself up for a lot of work,” said Rowland, who spends an average of 20 hours a week writing, editing and stressing over the project, “But it felt like something that needed to be done.”
A nontraditional senior project has its perks, according to Rowland.
“It’s really cool that I get to write creatively the whole time because then I don’t have to agonize over quotes and outside sources and it’s a really nice process,” she said, which is not to say creative thesis is free of all challenges.
“I am the only poet in Senior Composition so it’s kind of strange for me to navigate the class. Because we do meet twice a week and discuss each other’s work, that’s really helpful in a certain way,” she said.
To begin writing, it is crucial for Rowland to tidy up her surroundings in order to reach the right state of mind.
“This is going to sound really strange, but I’m into interior design as well, so if my space around me is clean and functional, engaging and I have resources around me to pull from like, you know, films or music or anything, then that’s really helpful,” Rowland explained, “If my room’s messy, then it drives me insane.”
Rowland describes her writing process as “kind of spontaneous and triggered by having emotional experiences or art or music.”
On good days, ideas occur to Rowland at random moments, and on worse days, she starts writing at her desk, with or without a muse.
“I will sit down and say, look I need to crank out something. It usually starts with a bunch of fragments and then I go through the fragments and edit what I want to keep and what I don’t want to keep. Then those fragments become various poems and it’s like Legos, almost,” she laughed.
To get herself in the creating mood, Rowland, who is often seen on campus dressed in dark clothes and vintage style,, draws upon fashion, music and film, among other things.
“I believe in the sister arts experience, getting inspired by things that have nothing to do with writing at all,” she said.
“I love listening to music…I’m definitely inspired by the harshness that is present in [goth and industrial] and also punk. I really love punk. [Music is] just like another atmospheric quality that can put you in the right mindset.”
Rowland first grew interested in poetry as a child, when her parents made her recite poems at dinner parties. She began writing at eleven.
She can still remember some of the first things she wrote—not all of it her best work, she admitted.
“I wrote a poem about the Civil War and it was like really rhyme-y and awful. But I’ve been doing it ever since. I used to write terrible song lyrics in high school,” she said.
Rowland stuck with it though, and having attentive English professors who encouraged her craft was what pushed her to pursue poetry more seriously.
>Rowland started as an anthropology major before switching to English.
It was not until she took a class with Professor of English Michael Joyce that she began to consider poetry as something more than simply a hobby.
“I didn’t think that I was going to be a serious writer or take that direction with my life until I took a composition course with [Joyce] and he took me seriously. And he put in the time and effort in and really worked with me on the work that I presented him and it was an enormously helpful experience. He’s invaluable,” she said.
Rowland expressed a desire for a more supportive poetry community on campus that would encourage other hesitant poets and give them the opportunities that she has enjoyed. Vassar has the student-run organizations Helicon and Wordsmiths, but Rowland wishes for an additional student club.
“I would like people who write poetry to come together and make some sort of a group and have an external writing workshop that’s student-run,” she said. For Rowland, her in-class workshops sent her down a creative path that she intends to continue after graduation.
On Friday, April 11, Rowland will be one of six undergrads competing at a poetry contest at Mount Holyoke College.
The opening lines of “Canned,” the poem she will be reading, go “Idler,/beautiful, mild, desirous of leaving./wraps herself around him like she is sea and he is the land.”
Looking forward to the end of the year and graduation, Rowland is excited to continue crafting poetry, and maybe one day even see her own work printed in a collection.
“Honestly, by the end of this process, I’ll be able to rip the cover off my thesis and maybe send it out to publishers,” she said. “And I think you make like, a little bit of money, so [poetry] would be a fun side thing! It’s something that I’ve always done, and I always see myself doing.”
Below is one of Rowland’s poems:
beautiful, mild, desirous of leaving.
wraps herself around him like she is sea and he is the land,
and me, i wrap myself around him like i am the sea
and he is the land.
and i am praised for my clarity, always praised for my clarity and my attention to detail,
and my right hand
and the rings on my right hand,
and the way my right hand looks in his eyes.
he has white lids,
so thin you can almost see through,
to the blue,
to the red,
to the wave.
in response, i am leery,
feeling the curve of the earth against the spine
and dwelling, severely so
slurping up the brine
and cutting across whole swaths of land,
all variant topographies
all blue all brown
all salt all shale.
i would bathe with him in a dark hall,
exchange a communication with the weight of letters,
slop water onto the floor.
our arms would be lye-clean.