Students cultivate community around the power of verse

Courtesy of Angela Clemens ’23, via @vassar_verse on Instagram.

Andy Kasper ’23 and Sam Kass ’23 were hanging out in the Old Bookstore last year when the idea of forming a poetry-writing group blossomed from their late-night conversation. Almost one year later, Kasper and Kass are now the co-presidents and founders of Vassar Verse, a pre-organization that meets every Friday and provides a supportive space for student poets to come together to discuss and write poetry with one another.

The idea evolved from the two friends’ shared passion for poetry, as well as the realization that, although it seemed like there were a lot of writers in the Vassar community, there was no official poetry organization on campus They themselves longed for a community of writers, so they decided to start Vassar Verse.

Allison Deutsch ’23 also noticed the lack of community for campus poets. Like Kasper and Kass, Deutsch had written a lot of poetry in high school, so when she first arrived at Vassar last year, she expected poetry to have a robust presence on campus. However, Deutsch soon realized that it was a lot harder to get involved with poetry in a communal sense than she had originally thought; there weren’t any official student poetry clubs for her to join, so she found herself longing for a sense of .

“Poetry was so much of what got me through high school emotionally,” Deutsch shared in a Zoom interview. “I felt kind of lost not having that outlet. And so, when Sam Kass and Andy [Kasper] decided to start Vassar Verse, I was like, ‘Holy crap. That is what I need. That is what I need to get through college.’ So I was thrilled.”

While Kasper and Kass came up with the idea of forming a poetry group toward the end of the fall semester, it wasn’t until early February that they started inviting people to the group. What started out as a small gathering of five to six people in the Raymond parlor soon grew into meetings with 11 to 12 poets. When the pandemic hit and everything went online, the group could no longer meet in person to share their literary passions. However, they continued to meet on Zoom throughout the rest of the spring semester and into the summer. 

“When I was, for months, by myself, being able to see everyone on Zoom once a week to write poetry was a really amazing thing,” Kass expressed in a Zoom interview alongside Kasper. “In some ways, now more than ever is a time where we need to create art with other people, and having this community to fall on to, with so much going on in the world, has been really amazing.”

Upon returning to campus this fall, the group had to find a new way to meet up, since they weren’t officially registered as a pre-org at the time that the semester started and weren’t allowed to meet indoors. The group found solace in, fittingly, the Shakespeare Garden, where they could sit in a large circle, socially distanced, and continue to engage with each other in person. As the current home for their meetings, the garden provides a relaxing environment rich with flora that helps nourish the students’ poetry.

The group has met weekly in the garden (sometimes on Zoom, if the weather is too cold to convene outside) to read poems together and later write and share their poetry with each other. By creating this creative space for people to engage with each other over poetry, the group has fostered a thriving community amongst student poets.

“Sharing poetry is sometimes personal, so you learn a lot about people through what they share,” Deutsch said. “It’s been really nice to get to know people and feel like you’re really being paid attention to… It’s special when you can find a group that really pays attention to each other and checks in on each other, and also comments on particulars in your writing… I think that’s the mark not only of a good writer who is listening to your work but just a good friend.”

This strong sense of community and friendship is an integral and powerful element of the pre-org. “Poetry is a pretty vulnerable art, so it’s not something that you’re just going to like willy-nilly throw around, and so you kind of have to be in a space where you know other people are going to respect your work, not try and dig in too much always,” Kasper added. “I think that that is kind of the atmosphere that we try to create, one that is very open, very accepting and very friendly and comforting. It’s sort of built into the backbone of what the org is and trying to accomplish. We’re trying to create a space for people to come and feel welcome and feel accepted.”

The group welcomes new members, regardless of experience, to come and join their community of student poets.

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