English Writers Series Features Poet Olena Katlytiak Davis


Melissa Gold, Contributing Writer

DURHAM– The renowned poet, Olena Katlytiak Davis, visited the University of New Hampshire to read a few poems from her latest book, “Late Summer Ode,” and answer questions from peers on Thursday, November 10.

The event brought in a strong crowd with community members, classes, graduate students and other students intrigued by Davis. 

The writer series is a series of free events open to the public, where the English department hosts prominent writers from three categories: poetry, fiction and nonfiction. They bring in two authors from each category every school year. These writers read excerpts from their books and answer questions from students and interested members of the community. 

At every writer series event, a graduate student introduces the guest speaker. That night Sam Rucks did the honors of introducing Davis. As a graduate student studying for his Master of Fine Arts with a focus on Poetry, this was an important, and exciting night for him.

 “Getting to go to readings like this, especially with who I like a lot, it brings them down to earth a little bit and lets us sit at the same table in a way,” Rucks said. 

Another graduate student, TJ Prizio, said he loved the excitement at Davis’ reading, and at other events. 

“Everybody is very welcoming,” he said. “You usually get a lot of chuckles out. It’s a good time”

English professor, Thomas Payne, collaborates with fellow professors to bring in these writers.

“We want to bring writers who will talk with joy about the writing process to try to get people to be excited about writing. We’re trying to bring in a really good writer who is also a really good teacher,” Payne said. 

For this event, Payne turned to UNH professor, David Rivard, who has a focus in poetry, to bring in Davis. 

Rivard was Davis’ professor when she attended Vermont College of Fine Arts and has been someone she has gone to for advice for the past three decades.

“There is no one else quite like her in American poetry at this moment. Her combination of formal structure and also this sort of wildness of the work,” Rivard said.

“Regardless if you’re into writing or any particular art form; you get into this problem where you can dignify people too much and I think it’s really important to humanize people, everyone even if you like them a lot,” Rucks said.

As Davis read aloud, spectators got a glimpse into her life one poem at a time. She shared about her time as a lawyer who writes poetry while also being a parent.

 “I do it because I do it,” Davis responded when asked about finding a job in poetry after graduation. 

She elaborated on the fact that she chose a paying job to support her family and writing poetry was more for the fun of it.

Davis writes at home due to her busy work schedule.

“I get ‘ideas’ mostly from personal experiences, but poems mainly begin not in ideas but in language, either language belonging to someone else or just popping into my head in interesting or inevitable combination,” Davis said.

She comments on how being a first-generation Ukrainian American has affected her writing throughout her life. 

“Maybe it stems from Ukrainian being my first language and always being the kid picked to memorize and recite poems at community events,” Davis said. 

“She became a very influential voice for women of her generation, who were writing about issues that had been considered poetry,” Rivard said.

Rivard and many students similar to Rucks agree that she is influential.

“Love it if I am. Work that generates other work is maybe the best work of all,” Davis said. “The best thing about writing poetry is it’s a process and enjoyable, the daily process is fucking awesome, it’s fun!”