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Davis, California

Sunday, May 19, 2024

The Community Poet

The first and third Thursdays of every month are Poetry Nights at the John Natsoulas Gallery, located at 521 First St. Jan. 19’s poet of the moment was Rae Gouirand, whose first collection of poetry, titled “Open Winter,” was published in fall 2011.

Gouirand has taught writing at UC Davis, UC Davis Extension and many private workshops she herself has founded for poets and writers since 2003. In addition, the Bryn Mawr graduate who received her MFA in creative writing at the University of Michigan has been the Writer-in-Residence at Cache Creek Nature Preserve since 2005. She is also the winner of  many fellowships such as the Meijer Fellowship, the Hopwood Award and the Santa Fe Art Institute; a two-time nominee for the Pushcart Prize; and the recipient of a 2009 award from the Dorothy Sargent Rosenberg Foundation for outstanding work by emerging poets.

By the time the reading started at 8 p.m., all of the chairs were already filled. The ages audience ranged widely; there were college students present as well as older members of the Davis community. All were obviously excited to hear Gouirand read her poems aloud in person.

Melissa Bender, who teaches in the University Writing Program at UC Davis, affectionately introduced Gouirand.

“We’ve known each other since 1994 when she was my instructor at the Pennsylvania Governor’s School for the Arts. We are now incredibly close friends,” said Gouirand of Bender.

And then Gouirand took the stage. Admittedly a bit nervous, she had a wide smile on her face and waved shyly to various audience members that she knew. Gouirand recounted the long process it took in order for “Open Winter” to be published. It was late in her undergraduate career that she began to focus on writing poems. In 2002, she started submitting her poems to journals. In 2008, she began to send her manuscript to potential publishers. Summing it up, Gouirand stated that the manuscript was a finalist for nearly 30 prizes for a first book of poetry before Elane Equi selected it for the 2011 Bellday Prize for Poetry, which eventually culminated in her revised manuscript’s publishing.

After thanking everybody for coming to the reading, Gouirand started off with a passage from Nicole Krauss’s The History of Love. Her selection was much appreciated by the audience; it described how language developed throughout time from gestures to sounds and how miscommunication can happen with the smallest act.

And then it was on to the poems. The first poem she read from her book was dedicated to her grandfather, who believed in her and that she “didn’t always have to be an Architect” when she was questioning what she wanted to do with the rest of her life.

“I went to college intending to major in physics and music, and ended up completing an inter-disciplinary urban studies major. Writing has always been a constant thread. It wasn’t until I sat down to try to work out the parameters of my senior thesis that I realized I wanted to apply to MFA programs: my writing workshops had always been my favorite courses,” said Gouirand.

Much of the inspiration for the poems that she writes comes from everyday life, as does her strong musical background. Gouirand is an accomplished musician who played in several orchestras in high school and college.

“Part of what interests me about poetry is how it drives feeling back into its home in the body. I find inspiration wherever people find inspiration: in conversation, in the world, in great art and vitality and shifting light and passing time and connection and perspective and the way language always seems to lead me to the brink of inexpressible things. I discovered my feeling of voice through music,” said Gouirand.

The poetry night featuring Gouirand ended with great success. Everybody in attendance enjoyed the numerous poems and Gouirand received many positive messages over e-mail and Facebook.

“The Natsoulas Gallery is a great home for the Poetry Night series; its open and conducive to listening. I’ve been looking forward to having a book release here in Davis where I live my life and push my work forward. I wanted to share those snowflakes with my community and not have it all be a tremendously fancy big deal. No performance, just contact with real people,” said Gouirand.

MICHELLE RUAN can be reached at arts@theaggie.org.


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