The library was graced with the presence of the Poet Laureate for the Commonwealth of Virginia. Sofia M. Starnes, poet and speaker in the Greenwood Library atrium, spoke on Oct. 3 to a crowd of fans of her work.
Starnes is a Philippine-Spanish writer who has been an American citizen since 1989.
She began her life as a poet in 1986 and has said that a lot of self-discipline goes into staying in one language. While it is not very difficult to write both, Starnes fell in love with English while learning the language and having first contact with literature in English. “One word is already a story,” she said. She said she was not able to write the way she wanted until coming to America.
Many people showed up for the reading at 5 p.m., though the event did not actually begin until 6 p.m. President Reveley introduced Starnes and her reading and described it as “a great juncture for Longwood.”
Ken Perkins, vice president of academic affairs, could also be seen sitting in the back during the reading, enjoying the poetry. Hampden-Sydney professors and visitors attended, as well, to honor Starnes, though the formal introduction was done by Suzy Palmer, dean of the library.
About 80 seats were set up for the event, with a good percentage of them filled. “Libraries are my favorite places.” Starnes said when she approached the podium. She still has her library card from when she was young and had to leave her home very quickly during the move.
As Starnes read each poem, she explained the appearances of some images that reoccur often in her works.
For instance, in the first poem she read “Last Child, Last Child” she described it as a celebration of language, a new work, in which the image of children is prominent.
Her next poem focused around children again, but this time how they become forbearers. “The Genes Women Choose” is written in couplets with repeating words, much like a gene that returns for generations to come. The poem was an example of another theme used by Starnes: a journey, much because she is a twice immigrant.
Her poem “The Limp” was based on an actual event when Starnes was in a car and the car splashed a young girl’s dress with mud. She wondered how that moment affected the girl’s day afterwards. “There should always be a place for a love poem,” said Starnes.
“One Food” and “One Rain” are two poems from her collection of works, “Corpus Homini: A Poem for Single Flesh.” The poems take on the metaphors of the titled objects, food and water.
President Reveley asked Starnes which poets she aspires to be like, to which Starnes responded, “I will mention poets who are deceased so I don’t get in trouble.” She went on to list Seamus Heaney, Manley Hopkins, Emily Dickinson and T.S. Elliot.
Her next set of poems, “The Nearest Poem Anthology,” will be coming out early next year; it includes favorite poems from any citizen, including Senator Kane, and an essay written by the contributor about the poem.
The collection will be a total of 112 poems and will be published by Cedar Creek Publishing.
“I know a poem is ready for a reader when it is ready for me,” said Starnes. “Poems are not fulfilled they are just abandoned.” Starnes admits to still editing poems even after publishing. “A year later I’ll put in another word and the poem is already published.”
The most difficult part of the writing process? For Starnes it is the white page. “The blank screen, I hate that.” She said she would wait for the muse to come to her, but instead picks up a dictionary and finds words she wants to put in. “Eventually those words will connect to something I didn’t want to pay attention to. Best part for me is the revision process…I don’t mind the editing, I love [it].”
Starnes received an advanced degree in English Philology from the University of Madrid and currently holds a degree in English Pedagogy from the Instituto de Idiomas in Madrid. She is the author of five poetry collections including her chapbook “The Soul's Landscape,” her first full-length poetry book “A Commerce of Moments,” “Corpus Homini: A Poem for Single Flesh,” “Fully into Ashes” and “Love and the Afterlife.”
Starnes has received several awards including the 1997 Rainer Maria Rilke Poetry Prize, the Editor's Prize in the 2002 Marlboro Prize in Poetry competition, the 2004 Conference on Christianity and Literature Poetry Prize and she has also been listed in “Who's Who in the World”, “Who's Who in America”, and “Who's Who of American Women.” In July of 2012, she was named Poet Laureate of Virginia.
She currently lives in Williamsburg, VA with her husband and offers writing tutorials and editing services for writers of fiction, creative nonfiction and poetry through Creative Writing Critiques.
During the event, refreshments were available as well as books for purchase and signing. Dining services offered mini cheesecakes, quiches, water, iced tea, spring rolls, mini baked potatoes, chocolate covered strawberries, Goldfish crackers, peppers with extravagant toppings, mini ham sandwiches and wine for all guests of age.
Starnes’ entire reading could be cut down to just one of her phrases: “I believe a poem is not finished until it finds a home in a reader.