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20th annual faculty poetry reading celebrates life

By Julie Ooms

On Sunday, September 23, the English faculty at Dordt College celebrated a momentous occasion—the twentieth annual faculty poetry reading—in the usual way: with words.

Dave Schelhaas, one of nine faculty to present at the
traditional poetry reading, lauds poetry's ability to

Dave Schelhaas, one of nine faculty to present at the traditional poetry reading, lauds poetry's ability to "enlighten, restore, heal, and praise."

Nine faculty, all but one of whom teach in Dordt’s English department, presented pieces of original writing, from poetry to fiction to personal narrative. English Professors Bill Elgersma, Leah Zuidema, Mary Dengler, Dave Schelhaas, and Theology Professor Jason Lief all read poetry. Professor Jeri Schelhaas of the theater department read fiction; Professor Emeritus Mike Vanden Bosch read three poems, adjunct English Professor Luke De Koster read a column he writes for a newspaper, and English Professor Bob De Smith read an excerpt from a personal essay he wrote about his hometown.

Students and other faculty have been used to seeing these professors reading and writing about poems, stories, and essays, but at the annual reading they hear what these campus authors have created themselves, allowing listeners to understand a bit of who these professors are outside of their professions—and maybe find out a bit about themselves as well.

“We believe there’s something in the art of poetry, and prose, and fiction, that enlightens, restores, heals, and praises,” says Dave Schelhaas when asked about the purpose of the poetry reading. “Even though most of us aren’t primarily artists, we have developed skills in writing that we want to share with others. Plus, we like doing it.” Their enjoyment is obvious both from the smiles on the readers’ faces and in the tones of voice they use to help listeners understand the meaning in their work. We are drawn in, and we realize that we are sharing something with them that is personal but communal as well. By listening to the writing of others, we are able to understand each other better and build community through art.

Schelhaas believes the poetry readings are an outlet, a place for faculty to “lay out their souls” to their audience of colleagues and students. “I would love to see it grow,” he says. “I’d love to see more faculty members from other departments take part. I think poetry reading can contribute to the communal life of the college—for both students and faculty.” And that is just what happened for those in attendance at the twentieth annual reading held on a warm Sunday evening this fall.