By Molly Igoe
On Tuesday, Oct. 19, the Poetry Club and Alpha Chi Omega sponsored the poetry reading “Trigger Warning” in honor of survivors of domestic violence and abuse.
Olivia Serio, senior and president of the Poetry Club, began the reading by giving out the phone number for the Midshore Council on Family Violence, 410-699-0742, and noted that there are three other domestic violence agencies serving nine counties. The Midshore Council serves the largest region, including Caroline, Dorchester, Kent, Queen Anne’s, and Talbot counties.
She said, “We recognize that any time we talk about domestic violence, people may be impacted. We do have Sexual Assault Response Advocates in the room with us tonight in case any of you want to talk to someone.” Serio’s mother is a survivor of domestic violence.
Serio first read from the poem “Trigger Warning,” by Karina Stow, about the “triggers” from experiencing an abusive relationship: “Loving them/Trigger/Is handing them a map of your weak spots/My friend Dalton tells me he could get a gun.”
Iz Clemens, sophomore, read, “A Survivor Triptych” by Mary Stebbins Taitt, which she described as brutal and important because people need to face the reality of domestic violence. The poem first describes a woman who is being beaten by her husband in 1966, before that was illegal, and discusses some of the red flags of the abusive relationship. “She was afraid to come home from work. /Afraid as she walked from the bus/She made him angry by simply existing, / by breathing his air. At the shelter they spoke of red flags, / Of calling for help. But when he took her back,/everything he said and did was red, / and he ripped / the phone from the wall.”
She said, “I participated in the event because I am in Alpha Chi Omega, and domestic violence awareness and prevention is our philanthropy. Domestic violence is harder to talk about as opposed to other philanthropies, like cancer, where it just happens to people, but with this, victims think it’s their fault.”
“We like to think all people are good, so it is hard to face that there are people who are evil and do these things, so we really need to address the issue head on, and one way is with readings, which can be graphic.”
Heber Guerra-Recinos, freshman and member of the Poetry Club, read “Returning Faith” by Lynette Gutwein. The poem is about triumphing with the help of faith after experiencing domestic violence. “You took away my innocence / My hopes, my dreams, my youth / I will live in spite of you / You no longer have a say / You hurt me and you almost won / But ‘You Lost!’ I have to say / From me these things you cannot take / My head held high, I walk by Faith.”
He said, “I am not a victim or a survivor of domestic violence. But I am aware that it exists, and it is a problem. I thought it could be an interesting experience to be a part of. I compare this to my experiences with Relay for Life and Breast Cancer Awareness in my high school; I have never experienced this sort of issue, a form of cancer in myself or a relative, yet I feel… ‘nice’… being a part of it, knowing that it’s for a good cause.”
“I think this event is important to domestic violence survivors because it shows that we acknowledge the issue, and we are making an effort to do something about it. Above all, it shows them that we care. Think of it as my aforementioned Relay for Life. Many people attend the events and give to the cause, despite never having any experiences with cancer. But they do so because they are supporting a cause against an issue they acknowledge is very real.”
Lauren Frick, a freshman, read from “Letters to Doc” by Cathy Linh Che, from her poetry collection, “Split,” which deals with her childhood sexual abuse, the history of her family, and the impact on these things on her lover. “When you say love, define your terms / They slip. when you say / rape. I’ve positioned myself as one/who has been. There it goes/around the corner / into the shadow / He came inside me without / my consent. I wept while / he laughed at me.”
Frick, a survivor of domestic abuse from a previous relationship, was drawn to the event to offer support and encouragement to others to speak out. She said, “Especially in my hometown, which is a very socially conservative place, people don’t talk about it, and it’s just sort of a thing where everybody felt shamed into remaining silent about. Really one of the biggest reasons that I wanted to read is because I think it’s important for victims of abuse and sexual assault to be visible, because, especially with the way rape culture is, people don’t feel like they can talk about it, and things won’t ever change if those people don’t talk about it.”
“Even though it can be scary, I think it’s important to talk about so that other people see that they’re not alone in a sense, and that they can come forward, and that there are means to deal with it in a constructive way, especially through poetry, which has been very cathartic for me. I write a lot of my own poetry related to that relationship, and it’s a good way to get out all of the emotions and negative feelings, and to be able to make something beautiful out of it, and to feel that I am creating something that other people can appreciate, or maybe being able to help someone.”
“The event on Tuesday was something I was very happy to see on campus because there have been several incidents of sexual assault, and while it’s not necessarily the same thing as domestic abuse, it’s still giving people a voice and making those issues visible, which is one of the first steps of empowerment for any minority or any group of people who are oppressed. To be able to let people tell their stories is kind of showing society that the problem does exist, and that it can’t be ignored anymore,” Frick said.
Serio closed the event by reading from her original poem called “love in the old testament,” dedicated to her mother. “Do not trust/the small voice that claims you need him/that you left the one thing that loved you back/love does not leave you/curled in your closet/with the door locked/you are not alone/as you feel/as you felt/in the desert.”