Onion River Review launch
Onion River Review launch a celebration of creativity
Standing and reading in the comfy-crowded living-room area of Hoehl Welcome Center at Monday evening’s launch party for the 2019 Onion River Review, Emeritus English Instructor Will Marquess, the Saint Michael’s College student-literary magazine godfather, took flight in the occasion’s rarified creative air.
“There once was a dude from Winooski,” the wryly smiling writer read from his string of limericks that together make up a work he calls “Little Criminals” in the 2019 Onion River Review … “Who lived for no goal except to ski … So he drove near and far in a big honkin’ car … and he topped off each run with a brewski.” Marquess’ sparkling word-play in eight limericks working as one drove home a strong environmental awareness message.
His attentive audience of more than 50 students, faculty and outside community members registered their appreciation — as they did for each profoundly singular reading or explanation of an image or composition from this year’s 96-page publication during a sharing session that lasted about 90 minutes
Last year after a long run of many years, Marquess handed off adviser duties for the Review to Tim Mackin, director of the Writing Program and instructor of English, who warmly welcomed everyone Monday evening and kept the program moving with help from student editors and award-presenters. The party, always a well-attended tradition, was mainly about the Onion River contributors reading from or sharing about their work as everyone leafed together through the newly printed journal copies, but also included socializing and refreshments before and after those presentations. Copies of the new journal can be found at strategically placed distribution stands around campus.
This year for the first time, the Onion River launch was preceded by a brief ceremony to present English Department awards for the top creative writing students, one in poetry to Emma Rose ’19 and one in prose to Danielle Joubert ’20. The new-this-year poetry award is named to honor the late faculty poet, English professor and campus legend John Engels, and the new-last-year prose-writing award to honor Marquess.
A special guest Monday was Jessica Engels ’81, daughter of John Engels. She introduced the Engels Poetry Award by sharing touching memories of her late father and reading some of her favorite poems by him before the present resident campus poet, Greg Delanty of the English faculty, said praiseful words of the winner Rose in the presenting of her award (each winner received a framed certificate).
Delanty said Rose possesses all the attributes she will need to write poetry successfully – talented, yes, but also with commitment to reading and understanding poets who came before. “In our poetry workshops I never had to worry that she would read or that she would give her best effort to writing the best possible poem,” the Irish poet said, adding that Rose also was open to suggestions from Delanty and other students. “She was great in taking the comments and learning from them,” Delanty said, which isn’t always the easiest thing, and she also was very helpful to others in the poetry workshops.
In presenting Danielle Joubert the new prose-writing award named in his honor, Marquess pronounced the French-roots name of the winner with a “Franco-phony” flourish, as he put it. Marquess says he well-knew already from having Joubert in a fiction workshop last year, before he retired, that her writing is “inventive, passionate and very thoughtfully considered – a rare and powerful combination.” He continued: “Danielle, I think you know, the main award for writing is the writing itself.”
After the opening words from Jessica Engels and the writing awards presentations, the traditional format for these Review launches kicked back in as the “core editors” introduced the issue and invited any contributors from the audience to read from or tell about their contributions. The core editors, seated together on a couch, spoke of the memorable and worthwhile time and investment of themselves that went into the Review. They are Brenna Broderick ’20, Kevin Jeter ’20, Elly Moore ’19 and Ariel Wish ’20. The editors also had work of their own to read from the new volume. They gave special thanks to Summer Drexel and George Goldsworthy in the College’s Print Services for all their help, to their “rookie leader” Mackin, to the inspirational Marquess, and many “auxiliary editors” who help them sift through submissions and choose work.
The readings and descriptions of work from Monday’s program started with the beautiful and striking cover image, which, remarkably, was created by Susanna VanRooyen ’19 in her first real effort at oil-painting for an introductory class with fine arts Professor Will Mentor. The painted image of a purplish sculptural hand is called “Extremity” and the artist was present to tell about her experience, as expressed in the Review: “My unfamiliarity with the medium produced a piece that may be unfamiliar or befuddling to the viewer. I hope this extremity gives a viewer a chance to tilt their head a bit, breathe, and pause – to communicate, touch, move or convey whatever the viewer feels fit.”
“It’s really special to have so many beautiful things in one place!” she said to the group about the new Review.
The range of subsequent works either read or described Monday evening was breathtaking: an abstract piece based on a 1965 Popular Science magazine drawing of a catalytic converter; an airport in Copenhagen and its travelers, a long insightful piece about senior year as Saint Michael’s student from Elly Moore called “I think You Know What I Mean,” full of whimsical, frantic energy and quirky observations; a reflection on rats of all varieties and their commonalities and differences by the more commonly prose-known but versatile Joubert; and an engaging poem-story of a fearless chef-son making head cheese by Buff Lindau, the College’s retired longtime public relations chief and a regular at these launches for many years.
Some visual images from the volume that were described and shared included a city-scape of Burlington, some images from Maddie Moore of a semester studying in South Africa, and a couple black and white prints taken from a sailing adventure by Liam Grant.
One written piece was a work by an alum who told Mackin that to this day, she is in a poetry group as an older middle-aged adult thanks to her Saint Michael’s education.
The back cover text of the Review is from Elly More’s account of her senior year, this section a part called “A Little Wildered,” which poetically communicates the contrasts and fulfillments of college life across its full dizzying range. It ends: “Today I woke up sad … I went to church and ate a piece of God …. And then I had some pizza.”