K Alumna, Humanitarian Promotes Social Justice Around the World

If you need an antidote to the disappointment you may feel while watching world news, take heart that a Kalamazoo College alumna is doing what she can to stand up for international human rights and social justice as a humanitarian.

Sarah Fuhrman ’07 is working as the director of humanitarian policy at InterAction, an alliance of non-governmental organizations and partners in the United States mobilizing its members to serve the world’s most poor and vulnerable citizens while making the world a more prosperous place.

With InterAction and other non-governmental organizations, Fuhrman recently has traveled to South Sudan, where she embarked on a U.N. peer-to-peer mission to recommend improvements to the humanitarian response. She spent October in a similar capacity, traveling between Washington, D.C; Geneva, Switzerland, and Rome, Italy, to advocate for improvements to the humanitarian system. She is also part of a group that is producing practical measures to help armed actors mitigate conflict-induced food insecurity.

“We’ve been having a lot of conversations in the sector around decolonizing aid, power shifting and privilege,” Fuhrman said. “I ask myself, every day, whether it still makes sense for me as a white woman from the global north to work in this field. The answer so far is still yes, that as a U.S. citizen, it’s important that I push my government—the world’s largest humanitarian donor—to do better. But I’m also open to the possibility that at some point the answer might change and this might no longer be the place where I can make the most difference.”

Her push to make that difference began at K when she recognized that the world and all of us as citizens are more connected than we might think.

“I ended up at K because I wanted to go on study abroad,” Fuhrman said. “I went to India for six months and then wrote my SIP in southern Thailand. Those experiences showed me how small the world is and it fostered my love for the international community.”

After graduating and spending a year in AmeriCorps, Fuhrman attended Western Michigan University’s Cooley Law School in Lansing, where she found a passion for international human rights and humanitarian law. That love led Fuhrman to pursue a Master of Laws, or LLM, at University College London.

“I originally thought I would go on to do a Ph.D. and spend my career in academia,” Fuhrman said. “But I realized while I was in London that none of my professors and none of the other students in my cohort had ever worked for a government. I thought that if I were going to spend my career criticizing U.S. foreign policy, I should work for the U.S. government first and see what it was like on the inside. And I wanted to see whether international law really mattered for people when they needed it.”

With those goals in mind, Fuhrman and her partner—Brennan McBride ’07—packed up and moved to Washington, D.C., sight unseen. Fuhrman was hired into USAID’s Bureau for Humanitarian Assistance, where she worked as a senior information officer for nearly four years, until 2019.

“I was deployed about 50% of the time. For example, I worked on the U.S. government’s Iraq humanitarian response during the campaign to retake the city of Mosul from ISIS and then worked on regional responses in eastern and central Africa,” Fuhrman said. “I worked on the Yemen humanitarian response and responded to an earthquake in Mexico. I got to see what it looks like when the U.S. government uses its power responsibly and what it looks like when it makes mistakes.”

In 2020, Fuhrman moved on to roles as a humanitarian policy specialist and then the senior manager of humanitarian policy and advocacy with CARE, an organization that fights poverty and achieves social justice by empowering women and girls.

“I started at CARE right before the pandemic and was just getting my feet under me,” Fuhrman said. “All of a sudden, COVID was dominating the news. My boss called me right before the World Health Organization declared a pandemic and said, ‘Sarah, I think that COVID is going to be terrible for women and girls living in humanitarian settings. We should say something about it.’”

Within three days, Fuhrman and her boss had written and published the first paper on how COVID-19 would affect women and girls in crisis contexts. That later turned into a full scholarly article published in the BMJ Global Health journal with policy and programming recommendations.

Sarah Fuhrman ’07 visits Roman ruins while performing humanitarian work in northern Jordan
Sarah Fuhrman ’07 visits the Roman ruins in northern Jordan, while working on the Yemen response for the U.S. government in 2019. Fuhrman said she and her colleagues weren’t allowed in Yemen as the U.S. had no embassy there.
Sarah Fuhrman reading on a helicopter during a social justice mission
Sarah Fuhrman ’07 reads in 2022 on a helicopter between South Sudan’s Bentiu town and the capital city, Juba. She is accompanied by members of a Ghanaian peacekeeping troop.
Sarah Fuhrman looks over the Namibia landscape
Sarah Fuhrman ’07 looks over the Namibia landscape after performing humanitarian work through a deployment to USAID/OFDA’s regional office in Nairobi in 2018.
Sarah Fuhrman planting a tree with two others while performing humanitarian work in Kenya
Sarah Fuhrman ’07 and a colleague from USAID’s Office of U.S. Foreign Disaster Assistance (OFDA) join a Kenyan Red Cross representative in planting a tree near a USAID-funded water-treatment plant in 2019.

In the summer of 2021, CARE sent Fuhrman to Afghanistan ahead of the U.S. withdrawal, anticipating that humanitarian needs would escalate, but underestimating the speed with which the Afghan government would collapse. She admitted to enduring some tense moments.

“We knew that the U.S. was pulling out its troops,” she said. “We knew that it was not going to go well. I was there to figure out how to help CARE scale up its humanitarian response, going all around Kabul, meeting with colleagues within CARE and others within the sector. What stands out to me is that no one thought the Taliban takeover was going to happen that fast. We were all talking in terms of months, and then it ended up being a matter of days. It was a hard time, because I had colleagues and friends in Afghanistan who were concerned about what would happen to them and their families. Many of those concerns came true.”

Before leaving CARE, Fuhrman became a part-time adjunct professor at Columbia University in New York. Today, she continues teaching while also working for InterAction. Through her years of service in the humanitarian sector, she recognizes that it’s easy to get discouraged by the frailty of international law, yet she believes there is reason for hope.

“I still wonder whether international law matters because I have seen governments and parties to conflicts violate international law on grand scales,” she said. “What is the point of international law if governments don’t abide by it, and more importantly, if we don’t have good mechanisms to enforce it? It’s technically against international humanitarian law for governments to prohibit humanitarians from accessing people in need and providing them with assistance, yet humanitarian access is one of the biggest challenges that I see in my work.”

However, she said we still can hold U.S. leaders accountable and seek to make change for the better.

We’re at a unique moment where everything the U.S. government does has the potential to have an outsized impact. It could have an outsized impact in a negative way, entrenching inequalities and making things worse for generations to come. Or, we can help change the world’s course and meet needs more effectively, so there are fewer humanitarian needs tomorrow,” Fuhrman said. “It’s up to us how we how we choose to use this moment.”

Alumni Distinguished Themselves Nationally, Globally in 2022’s Top Stories

Kalamazoo College alumni continued to distinguish themselves locally, nationally and around the world through personal accomplishments, professional achievements and efforts that will make a difference in the educations of K students for years to come. Here are their top 10 stories of the year as determined by your clicks at our website. 

10. Mental Health Pro Lauds Benefits of Gratitude 

When we address our mental health, we sometimes need to hear from people like Kristin Meekhof ’97, the author of A Widow’s Guide to Healing. She knows what it means to find strength after grief. 

Mental Health Professional Kristin Meekhof
Kristin Meekhof ’97 is a licensed therapist, life coach, speaker and best-selling author.

9. Award-Winning Journalist Addresses First-Year Students at Convocation 

Lila Lazarus ’84, an award-winning journalist, producer and motivational speaker, was the keynote speaker for Kalamazoo College’s 2022 Convocation on the Quad. Watch a replay of her speech. 

Lila Lazarus
Lila Lazarus ’84 is an award-winning journalist, producer and motivational speaker

8. ‘Reckoning’ Examines K’s Past to Build a Better Future 

Anne Dueweke ’84 believes we cannot understand where we are unless we understand where we’ve been, especially when it comes to the racial climate of the U.S. and, closer to home, Kalamazoo College. 

Portrait of Author Anne Dueweke
Author Anne Dueweke ’84

7. New Fellowship Provides Post-Grad Opportunity Abroad for K Students 

A generous leadership gift from Robert Sherbin ’79 is opening the doors to independent exploration outside the United States for Kalamazoo College graduates. 

Bob Sherbin establishing fellowship abroad
Robert Sherbin ’79

6. Alumna, Professor Emerita Earns Pulitzer Prize 

Alumna, Professor Emerita and former writer-in-residence Diane Seuss ’78 celebrated more recognition for her latest poetry collection, and this honor was the most prestigious yet. Seuss was granted a 2022 Pulitzer Prize in Poetry for frank: sonnets, a collection of poems that discuss topics including addiction, disease, poverty and death. The collection previously received the PEN/Voelcker Award for Poetry Collection, the National Book Critics Circle Award for Poetry and the LA Times Book Prize for poetry. 

Diane Seuss
Diane Seuss ’78

5. Super Bowl Halftime Show Was Planned Through K Alumna 

Alix Reynolds ’11 had a hand in transforming the field at Sofi Stadium in Los Angeles into a sparkling nightscape, duplicating a scene from Compton, California, as it set the stage for musicians Snoop Dogg, Dr. Dre, Kendrick Lamar, Eminem, Mary J. Blige and 50 Cent. 

Super Bowl Halftime Planner Alix Reynolds in the empty seating bowl at Sofi Stadium
Alix Reynolds ’11, an account manager for Lititz, Pennsylvania-based ATOMIC.

4. K Announces $5 Million Gift to Support Student Access 

Robert J. Kopecky ’72 established the Ervin J. and Violet A. Kopecky Endowed Scholarship Fund, named in honor of his parents, and the Robert J. Kopecky ’72 Endowed Study Abroad Fund. He also contributed to additional study abroad funding, current-use scholarships and the Kalamazoo College Fund. 

Bob Kopecky '72
Bob Kopecky ’72

3. Alumna, Professor Emerita, Poet Garnering Recognition 

With accolades rolling in for her latest book and a new collection of poetry on the horizon, Diane Seuss ’78 marked National Poetry Month in April with virtual readings across the country while reflecting on the successes and challenges of the past two years, including a Guggenheim Fellowship, the John Updike Award and the COVID-19 pandemic. 

Book Cover for Frank:Sonnets by Diane Seuss
Diane Seuss ’78 published her fifth collection of poetry, “frank: sonnets,” in 2021.

2. $500,000 Gift Establishes Endowment for Equity in Women’s Athletics 

The gift, from Dana Getman ’68, established the Getman Endowment for Equity in Women’s Athletics, which supports the College’s strategic plan, Advancing Kalamazoo College: A Strategic Vision for 2023. Getman hopes creating this fund will inspire others to recognize and address inequities women face in athletics and beyond. 

Dana Getman, Katie Getman and Teresa Getman for Equity Endowment
Dana Getman ’68 (center) visits the Kalamazoo College Fitness and Wellness Center with his wife, Teresa (left) and his daughter Kate Getman.

1. K Receives $5.25 Million Gift from Alumnus Larry Bell ’80 

This transformative gift will establish endowed funds to support the Center for Environmental Stewardship, a distinguished chair in American history, and food justice and sustainability programming. Additional funds will support both the Larry J. Bell ’80 Endowed Scholarship, which was established in 2017, and the Kalamazoo College Fund. 

Larry Bell at Homecoming_instagram
Shannon Bell (from left), Larry Bell ’80 and Kalamazoo College President Jorge G. Gonzalez.

Climate Change Conference Puts Global Spotlight on K Alumna, Team’s Art

Artwork at U.N. Climate Change Conference shows pictures, paintings and posters of Earth's environment with QR codes for more information
Nicki Bailey ’21 collaborated with the Youth Environmental Alliance in Higher Education
(YEAH) network to create an art exhibit for the U.S. Center at COP27, the annual
U.N. Climate Change Conference.

When the United Nations’ annual climate change conference convened in El Sheikh, Egypt, on November 6, it had a recent Kalamazoo College grad in attendance.

Since leaving K, Nicki Bailey ’21 has begun a master’s program in ecology at Colorado State University, where she has come under the tutelage of Gillian Bowser, who represents the institution’s Natural Resource Ecology Lab. Bowser’s expertise in climate change connects her with the U.S. State Department, and it was this connection that led Bailey to the opportunity to attend the climate conference.

The United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) is the entity that addresses the world’s response to climate change, organizing the event more commonly called COP27, or the 27th United Nations Climate Change Conference.

“K was the birthplace of my passion for this subject because it’s where I found I could pursue climate action as a career, and it gave me the tools to pursue it,” Bailey said. “I worked in Dr. Ann Fraser’s lab from my sophomore year through my SIP (Senior Integrated Project). Between that and studying abroad my junior year, the experiences helped me jump into new and uncomfortable situations like going to a conference with 50,000 people in Egypt and feel comfortable with asking questions.”

The convention’s accomplishments in years past included the 2015 Paris Climate Agreement and the 1997 Kyoto Protocol. The ultimate objective of the agreements is to stabilize greenhouse gas concentrations in the atmosphere to prevent dangerous human interference with the climate system while allowing ecosystems to adapt naturally and enable sustainable development. This year’s goals included implementing plans to provide reparations for loss and damage associated with climate disasters.

Within the conference, Bailey collaborated with the Youth Environmental Alliance in Higher Education (YEAH) network to create an art exhibit for the U.S. Center at COP27. The exhibit connected student photos, artwork and scientific graphics to tell the story of youth engagement in climate action across the country.

Bailey’s opportunity with the project arose in September, and it involved sending several drafts of the project to the State Department before leaving for Egypt. The process was “super collaborative and really intensive for those two months,” Bailey said. “We were trying to achieve what the State Department wanted while keeping student voices at the center of the project.”

At Colorado State, Bailey studies pollinators and citizen science, enabling her to contribute photos and illustrations from her own work to the project alongside student contributions from other institutions.

“The essential message was combining scientific research and artwork to create action, specifically youth action, in the face of climate change,” Bailey said. “I’ve come from more of a scientific background, however, having this space with all this scientific knowledge being shared, we thought it was important to highlight how artwork can convey that message. We ended up making a collection that centered on topics of the land, the water and youth action in a thematic wave.”

After presenting the art project, she met people from backgrounds and careers from all around the world including Energy Department Secretary and former Michigan Governor Jennifer Granholm, all of whom were focused on reversing climate change.

“Every day there were hundreds of events that were going on simultaneously, so we had to be decisive about where we wanted to go,” Bailey said. “I would go to a talk and then several networking events in the U.S. Center that my advisor helped put together. I then would try to go to a negotiation in the afternoon. I got to go to one high-level ministerial conversation on carbon financing. That was super interesting because there were all these countries represented and all had a chance to argue for what they needed to prioritize.”

Bailey remembers one comment made during negotiations that was particularly striking to her.

“‘If we continue to emit greenhouse gases at our current rate, it is not the planet that will be lost, it is humanity,’” Bailey said. “As a scientist studying declining pollinators, I often hyper fixate on the loss of biodiversity as a detrimental effect of climate change. We need to remember that humanity is at the center of climate change’s widespread damage, and we are the only solution. We need to strengthen our infrastructure, focus on creative nature-based solutions, and mitigate climate change for our future generations.”

When she leaves Colorado State, Bailey could see herself involved in government work, but she would like her main focuses to be community engagement, citizen science and education.

“K provided me such a close-knit community in science and climate advocacy that I felt overwhelmed coming to a big research university,” Bailey said. “I want to emphasize for others that it’s OK to put yourself out there and try something outside your comfort zone. I feel like K helped me get those skills to keep pushing myself outside my comfort zone and attend conferences like COP27. I feel like I belong and have an important voice.”

City Names K Alumna its Poet Laureate

Fairfax Poet Laureate Danielle Badra
Fairfax County Executive Bryan Hill (left) and Chairman Jeffrey McKay congratulate
Danielle Badra ’08 on being named Fairfax’s poet laureate. AE Landes Photography.

The community of Fairfax, Virginia, is celebrating the work of a Kalamazoo College alumna, who will serve as the community’s poet laureate through 2024. 

Danielle Badra ’08 has earned the esteemed honor of representing Fairfax County and will extend her love of poetry through literary-engagement activities in Fairfax County Parks.  

“Language, for me, is a salve,” Badra said. “The more you use it, the more power you have to heal your wounds and the wounds of others. My experiences in life and in the literary world directly inspire my vision for the next two years as Fairfax poet laureate. Through poetry workshops, readings and activities in the parks, I want to illuminate how language and our natural environment can be a source of comfort and creativity.” 

In addition to receiving her bachelor’s degree in creative writing from K, Badra earned a master’s degree in poetry from George Mason University, where she was the poetry editor of So to Speak, a feminist literary and arts journal, and an intern for Split This Rock, a national network of socially engaged poets witnessing injustice and provoking social change. 

Badra’s manuscript, Like We Still Speak, was selected by Fady Joudah and Hayan Charara as the winner of the 2021 Etel Adnan Poetry Prize and published through the University of Arkansas Press. It was named a semifinalist for the Khayrallah Prize, which identifies, awards and publicly honors those whose original work focuses on any aspect of life in Lebanon, or among Lebanese immigrants, whether in the past or present. It was also listed in Entropy magazine’s Best of 2020-2021: Poetry Books and Poetry Collections. 

Since 2020, the Fairfax poet laureate has served as a literary arts ambassador, promoting poetry as an art form in the county, region and state of Virginia. During her tenure, Badra will encourage residents to write and read poetry and all types of literature through a community-service project designed for county residents. 

Dialogue with the Dead (Finishing Line Press, 2015) is Badra’s first chapbook, a collection of contrapuntal poems in dialogue with her deceased sister. Her poems have appeared in Mizna, Cincinnati Review, the Maynard, Outlook Springs, 45th Parallel, the California Journal of Poetics, Duende, the Greensboro Review, Bad Pony, Rabbit Catastrophe Press, Beltway Poetry Quarterly and elsewhere.  

In addition to teaching undergraduate composition, literature and poetry at George Mason University, Badra has led writing workshops at the National Museum of Women in the Arts, the Split This Rock Poetry Festival, OutWrite DC, and in high schools. She has been a featured reader for Split This Rock’s Sunday Kind of Love series, a judge for Brave New Voices in DC, and a participant in Al-Mutanabbi Street Starts Here, a festival commemorating the 2007 bombing of a historic book market in Baghdad, Iraq.  

“The Fairfax Poet Laureate is a remarkable example of how support to a single artist can impact the whole County,” ArtsFairfax President and CEO Linda S. Sullivan said. “Danielle’s vision to bring poetry to the parks is inspired, and we’re as excited to learn from her as we are thrilled to share her work with the Greater Fairfax community.” 

Discover more of Badra’s work at her website, DanielleBadra.com

Mental Health Pro Lauds Benefits of Gratitude

Mental Health Professional Kristin Meekhof
Kristin Meekhof ’97 is a licensed therapist, life coach, speaker and best-selling
author, who extols the benefits of gratitude in recovering from grief.

When we address our own mental health, we sometimes need to hear from people who know what it means to suffer and find their way back to personal strength.

Kalamazoo College alumna Kristin Meekhof ’97 has, for many, been an example of that recovery. Meekhof began working in the mental health profession after earning her bachelor’s degree in psychology at K and a Master of Social Work from the University of Michigan. She now has more than 20 years of clinical experience and is a nationally recognized expert with published articles in and contributions to CNN, Today online, Katie Couric Media, Architectural Digest, Huffington Post, USA Today, the Chicago Tribune, Readers’ Digest, Maria Shriver Media and Psychology Today. She also has worked alongside alternative-medicine expert Deepak Chopra, M.D., F.A.C.P., and is a licensed therapist, life coach, speaker and best-selling author.

Yet before much of that, Meekhof suddenly was stricken with tragedy in 2007 when her husband, Roy, was diagnosed with adrenal cancer and died just eight weeks later. Her grief took a toll on her mental and physical health as she suddenly faced bills, single parenthood, balancing being a professional and a widow, and navigating social situations by herself. She sought out comfort and help in the form of reading material.

“I was living alone in November 2007 and I would get home from work around 6 p.m. when it was pitch black outside,” Meekhof said. “I’m not really one to watch television, so I started to read everything I could about grief and loss. It could’ve been a story of inspiration or resiliency or a medical journal about broken heart syndrome. I was really interested to see how people cope with loss and how they were able to thrive after a tragedy.”

After not finding many narratives about women specifically, she decided to travel the world and get as many stories as she could by speaking directly to women who had suffered a loss. The experience led her and a co-author, James Windell, to write A Widow’s Guide to Healing (Sourcebooks) in 2015.

“When we connect with another person’s story, it can help us find purpose and meaning as we’re inspired by others,” Meekhof said. “That meant I was traveling to Boston to meet with Christie Coombs, who tragically lost her husband on September 11 in one of the planes that crashed. I went to the backwoods in Montana where a very young widow lost her husband in a skiing accident. I went to Kenya where women live on less than $1 a day and have no running water. I went to the UK and these stories of women shaped the book. There were certain themes that really stood out like solo parenting, financial issues and relationship issues. I knew that offering practical advice was one of the ways to help women get through difficult times.”

Still, Meekhof said, none of those struggles can be wiped away when a woman simply reads the book once.

“The process is always ongoing,” Meekhof said. “The book is thematically connected, but the standalone chapters are what happens during different periods in life, whether it’s a child moving out of the home, someone suffering another loss or even happy situations like a promotion or completing a personal goal. The loss factors in and evolves in different ways, so people go back to my book or another resource because they feel a shift and want guidance.”

With the fight against grief being continual, many wonder what tools can be used to ensure some healing. Meekhof believes the best tool is gratitude.

“After a number of years, I decided that my book really wasn’t a mental health book,” she said. “It was actually completed stories of gratitude and resilience. The reason I use gratitude is there’s a lot of research that demonstrates an expression of gratitude improves one’s physical well-being. There have been studies, for example, that show heart patients who use gratitude have better outcomes over those who don’t. Before my late husband’s diagnosis, we kept a gratitude journal. It started before our marriage, and during his medical crisis, he encouraged me and us as a couple to continue our gratitude practice. It was a saving grace, because after he died, I knew I could help myself by resuming the gratitude practice. And it wasn’t until doing the research for my book that I found there was actual physical evidence that it changes one’s outlook and perspective with great implications for one’s physical and mental well-being.”

Grief and loss are intertwined with a rise in mental health concerns as people around the world have faced a loss of loved ones, periods of isolation and trauma in the era of COVID-19. The World Health Organization (WHO) identifies COVID-19 as the primary driver of a global mental health crisis that caused estimates of anxiety and depressive disorders to spike by 25% during the first year of the pandemic. Growing social and economic inequalities, protracted conflicts, violence and public health emergencies threaten to exacerbate the crisis even further with mental health services limited, disrupted or even unavailable.

That lifts the importance for World Mental Health Day, marked every October 10, to raise awareness of mental health issues around the world and mobilize efforts in support of mental health. In that spirit, and given the challenges that have faced higher-education communities since the pandemic, Meekhof has some recommendations for how Kalamazoo College can help its students.

“I would encourage the College to have a very open dialogue, for example, about something like anxiety because when we understand that anxiety is real, it becomes something that can be handled,” Meekhof said. “One can cope with it in a way that doesn’t have to be isolating or debilitating. It can help others to know that seeking professional mental health services is necessary for many and it’s nothing to be ashamed of. There’s a great stigma still about getting mental health services, that it’s a sign of weakness, that only certain people go out to get it, that once you start you’ll be dependent on it in every situation, and that’s really not the case. I would encourage faculty to take the lead and start to share their own mental health stories and guide students in that direction. It can be very encouraging for families as well so that parents and friends who notice a change in a student can encourage that student to get help.”

Looking back on her own time at K, Meekhof said the College has been the foundation for everything she does.

“It really has informed me in the way that I see the world, and offer compassion and understanding,” she said. “It was the education and the background, along with the support of professors, which enabled me to have my perspectives.”

Meekhof has another book project underway. This book is a project with Amy Young, Ph.D., of the Ross School of Business at the University of Michigan, which will look at how language can be used to facilitate authentic leadership in business and how exceptional leaders are strong communicators. But success in her own career isn’t defined by having another book. Instead, it’s defined by helping other people.

“Success for me is feeling very confident in the fact that I’m able to offer a bit of hope in somebody’s very dark time,” Meekhof said. “If my words or the resources I can lead people to can help alleviate sorrow, I feel that is being successful.” 

Classical Music, Liberal Arts Compose Alumna’s Noted Devotion

Jacqueline Mills with her violin 1
Jacqueline Mills ’18 toured Spain and Portugal with the Kalamazoo Junior
Symphony Orchestra this summer with Kalamazoo College Music Chair
Andrew Koehler.

Jacqueline Mills ’18 has an inspiring story of how a liberal arts education continues to benefit her life after Kalamazoo College as her appreciation of music has blossomed from an interest into a lifelong passion.

Before majoring in chemistry at K, Mills began playing violin at age 9. During her middle school years, she developed a music outreach program, V is for Violin, where she would visit her former pre-school to play the violin and introduce children to the world of classical music.

“A lot of young people knew rap, pop and other genres of music, but this was a time when arts programming seemed to be on the decline in schools,” Mills said. “The lack of music programming in public schools was one of the reasons I had to seek out alternative weekend programs to develop my musical talents further.”

As Mills progressed, she didn’t expect music to play the role it did in her college years, instead anticipating it to be more of a side interest or outlet.

“My mindset was that I had just spent 10 years playing the violin and I didn’t want to waste it, so I decided to try out,” Mills said.

That tryout was for the Kalamazoo Philharmonia, an ensemble of students, faculty, amateur musicians and professional musicians of various ages that performs three concerts a year under Music Director and K Music Department Chair Andrew Koehler, who immediately and enthusiastically accepted her to the group and with whom she also took violin lessons.

Later, her study abroad experiences in Perth, Australia, were significant because she interned at the Aboriginal School of Music. On this site, Aboriginal students learn about a variety of music genres.

“I wasn’t in an orchestra in Australia, but it was still nice to have that connection to music,” Mills said. “I was learning about their culture and other instruments they have. It reignited a deeper understanding of music in me that I wanted to pursue further, in the sense that music can be a part of my life forever even if it’s not my profession.”

By the time she had returned to K, Koehler had recognized in Mills her growing enthusiasm for music.

Kalamazoo College Music Chair and Kalamazoo Junior Symphony Orchestra Director Andrew Koehler leads the orchestra in a classical music performance at a cathedral
Kalamazoo College Music Chair Andrew Koehler,
who is the music director of the Kalamazoo Junior
Symphony Orchestra, leads the orchestra in a
performance.

“Jacqueline was always a really thoughtful, observant, self-aware kind of musician,” Koehler said. “These are qualities that I feel are really essential to good music making. When you’re in the practice room, you’ve got to be thinking about what is working and what is not and ask, ‘How can I bridge the gap?’ Jacqueline studied chemistry here at K, so music wasn’t necessarily going to be the central thing that drove her. Yet she was really a gifted violinist. Like every K student, she was busy and had to fight to make time for music, but she always carved out the space to make sure that she kept improving, day by day and year after year.”

Additionally, by this time, Koehler was leading the Kalamazoo Junior Symphony Orchestras (KJSO), a group representing around 42 schools in 23 area communities. KJSO has a tradition of self-funded touring for performances that started in Europe in the 1960s and it was planning a trip to perform in South Africa during Mills’ senior year.

“She and I were still working on private lessons and she was playing in the Philharmonia,” Koehler said. “She had spent her junior year in Australia, so I floated the idea to her of going with us to South Africa. I said, ‘One doesn’t get to go to South Africa every day. Is there any chance you might be interested?’ And she was.”

But that was just the first time Mills would tour and perform with KJSO. This past summer, after she took the initiative to approach Koehler about the trip, she toured Spain and Portugal with the group where they had two performances.

“With the South Africa experience cemented in her mind, when she heard through the grapevine about this new tour, and was already enjoying being more established and working a job, she actually contacted me this time,” Koehler said. “Of course, I was over the moon. I’m always delighted for any opportunity to make sure a K alumna is still finding ways to make music. And it was just such a beautiful opportunity to reconnect with Jacqueline in particular.”

Mills admitted there was a bit of a spoken language barrier in Spain and Portugal that she hadn’t encountered in South Africa, but fortunately, music is a universal language.

“It was a unique experience, in South Africa and Europe alike, to be both a tourist and a performer,” Mills said. “It was harder in Spain because I don’t speak the language, so trying to communicate about our concerts was difficult. But it doesn’t matter what your nationality is. If you’re playing well, the music will resonate.”

KJSO performed for a small crowd in a concert hall in Madrid before moving on to Salamanca, where, Koehler said, it seemed the whole city turned out to pack a historic cathedral.

“There was an intensity to the experience,” Koehler said. “It was just so special to be in this amazing place, playing music that combines some American composers, a Portuguese composer and, of course, a Spanish composer. There was a kind of a cultural ambassadorship that we were trying to achieve with the program, and sharing it with this audience that was wildly enthusiastic and cheering us on, is just something that we will long remember.”

Mills’ story is significant for Classical Music Month, which first was instituted in September 1994 by President Clinton. His proclamation stated, “Classical music is a celebration of artistic excellence. This month we exalt the many talented composers, conductors and musicians who bring classical music to our ears. Music is a unifying force in our world, bringing people together across vast cultural and geographical divisions.”

In her professional life, Mills has worked in a lab as a quality control chemist. She’s also performed some research involving sickle cell disease. She now works with the City of Detroit in an adult education program called Learn to Earn, which aims to break intergenerational poverty and position job seekers on a pathway to the middle class. Yet she always wants her career to allow her time to bring classical music to the ears of children and people around the world.

“In the short term, I would like to join a community orchestra,” Mills said. “But long term, I hope to start a nonprofit or foundation to provide instruments and classical training to underrepresented children as a way to celebrate and invite youth into the fine arts. From my experience, having continued access to instruments and private lessons at a young age can be half the battle and I want to provide that support to my community. I would also like V is for Violin to pick up where I left off by going into pre-schools and elementary schools and introducing kids to the world of classical music; showing them that it’s not a dead art confined to a specific race and gender. Music is a universal language that can take you anywhere, and if I can do it, they can do it, too.”

Koehler said he’s proud not only of K’s music majors, but all K students like Jacqueline who go on to make music a permanent fixture in their lives.

“Of course, it’s very rewarding to work with students who really dive all the way with us into the musical field,” Koehler said. “But no less valuable, in terms of what we offer to a liberal arts campus and in terms of what we aspire to in our teaching, is to see students who hold space for music as part of a fuller, truly human existence. My hope for those who have played in the Philharmonia or any of our ensembles, no matter what path they go on, is that music remains a part of their experience, as it has for Jacqueline.”

From K to Kenya: Three Unite 8,000 Miles Away at UNICEF

Three K Alumnae at in front of a UNICEF poster in Kenya
Annika Rigole ’04, visiting international program alumna Sharon Musee and Paloma Clohossey
‘11 are three with Kalamazoo College connections who all work about 8,000 miles from campus
at UNICEF in Kenya.

At Kalamazoo College, international immersion and study abroad offers students opportunities to delve deep into other cultures. Along the way, they develop knowledge and skills that parlay into future careers and often form meaningful personal relationships with others around the world.

Such is the case for Paloma Clohossey ‘11, visiting international program alumna Sharon Musee and Annika Rigole ’04. Although each of them had a distinctive road in finding their way to Kalamazoo College, all three have succeeded in journeys that have taken them professionally to UNICEF in Kenya. It might seem amazing that three alumnae from a small liberal arts and sciences institution such as K all ended up at the same employer nearly 8,000 miles away. However, it makes sense that UNICEF is a desirable destination when one considers the College’s connections with foreign study and service learning.

UNICEF, originally called the United Nations International Children’s Emergency Fund in full, is now the United Nations Children’s Fund, an agency of the United Nations responsible for providing humanitarian and developmental aid to children worldwide.

The organization was established in 1946 in the aftermath of World War II to help children and young people whose lives were at risk no matter what role their country had played in the war. In cooperation with governments, non-governmental organizations (NGOs), the private sector and others, UNICEF works to advance and protect children’s rights while providing health care, immunizations, nutrition, access to safe water and sanitation services, education, protection and emergency relief.

‘You’re the Best Female Student in Your Class’

Of the three with K connections, Musee is the only one originally from Kenya. She first attended the University of Nairobi when she began her higher education pursuits, a time that revealed her limited world experience, she said. She didn’t know there was such a thing as an exchange program that would allow her to study in the United States until she got a call from the university’s Registrar’s Office, requesting an appointment.

Musee was apprehensive about the meeting, yet her fears were soon quelled.

“It was within walking distance, so I walked over and they said, ‘do you know why we called you here?’” Musee said. “I said, ‘no, what did I do?’ They said, ‘Yes, you’ve done things, but they’re why we think you’re the best female student in your class.’”

Her recognition as an accomplished student meant Musee was empowered to attend college in the U.S. through an exchange program, and as luck would have it, the program brought her to K.

“I say it was lucky because it wasn’t something I was working for,” she said. “I was working hard to get good grades, but I was not expecting to go to K.”

Today, Musee is a partnerships and resources mobilizations officer who supports UNICEF in cultivating new public partnerships and managing its existing public partnerships.

“Being at K exposed me to a lot to multicultural settings, so I was meeting people that don’t have the same background as I do,” Musee said. “When I left K, I went back to the University of Nairobi, I graduated, and almost immediately got a job in the public sector. I kept traveling in the region. It was very easy for me to fit in if I went into Somalia or into South Sudan. If I went to speak to donors who would be people of a different race or a different culture of a different color, I would say it was very natural for me to fit in as opposed to before K. It came naturally for me as a result of K.”

‘They Immediately Bought My Plane Ticket for Me to Go Visit’

Clohossey, an English and psychology double major from California, first learned of K when her parents read about it in the book “Colleges That Change Lives” and encouraged her to visit as a result.

“When I say encouraged, I mean they immediately bought my plane ticket for me to go visit and I’m grateful to this day for all their support,” Clohossey said. “I thought there was no way I would go to college at a place called Kalamazoo. But as soon as I stepped foot on the campus, I remember having an intuitive feeling that it was going to be the place for me.”

Clohossey chose to study abroad in Africa and selected Kenya through a process of elimination. Her study abroad cohort’s visit at the University of Nairobi turned out to be when she would meet Musee—before Musee had ever arrived at K.

When Musee’s life path did curve toward K, the two became friends and they participated together in College Singers. In fact, Clohossey said their relationship makes them feel more like sisters and Musee agreed.

“We share a lot,” Musee said. “We go for random lunches. I know that if I need something quickly, I can reach out to Paloma offline—outside of the office or within the office—and I know that she’s got me. This is the sisterhood I feel knowing that we went to K.”

Clohossey says she splits her time between supporting regional program planning and regional knowledge management efforts for UNICEF.

“These functions involve things like supporting UNICEF’s annual work planning, monitoring and reporting, as well as ensuring that UNICEF is capturing, documenting, organizing and using knowledge to ensure we’re as effective as we can be as we pursue our goal of achieving results for children and protecting their rights,” Clohossey said.

The connections she has with colleagues like Musee is a big part of what makes the job special.

“Meeting again was like going back 10 years,” Clohossey said. “We were super happy to see each other.”

‘K Is Such a Special Place’

After her years as a mathematics and economics and business double major at K, Rigole—originally from Belgium and a Michigander since age 10—served in AmeriCorps where she helped nonprofits and government agencies in the southeastern U.S. alongside a team of about 10 people.

In starting her career, she embraced a passion for nurturing education. Through work with an international educational exchange organization, then grad school at the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy, and subsequent work with NGOs in Malawi and Zambia, she helped improve access to quality education and skill-building opportunities, particularly for young girls.

“Education has always meant so much to me because I love learning and it has been so formative in my life,” Rigole said. “It was important to me that I could help others have similar opportunities.”

When she looked for a career shift toward the end of her time in Zambia, she found UNICEF. Rigole worked with UNICEF in New York for two years as a consultant strengthening monitoring, evaluation and research in education before applying for her position at the regional office in Kenya.

“As a regional office, we provide technical support to our country offices,” Rigole said. “In particular, I focus on strengthening data systems within education, and the use of data to inform decision making. It’s about having data and research speak to policy, for example so governments can better understand the differences between districts or provinces and how they’re doing in terms of equity and quality, or can learn from how some schools perform better than others.”

Rigole didn’t know Clohossey or Musee when she started at UNICEF, but that changed at a July 4 holiday barbecue.

“I didn’t know that many people yet, but I’d been invited by another colleague of ours,” Rigole said. “I was introduced to Paloma and she said she was from California. I said I was from Michigan. She said, ‘Oh, I went to college in Michigan.’ I said, ‘Oh, cool! Where?’ She said, ‘It’s a small liberal arts school.’ I said, ‘What’s the name?’ She said, ‘Kalamazoo College.’ I said, ‘I went to Kalamazoo College!’”

Rigole doesn’t work with Musee very often, although Clohossey has introduced them since. However, working with Clohossey has been special for Rigole since the moment they met.

“Immediately it felt good to have something in common with her,” Rigole said. “It’s not quite like family, but it gives you this bond because K is such a special place and shared experience.”

Alumni Reflect on the Advice They Would’ve Given Themselves

Students, faculty and staff practice the procession for Commencement on the Quad
Graduates-to-be on Thursday rehearsed the processional they will execute during
Commencement on the Quad at Kalamazoo College.

Spring term finals are over. Kalamazoo College’s faculty and staff are preparing for Commencement. And seniors, through a traditional rehearsal, have received their last instructions for Sunday’s ceremony. To help smooth the students’ transitions away from undergraduate life, we asked some faculty and staff who are K alumni themselves to share what advice they would go back and give themselves as they graduated.

Here’s what they had to say of that advice. We hope it will be valuable for the class of 2022.

Professor of History Charlene Boyer Lewis ’87

“Remember that no matter how carefully you plan for the future, something is going to come along to change your plans—and sometimes that change will be amazing!”

Enrollment Systems Manager Dan Kibby ’91

“Looking back, I cannot remember a single instance where I later wished I’d been less kind.”

Kalamazoo College Chaplain Liz Candido ’00

Two male faculty and a female grad-to-be on Commencement stage during rehearsal advice
Graduates-to-be Thursday were advised they will
shake hands with President Jorge G. Gonzalez, receive
their diploma, move their tassel and have their picture
taken while crossing the stage.

“Be imperfect. Some of the best things in my life have come as the result of some screw-up or mistake. Lose your fear of doing it wrong or incorrectly, and let yourself blunder into something unexpected and wonderful!”

Web Content Specialist Martin Hansknecht ’20

“Know that the skills you developed while at K are deeply transferable across industries, and be open to the curve balls life throws at you. But before that, take time to celebrate all you have accomplished during your four years at K—even though it may feel self-indulgent to celebrate anything positive during the dawn of a pandemic.” 

Admission Counselor Lezlie Lull ’20

“Say yes. Visit your friends. Enjoy your weekends. As you transition into a new life stage, take your time and enjoy the small moments, and don’t forget to visit your parents!”

We’re excited for the class of 2022 to join the ranks of our alumni!

Alumnus Fights World Hunger Through Nourish Bangladesh

Jesse-Steed-Fights-World-Hunger-Through-Nourish-Bangladesh
Jesse Steed ’02

A Kalamazoo College alumnus is among the volunteers behind a non-government organization that is working to feed the impoverished people of Bangladesh as natural disasters and the COVID-19 pandemic have complicated the southern Asia nation’s fight against chronic hunger.

Jesse Steed ’02—a licensed real-estate broker in Northfield, Minnesota—got inspired when Faress Bhuiyan, an economics professor at nearby Carleton College and the founder of Nourish Bangladesh, asked him to get involved with the organization’s work.

“When there’s a need, and I’m personally asked, I tend to say yes,” Steed said. “I think that’s one of the main three pillars of philanthropy. It’s your own causes, the causes of your friends and the other causes that just present themselves at just the right time. This was definitely a friend’s cause, and we had been talking for a couple years about doing something along these lines. I’ve always had a global interest. I’ve never been to Bangladesh before but having lived abroad through K and then right after college, I see a lot of value in the concept of helping people who live outside my community or even outside my country.”

Steed is among the Nourish Bangladesh volunteers who seek donations and vet nonprofits in Bangladesh with the hope of helping worthy organizations provide money and food to people throughout the country. The organization seeks partners who use their funds directly in on-the-ground efforts, spending it efficiently to support under-privileged groups such as low-income households, women-headed households, transgender individuals, flood-affected households, refugees, children and victims of communal violence.

“With COVID, those of us who could work from home all of a sudden had a little more time on our hands to help because we didn’t have to drive anywhere,” Steed said. “Faress pulled together a group of people from around the world, including some students, some former students, some friends, some Bangladeshis to meet online and talk about what we could possibly do.”

World Hunger Day, observed every May 28 since 2011, was created by the Hunger Project to bring awareness to the hundreds of millions of people worldwide who face chronic hunger, making it an excellent day to focus on organizations such as Nourish Bangladesh. According to the Hunger Project, 98 percent of the world’s undernourished live in developing countries, more than 60 percent of the people affected are women, and hunger kills more than AIDS, malaria and tuberculosis combined. Nourish Bangladesh is fighting to reverse those trends by, according to its website, funding nearly 900,000 meals to nearly 45,000 individuals and more than 11,000 households to date.

“I think that consistency over the course of these two years shows that this organization is providing value and that people still want to donate to it,” Steed said. “We have ongoing drives and programs. We’ve raised quite a bit of money and we make a strong impact with the groups we benefit. The thing that I love hearing is that the work we do makes a personal impact or connection. It’s nice to hear some stories from the folks who we help and see that we’ve made a difference in their lives.”

Alumna, Professor Emerita, Poet Diane Seuss Garnering Recognition

Update: Diane Seuss was announced the winner of the Pulitzer Prize in poetry on May 9, 2022, for her work frank:sonnets.

Diane Seuss '78
Diane Seuss ’78 (Photo credit: Gabrielle Montesanti)

April is National Poetry Month, an especially busy time for Diane Seuss ’78, a Kalamazoo College alumna and professor emerita who taught in the English department and served as writer in residence for three decades. With accolades rolling in for her latest book and a new collection of poetry on the horizon, Seuss is marking the month with virtual readings across the country and reflecting on the successes and challenges of the past two years, including a Guggenheim Fellowship, the John Updike Award and the COVID-19 pandemic.

As a 2020 Guggenheim Fellow, Seuss joined a prestigious group of scholars and artists who have received grants from the Guggenheim Foundation to help provide fellows with blocks of time to work with creative freedom. The Foundation receives about 3,000 applications each year and awards about 175 fellowships.

In 2021, Seuss received the John Updike Award from the American Academy of Arts and Letters. The biennial award recognizes a mid-career writer who demonstrates consistent excellence.

The Guggenheim and Updike awards have helped Seuss, who grew up in rural schools and earned a master’s degree in social work rather than an M.F.A. in creative writing, feel a hard-won sense of authority as a poet.

“They’re both very prestigious,” Seuss said. “While you would hope that you could feel that you have a right to be heard without that recognition, it sure helps. It’s amazing that I was this kid with a single mom in Niles, Michigan, writing poems in typing class, and truly, through sheer persistence and a lot of luck, I have managed to be here.

Book Cover for Frank:Sonnets by Diane Seuss
Diane Seuss ’78 published her fifth collection of poetry,
“frank: sonnets,” in 2021.

“For me and others like me, people in the margins for whatever reason, such recognition is an encouragement. It’s saying, your work has worth. It makes all the difference to be seen and heard and acknowledged.”

Seuss published her fifth collection of poetry, frank: sonnets, in 2021. The book, from Graywolf Press, is currently a finalist for the Los Angeles Times Book Prize in Poetry, was named a finalist for the Kingsley Tufts Poetry Award, and won both the PEN/Voelcker Award for Poetry and the National Book Critics Circle Award.

Prior to frank: sonnets, Seuss published four other poetry collections: Still Life with Two Dead Peacocks and a Girl (Graywolf Press, 2018), a finalist for the National Book Critics Circle Award and the Los Angeles Times Poetry Prize; Four-Legged Girl (Graywolf Press, 2015), a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize; Wolf Lake, White Gown Blown Open (University of Massachusetts Press, 2010), recipient of the Juniper Prize; and It Blows You Hollow (New Issues Press, 1999).

frank got its start during a writing residency at Willapa Bay Artists in Residence near Oysterville, Washington.

“A lot of people had said, ‘You should write a memoir because you’ve had quite a life,’” Seuss said. “You know what is beneath the surface when folks say you should write a memoir! I took that idea with me to the residency, but I just couldn’t hear the memoir in prose.”

During the residency, Seuss took a day trip to Cape Disappointment, where visitors can hike to a lighthouse on a cliff. The drive was beautiful, but when she arrived, Seuss felt exhausted and took a nap in the backseat of her rental car before simply returning to her cottage.

“On the drive back, I started narrating what had just happened,” Seuss said. “I had this line in my mind: I drove all the way to Cape Disappointment, but didn’t have the energy to get out of the car. It’s past tense, but it’s just-happened past tense. Then it came into my head, I’m kind of like Frank O’Hara.”

A prominent poet who died in 1966, O’Hara wrote kinetic, lively poems encompassing his present thoughts and actions, which he called “I do this, I do that” poems. “By the time I got back to my little cottage, I had these lines jotted down on a pad. I saw, this could be divided into 14 lines; this could be sonnet length. Then I thought, Wow, I could write a memoir in sonnets, and they could be composed under the influence of Frank O’Hara, who was so improvisational and spontaneous.”

The poems in frank are contemporary American sonnets, Seuss said, mostly unrhymed but with some vestige of rhyme and meter and a couplet at the end. She employs the tension between the high-end poetic form of the sonnet and her working-class language and storytelling. At the same time, she draws on parallels between the working-class mentality of being economical and the economy of language inherent in the sonnet’s 14-line limit. As one of the poems says, “The sonnet, like poverty, teaches you what you can do / without.”

The title references poet Frank O’Hara as well as serving as an homage to Amy Winehouse and her first studio album, Frank. It also refers to frankness itself, a quality omnipresent in the sonnets.

“I’m not writing like I’m a role model,” Seuss said. “I talk a lot about really tough mistakes in my life. I own my stuff. I see myself pretty clearly. I hope that people who read it feel that their lives, too, have value, and that they can be honest about who they are without shame.”

frank is a memoir, but not a traditional or linear one. “It tells the story of my life and my interior, but from shifting perspectives and with a range of approaches to language,” Seuss said.

One section is in the voice of the rural town where Seuss grew up; one is transcribed from text conversations with her son. Several sonnets involve a dear friend, pictured on the cover, who died of AIDS in the ‘80s. Her father, who died when she was 7, appears in some poems, and her mother, a single mother from then on, features prominently. One poem, on the back of a center fold out, is written by her son.

“I think of the book in a lot of ways as a collaboration,” Seuss said. “The book, especially its cover photo, has received attention in countries throughout the world. Maybe especially during the pandemic, readers responded to a collection that values a single life, but also the communities and individuals that contribute to any one life.”

The COVID-19 pandemic hit shortly after Seuss received the Guggenheim fellowship, scrapping her original plans for a fellowship project involving in-person research and interviews in her hometown of Niles. Post-frank, the roots of that project have grown into her forthcoming sixth collection of poetry.

“My intention was to be able to go back to my hometown for considerable periods of time and do research, specifically around a legal case that happened in the town involving abuse at a daycare center that really cut the town in half,” Seuss said. “The roots of that project are still there, but I ended up opening the book up to larger questions about what poetry can be up against trauma, loss and our current reality.”

The original project and title, “Little Epic,” ended up as a single, longer poem in the new collection. Seuss had been interested in developing a connection to Latin poet Catullus and his longest poem, Catullus 64, an epyllion or “little epic.”

“It tells the story of a wedding among the gods by reading the images on a coverlet that is given to the bride,” Seuss said. “I loved that idea and wanted to pull it forth into the story of my town.”

K Professor of Classics Elizabeth Manwell proved a “fantastic resource” for Seuss’ efforts to learn more about Catullus and classical poetry in the process of writing “Little Epic.”

The new book is tentatively titled Modern Poetry, “which is kind of an audacious claim in itself for a book of poems,” Seuss said. The title poem is about her first poetry class at K with her mentor, Conrad Hilberry, who sought her out after giving honorable mention to a poem she wrote in high school typing class, entered into a contest for Michigan poets by Seuss’ guidance counselor. Hilberry encouraged her writing, helped her do readings in classes and eventually supported her in finding the resources to attend K.

“That class at K in 1974 also opened the pathway to what the rest of the book is, in quotes ‘about,’ if books are about, and that is poetry itself,” Seuss said. “I lived through the ongoing pandemic, aware of so much loss and suffering, of course, and for me, experienced in isolation. I’m divorced; my son is in the upper peninsula. My mom and the rest of my family are all still in Niles. My dog was my soulmate and he died during the pandemic. Through most of the pandemic, I have been in my house, right across from campus, with nobody.

“I kept asking myself this question, what can poetry be now? What is poetry now? That really is the defining question of this next book. To explore that, I went back to the roots of my education in poetry.”

Seuss also forced herself to abandon the sonnet and take a different formal approach in Modern Poetry.

“You can only do one thing so long,” Seuss said. “I’m writing the longest poems I’ve ever written, in free verse. The new work takes a certain kind of authority, a willingness to take up that much space and to think through some things about poetry itself, and to weigh in. Authority has always been an issue for me as it is for so many people who come from the margins, whether it’s race, class, gender, orientation or identity. I think some of the best teachers come from marginal realities; eventually, you may come to that place where you realize that your perspective has value.”

“In my teaching at K, in my teaching since leaving K as well as in my writing, I have wanted to communicate the value of individual realities.”

From frank: sonnets, copyright © 2021 by Diane Seuss. Used by permission of Graywolf Press. 

There is a certain state of grace that is not loving. 

Music, Kurt says, is not a language, though people  

say it is. Even poetry, though built from words,  

is not a language, the words are the lacy gown,  

the something else is the bride who can’t be factored  

down even to her flesh and bones. I wore my own  

white dress, my hair a certain way, and looked into  

the mirror to get my smile right and then into my own  

eyes, it’s rare to really look, and saw I was making  

a fatal mistake, that’s the poem, but went through  

with it anyway, that’s the music, spent years in  

a graceful detachment, now silence is my lover, it does  

not embrace me when I wake, or it does, but its embrace  

is neutral, like God, or Switzerland since 1815. 

From the forthcoming Modern Poetry, Graywolf Press, 2024.
Originally published in Chicago Review’s Memoir Dossier, January 28, 2022.

Poetry 

There’s no sense  

in telling you my particular 

troubles. You have yours too.  

Is there value 

in comparing notes? 

Unlike Williams writing 

poems on prescription pads 

between patients, I have 

no prescriptions for you. 

I’m more interested  

in the particular 

nature and tenor of the energy  

of our trouble. Maybe 

that’s not enough for you. 

Sometimes I stick in 

some music. I’m capable 

of hallucination  

so there’s nothing wrong 

with my images.  

I’m not looking for wisdom. 

The wise don’t often write  

wisely, do they? The danger 

is in teetering into platitudes. 

Maybe Keats was preternaturally  

wise but what he gave us 

was beauty, whatever that is, 

and truth, synonymous, he wrote, 

with beauty, and not the same 

as wisdom. Maybe truth 

is the raw material of wisdom 

before it has been conformed 

by ego, fear, and time, 

like a shot 

of whiskey without 

embellishment, or truth lays bare 

the broken bone and wisdom  

scurries in, wanting 

to cover and justify it. It’s really  

kind of a nasty 

enterprise. Who wants anyone  

else’s hands on their pain? 

And I’d rather be arrested 

than advised, even on my 

taxes. So, what   

can poetry be now? Dangerous 

to approach such a question, 

and difficult to find the will to care. 

But we must not languish, soldiers, 

(according to the wise)  

we must go so far as to invent 

new mechanisms of caring. 

Maybe truth, yes, delivered 

with clarity. The tone is up 

to you. Truth, unabridged, 

has become in itself a strange 

and beautiful thing. 

Truth may involve a degree 

of seeing through time. 

Even developing a relationship 

with a thing before writing,  

whether a bird 

or an idea about birds, it doesn’t 

matter. But please not only 

a picture of a bird. Err  

on the side of humility, though 

humility can be declarative. 

It does not submit. It can even appear 

audacious. It takes mettle  

to propose truth 

and pretend it is generalizable. 

Truth should sting, in its way, 

like a major bee, not a sweat bee. 

It may target the reader like an arrow, 

or be swallowable, a watermelon 

seed we feared as children  

would take up residency in our guts 

and grow unabated and change us 

forever into something viny  

and prolific and terrible. 

As for beauty, a problematic word, 

one to be side-eyed lest it turn you 

to stone or salt, 

it is not something to work on 

but a biproduct, at times,  

of the process of our making.  

Beauty comes or it doesn’t, as do  

its equally compelling counterparts, 

inelegance and vileness. 

This we learned from Baudelaire, 

Flaubert, Rimbaud, Genet, male writers 

of the lavishly grotesque. 

You’ve seen those living rooms, 

the red velvet walls and lampshades 

fringed gold, cat hair thick 

on the couches, 

and you have been weirdly 

compelled, even cushioned,  

by them. Either way, 

please don’t tell me flowers 

are beautiful and blood clots 

are ugly. These things I know, 

or I know this is how  

flowers and blood clots 

are assessed by those content 

with stale orthodoxies. 

Maybe there is such a thing 

as the beauty of drawing near. 

Near, nearer, all the way 

to the bedside of the dying 

world. To sit in witness, 

without platitudes, no matter 

the distortions of the death throes, 

no matter the awful music  

of the rattle. Close, closer,  

to that sheeted edge. 

From this vantage point 

poetry can still be beautiful. 

It can even be useful, though 

never wise.