With poems appearing in an array of literary magazines and several chapbooks already under his belt, publication is nothing new to Jacob Oet ’16. However, news of a recent award will put his verse in front of a much wider readership.
Oet’s poetry collection, With Porcupine, won Arcadia Magazine’s 2015 Ruby Irene Poetry Chapbook Contest. A chapbook is a small poetry collection, usually no more than 40 pages, that is typically saddle-stitched like a pamphlet. The award comes with a $1,000 prize as well as publication and distribution to the quarterly magazine’s subscribers.
There’s an imaginative playfulness to With Porcupine, which involves the speaker of the poems, presumably Oet himself, navigating through life with a porcupine companion. Astute readers may recognize the influence of John Berryman’s Dream Songs in Oet’s alter-ego creation.
“The porcupine is partly an alter-ego, an eternal child who crosses the desire to be loved with the fear of hurting others," explains Oet, a poetry and translation major from Solon, Ohio. "He’s also something very external, unknowable. All of life comes through him, and he always knows more than he says. So the collection’s both an introspection of the relationship between aspects of self and an exploration of the complex uncertainty of life.”
Oet began working on these poems during a workshop with Professor of English Literature Betsy Bolton. The collection was further developed and refined in a class with Alexander Griswold Cummins Professor of English Literature Nathalie Anderson. “The class’s final project inspired me to turn the hundreds of porcupine poems I was sitting on into something tangible and sure,” he says. “I worked with Professor Anderson a lot on these poems outside of class as well.”
Oet also gives credit to various mentors, including Daisy Fried ‘89, who he worked with in extracurricular workshops. “I could not have assembled With Porcupine without my fantastic mentors.”
The collection has received advanced praise from esteemed poet Camille Dungy and television writer Eric Kaplan. “Oet’s poems are clear, memorable, frightening, funny and shed light on a lot of things: pain, intimacy, the texture of consciousness,” says Kaplan, who has worked on such shows as Futurama, The Big Bang Theory, and Malcolm in the Middle.
Oet, who began seriously writing poetry during his sophomore year of high school, sees the craft as a lifetime pursuit. While he hopes to attend a Master of Fine Arts program and one day teach creative writing at the college level, he knows regardless: “I am always going to write poetry.”
And with accolades such as the Ruby Irene Poetry Chapbook Contest, he is sure to always have an audience for his work.
Read two poems from With Porcupine:
A porcupine and I take a bath.
He says, snout sticking out
of the foam bubbles like a pinecone
half buried in snow, that I
should look for a boy without a mother,
and write poems to him
about the trace of a mother’s hand
on the wind-swept hair,
about the strength of a mother’s voice
like a bullet through glass.
“Yes,” said the porcupine.
“Write about the speed of a mother’s voice,
that sweeps clean through the window
without breaking it.”
And I ran the porcupine like soap
up my legs and my shoulders,
and the skin was weeping.
From the water stemmed a flower,
from the drain, whose years-later ring
would still have the red stain.
Death is Boring
“It’s a magical world, Hobbes, ol’ buddy… Let’s go exploring!” —Bill Watterson
The porcupine and I walk out
during the funeral. A ghost tags behind,
but disappears when we cross
the street. Years pass, we become
traveling magicians. We astound
with feats of clairvoyance:
“Calvin hurries his mom back
to the white cot, lips stained from her
drink at the water fountain,”
intones the porcupine. And I add:
“She shivers and burps. Calvin wraps
his tiger fur coat on her. He leaves.”
We pull clean diapers out of our hats.
We walk backwards. I tell every child:
“Look at the dark changing clouds
that you are.” And when we are
alone, the porcupine sings
walk one way, and never come back.