Poet Julia Bouwsma ’02 Returns for Reading, Student Poetry Contest

Julia Bouwsma ’02

“Julia writes to shock.”

This was the first line of a letter of recommendation for Julia Bouwsma ’02 that Alexander Griswold Cummins Professor of English Literature Nathalie Anderson wrote to support Bouwsma’s application to an MFA program following her graduation from Swarthmore. 

Last week, introducing her former student, who was this year’s judge of the Lois Morrell and John Russell Hayes Poetry Contest at Swarthmore, Anderson used these words again. Sixteen years later, Bouwsma still writes to shock.

Bouwsma, who lives off the grid in the mountains of western Maine, is a poet, farmer, freelance editor, critic, and small-town librarian. Before announcing the winners of the poetry competitions, she gave a reading of her own poems. She began with three poems from Work by Bloodlight, much of which reflected her connection to her land in Maine and referenced hauling grain, lifting sap buckets, and baling hay. 

Bouwsma also gave a preview of MIDDEN, forthcoming from Fordham later this year. This project explores the forced eviction by Maine of an interracial community on Malaga Island in 1942. Forty-five people were forced from their homes, some were committed to a eugenics center, and the town cemetery was dug up and reburied. From this work, Bouwsma chose to share “Interview with the Dead” and “Each morning drowns in open air,” poems which include such riveting descriptions as “carrying our hearts in our fists” and “fish scales falling from your eyes.”

Then, Bouwsma read two poems written in the past year that are not part of any collection. “Blood and Soil” reflects on the violent white supremacist rally at Charlottesville last summer. In “I’m okay but the country is not,” Bouwsma recalls her grandmother, who said the titular phrase before she passed away in late 2016.

“Easy is not the way our bodies were taught to go,” writes Bouwsma, reflecting on her grandmother’s story — from her evasion of being sent to a concentration camp to her horror at the current state of American politics.

Following her reading, Bouwsma announced the winners of the two contests. The John Russell Hayes Awards were presented to Ozsu Risvanoglu '20, of Istanbul, Turkey, (third place) for translations from Turkish of Turgut Uyar’s The Night of Deers and Asylum; Paul Buchanan '21, of Tyrone, Ga. (second place) for little deaths; and Moses Rubin '19, an English literature major from New York, N.Y. (also second place) for The Hafele-Keating Experiment. The first-place award — the Lois Morrell Award — was presented to Yi Wei ’21, of West Windsor, N.J., for Shaving.