I sit on the counter in room 312 of Erindale Hall. On Thursday nights, the room fills with poets from different backgrounds. We lounge on the countertops, lean against the windows, and listen to each other’s poems as the sun goes down. Soon, the only light comes from an old table lamp. Brent Wood, an English professor at UTM who specializes in poetry, holds a poetry circle every Thursday night. Wood opens the floor to students who share a mutual love for the art.
I’ve been attending poetry club since I was in my second year. Now, I’m in my fourth year. Same goes for Nancie Jona, a fourth-year English and sociology student. “Poetry circle has broadened my emotional capacity, because for me, unlocking my emotions is hard. I don’t think people realize how important poetry is. It can invoke so much emotion in you through just a few words,” Jona says.
“Poetry circle is a safe space,” she continues. “You’re thrown into a place where you can tap into what you need to tap into. Whether it be happiness or joy or love or anger or whatever it is. At a place like UTM, where you don’t have a lot of safe places, poetry circle is a good one to have.”
Valentina Pastorello, a second-year English student, is a recent addition to the circle. “I feel like I’m part of a family, and I look forward to Thursday nights every single week.”
Wood creates a welcoming environment for budding poets to express themselves without boundaries. No matter how taboo the topics may seem, there is never judgment in the room. This lack of judgment has made it easy for the poets to support each other. In a lot of cases, one person will read a painful poem and then next Thursday when we meet, a fellow poet has written a reply.
Poetry circle not only has a positive effect on the students, but also on Wood. Sitting cross-legged on the counter with his blue acoustic guitar in his lap, he says, “Sometimes people bring out painful poems. And somehow, people bringing out all of their pain makes me feel much more optimistic about the future, because I’m so pleased to see everybody supporting each other.”
“Poetry circle is the antidote to my teaching week, where everything’s critical and you’re being evaluated. But this is the exact opposite,” Wood continues. “We can all continue to function in our school week because we have an antidote to that stress. We all come out with stuff about ourselves and we’re not being evaluated—we’re being supported, and that’s a good vibe.”
Poetry is not the only art form welcomed in the poetry circle. Wood always has his guitar with him. And there are always a few talented singers in the room to accompany him on a whim. At the last poetry circle of the year, we bid farewell to 2016 with Leonard Cohen’s “Hallelujah.” Thursday night is never adjourned unless Cohen’s words have made an appearance.
The 2015/2016 poetry circle crafted a collection of poems in a makeshift book. Each person submitted three of their best poems. We called the collection “Thursday Nights” and dedicated it to Wood, “who’s always given us the space to express ourselves.”