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Student Poets Shine at St. John's

Posted by Brianne Leith on August 12, 2014

Click for Alexandra Wick's (A15)Alexandra Welm’s (A14), or Joshua Sturgill’s (SF17) poems. 

Phenomenal Poem


student_poets1.jpgPoems were popping up everywhere on the Annapolis campus on April 24 – National Poem in Your Pocket Day. Since 1996, April has been National Poetry Month, started by the Academy of American Poets to celebrate poetry. In 2008, the Academy made New York City’s Poem in Your Pocket Day a national event; several students read about it in the Gadfly. There were poems taped on walls and placed on tables in the Mellon fishbowl. Chinese poems had accompanying English translations. A Chilean poem was posted on astudent’s Facebook wall. Students pulled iPhones from their pockets to read poems aloud.

In a Mellon science lab, a poem moved several students to tears – and joy. Tutor Patricia Locke had previously agreed that the student who came up with a name that everyone agreed to adopt for the “Faraday Machine” would be exempt from the end-of-the-year paper. Alexandra Wick (A15) thought of a name that was also a poem: “I didn’t have any confidence that I could win it with a name alone, so I decided to write a poem and appeal to the end-of-the-year nostalgia,” says Wick. When she learned that it was also Poem in Your Pocket Day, she found it a perfect convergence of forces.

It was not the first time Wick had read a poem in lab class. “I really like the junior year because of the holistic experience of math, lab, and seminar. Ms. Locke has prepped us to see lab this way; she has brought in poems about the experience of bursting into tears and what kind of phenomena it is, or a video of birds flying in what looks like magnetic lines of force. So we’ve been primed by her to see science as poetry, and poetry as science; I like that transitive property of phenomena.”

When it was Wick’s turn, she read her original two-page poem, “Revolution within an Electric Embrace”… “I’ve been thinking about all these things throughout the year, and I put them into rhyming couplet form.” In the machine, she sees the force that she learned about from Newton:

“If attractive force spins the planets above,
Why not be simple and just call it love?
Then force is love and love is God,
And the world’s a stage on which we’ve all starred.”

And the motion of the machine reminds her of Phèdre’s struggle:

“This embrace, though stable, can never be at rest–
The wire cannot linger and put its head on electric’s chest.
Here the wire reminds me of Phèdre herself, longing to clutch.
Her passion hovers about Hippolyte but never allowed to touch.”

By the end of the reading, everyone agreed they had a winner. Locke modified the assignment and gave students the option of writing a poem instead of the paper. Whether handwritten on paper or read from an iPhone, Locke says, “the whole idea is to encourage people to start reading poems and realize that they do have poems in their pockets at all times, and have it be more part of their daily life. I like poetry because it seems to be the most intensified language we have. It has meaning on multiple levels that act with each other and it really is an entity itself. It’s not just pointing to something else; it is its own being.” 

-Eunji Kim (A15)


Read more in the summer 2014 issue of The College magazine.

Revolution within an Electric Embrace

By Alexandra Wick (A15)

Now, I know what you’re thinking…
It’s a little poetic and may be too long for the plaque,
But hear me out and don’t yet attack.
Adam Smith tells me in exercising my voice,
I can persuade you this is the very best choice.
I stride beyond the animals and see your will.
Knowing what you want makes me rational still.
We want to feel united after studying Maxwell’s laws.
Lucky for you, I here supply the cause.
Vote for my name so I don’t have to write this essay.
And adopt it yourselves for the import the words convey.
REVOLUTION: for the ballet that’s inspired within the wire
About a fixed north, the pole which resists its desire.
But let’s not stop there! Spinning doesn’t just happen between our hands.
It’s the action that keeps the planets in command.
To everything – turn, turn, turn:
From the lab equipment to the sun which burns.
Let us not forget as we look at things near
That there’s similar action everywhere.
I use “REVOLUTION” not just to say that the proximate is grand
But that the grand is proximate –that is, at hand.
ELECTRIC: I chose to give due credit to the source,
For there are no material objects pushing the wire through its course.
This is a first example of electricity causing motion.
Before this, our magnetic movement caused the commotion.
The wire begins its unbroken circle once it is plugged in.
Negative and positive separate the “going towards” from the “has been.”
I include it also as a warning against shock injury.
Sometimes we are too eager to grasp our science physically.
EMBRACE: I chose because of the Phedre,
Aenone, in the sea’s embrace, finds an eternal bed.
She sought comfort in death after her disgrace
But her arms are too small to also surround the sea’s space.
The embrace of the wire is also from the presence of the larger:
The wire held by electric field and magnet erect as never-touched harbor.

This embrace, though stable, can never be at rest –
The wire cannot linger and put its head on electric’s chest.
Here the wire reminds me of Phedre herself, longing to clutch.
Her passion hovers about Hippolyte but never allowed to touch.
Lighted like this, our wire is in a chase with no pursuant.
By its singular desire is its path illumined.
The wire presses onward with no fear of a fall.
Better to chase and not be caught than to never chase at all.
There are echoes of these loves and chases all throughout nature.
Every attraction acting as global imitator.
If attractive force spins the planets above,
Why not be simple and just call it love?
Then force is love and love is God,
And the world’s a stage on which we’ve all starred.
I’m making this point and calling everything the same
Because spinning cranks and clunking magnets is much more than a game.
I’ve come in here thrice weekly, opening my eyes to the world
And discovered with you guys what I cannot confirm.
There are some things I know, and this first is certain.
We needed each other to help carry the wondering burden.
It’s hard to come in here every day and say: “I might be wrong.”
But leaning on you all has made me strong.
With a week and a day left in this really hard junior year
I want to honor what we’ve done with this name souvenir.
ABC Machine and Faraday Motor get the job done,
But don’t we want something now to celebrate how far we’ve come?
Ms. Locke, can we all get out of this paper?
Up to this point, we’ve shared in all our labor.
We’ve stretched our brains around phenomena and equations
And sat lovingly around to field one another’s vexations.
If we haven’t done quite enough, by all means, assign it,
And I don’t think you’d be ashamed of our ideas within it.
But if you grant us mercy, and take away the essay,
We can all stand united in one final victory.
By observing the world’s changes, our souls have also changed.
Leaving this class will leave me pained,
So let’s commemorate this group in the best way possible.
Use my name and for us all remove this paper obstacle.
Not just potential, our learning together has been kinetic.
Embracing wonder with vigor electric.

Alexandra Welm’s (A14) first publication, My Eden Home (Alondra Press, 2013), is a collection of poems accompanied by her illustrations, completed when she was 19 years old. Named for a poem by the same title, her book is available at

Joshua Sturgill’s (SF17) three-part poem called “The Narrow Year” was selected as the winner for St. John’s at Muse Times Two, a poetry series in Santa Fe sponsored by the non-profit organization Lore of the Land. The following is the complete poem:



The Narrow Year

By Joshua Sturgill (SF17)



Through the window of a Church
I saw a sparrow killed. The Crow
standing on the sparrow’s neck struck
The heart and broke
The wing, terror broke the Great
and Holy Wednesday vigil. Casually
the Crow, over his black
sparrow’s-length knife, saw
the winter grass, cars
cracks along the asphalt. I own 
what I see, carried beyond
my window: my Sparrow. my Crow. The world
latently angry, violent like an ocean
under winter ice. Still
I see, I own.

There will be Unction spilled
over every broken thing.  



The artist bends. His back
an aching swan’s neck
of attentive vertebrae.
Under a haze of linseed he tests the sky
breaking with a fine-wired brush
open planes of plaster, or                   
sanded birch sealed
by marble-mixed rabbit skin        
Chrome and Cadmium
ambered egg and wine.   



Every other world is anxiously empty, expecting 
this vermilion line to frame the jaw
of a Seraph:

                           An Icon of Fire

reflected from the Unseen
Uncreated God



I drank an ode
this morning: sunlight
standing in a cup of tea. I saw the leaves
unfold a solemn reflection
of life, lending the water
green memory. Imperceptibly (except
by intuition) the cup pulses, rings, to my pulse
and I hold myself uncoiling
from a point of concentrated hope – there!
That hint of rainbowrising
in an angle of the steam