What is poetry, if not chemistry?
When a neuroscience professor at Oberlin College opened his course with the poem, "The brain is wider than the sky," by Emily Dickinson, Cori had a reaction.
“I started to see the links between neuroscience and poetry,” says the Rochester native. “And how the mind works with what's going on around us.”
After Cori graduated from Oberlin in 2004, she went on to Cornell University, where she completed her MFA in Poetry in early 2008. She stayed on at Cornell for two more years to teach undergraduate writing.
While there, Cori proposed a topic inspired by her interest in the intersection between art and science. She call it Literature in the Lab.
“You can pitch your own original section of a writing seminar, and they accepted it,” she says.
“It came about because of the types of students I was getting in my classes. People in other fields—in research and science—also need to be able to communicate successfully to others. I wanted it to be useful to them.”
When Cori later joined SUNY Geneseo's English department as Visiting Assistant Professor, she brought the concept with her. And the subject has blossomed.
“I'm pitching next year for it to become a 200- or 300-level Medical Humanities course,” she says. “I'm working to adapt it into a full-blown, cross-disciplinary course between biology and literature.”
The campus isn't the only place where Cori sees the emergence of new ways to view poetry. Since returning to the Rochester area, she's noticed glimmers of a poetry scene full of fresh voices—and audiences.
“It's growing,” she says. “I'm seeing smaller gatherings of different types of people. Places that are less expected environments for poetry readings, like a loft or a backyard. That makes it more accessible to a different kind of audience in Rochester.”
In fact, she'll be reading at one of those spots this Saturday.
As a poet, Cori tends to work in batches.
“I did a big batch in January, and I just wrote my first piece since then,” she says.
She also likes to take her time.
“I tend to write a trillion drafts,” she says, meaning roughly 20. “There's an initial burst, and then I return to it. It could be something I jot down someplace.”
And she saves everything.
“I'm such a slow writer, that nothing ever really gets scrapped. I never throw anything away.”
Her poems are inspired by imagery that comes up in the midst of research and random finds. “Things that happen in the moment,” she says.
“Image is how I find my way in,” she adds. “I never start a poem unless I have a first image that I want to write about, and that gets me excited.”
And her poetry reciprocates, with richly visual language. It's a written equivalent to tapestries, anatomical renderings, and haunted hay rides.
Expect that vivid adventure when you pick up her first book, whose working title is This Coalition of Bones, coming in Winter 2014 from Kore Press. It's divided into sections, each with a loose theme. Memory. Suburbia. And, of course, science.
“I'm obsessed with the beautiful freak,” Cori says. “Those elements of the universe that aren't often seen as beautiful.”
But when the right poet is watching, they are.
* * *
If you're in the Rochester, N.Y., area, you can hear Cori read in person at 7 p.m. Saturday, May 11, at The Yards, 50 Public Market. She and two other poets will share their work as part of the Deep Fried Poetry Series, presented by The Bakery, an online literary magazine. Doors open at 6:30 p.m. Admission is free.
* * *
Here's a taste of Cori's work, originally published in Blackbird journal in 2010.
Instructions for Dematerializing
for the disinterment of Harry Houdini
Feet Locked in Stocks
but your departed
wife has been cautiously levitating
nested escapeboxes out
from each other, one at a time: sleight of
: : :
You became the dreamt
trapeze husband, the properly applied
force of a shoestring. O handcuffed
secret, our unrevealer, how many locks
you’ve left for us to pop
open to find
Suspended in Midair from Ankles
the mind refuses to exhume
your illusion, containers of glass-
and-steel: the body lifted
right out of the body; earth
left open as an eye
the coffin is pulled
: : :
Tell us—will your bones
be laced, lined
with arsenic and the old
deep-believings of séanced
revenge? will we uncover fistfuls
of sleeping-dirt, the incessant
chill of wanting left
within answers within
Lowered into Tank Overflowing
with water your wife wrote
letters, dissolved: Dear
Ehrich, Dear Prince of Air,
Master of Cards, Dear Manacled
: undid each one until dis-
apparition, until she reached
right through the din of tricks,
of history, of death, into dear de-
materialized, dear my lovely