MIT staffer finds everyday life lyrical; to read poems Nov. 30


This is one in an occasional series of articles on MIT staff members who are also artists.

"If you include penguins and camels in your poems, people are more likely to accept whatever point it is you are trying to make."

That's how Tina Brown Celona justifies what she calls the alarming frequency with which cute animals turn up in her poems. "Animals disarm the reader," says the poet, an administrative assistant in MIT's Hayden Library, who admitted that winning over an audience is important to her.

An MIT audience will get the chance to weigh in today when Celona reads her poems in an Artists Behind the Desk literary event at noon in Killian Hall.

Whether psychological, pensive, prosaic or even agricultural, Celona's poems tend to be self-referential. "Lately, they've been clever and philosophical, and intensely personal," she says. In fact, she says friends have told her they live in fear of being in her poems.

Her personal observations spring from the events of her life -- from working on an organic farm in East Hampton, N.Y., to her current job at the library. "I take what's around me and use it," she says.

"Celona's poems often perform a kind of lyric jujitsu, faking us out of banality," Maureen N. McLane wrote in the Boston Globe in 2003. "Celona has a mind like a loosely coiled, latently dangerous whip; her sensibility oscillates between melancholia and a feline wittiness."

Feeling isolated and too far removed from other writers, Celona moved to Boston from East Hampton in 2004 and has worked at MIT's Hayden Library's Administrative Services Department since January. Though she works a full 35-hour week, Celona still finds time to read and write. City life hasn't proven too distracting for Celona, who composes her prose poetry on a computer in her Somerville apartment.

"When I'm writing well, I can write for four or five hours at a time," she says.

Reading is also important for her writing, says Celona, citing authors such as Albert Camus, George Orwell, Pablo Neruda and Gertrude Stein as role models and inspirations.

Celona's collection of poems titled, "The Real Moon of Poetry and Other Poems," (Fence Books) won the 2002 Alberta Prize, given for a first or second book of poetry by a woman writing in English. She has since had poems published in The Canary, La Petite Zine, Radical Society, Shampoo, Puppyflowers, Double Room, Monsieur Toussaint Louverture, Born Magazine, and Boog City, Epoch, and Explosive.

She is currently working on a manuscript tentatively titled, "Other Answer."

Also reading at today's Artists Behind the Desk event is novelist and web columnist Edmund Carlevale, a computer support assistant in nuclear science and engineering.

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The Grey Penguin Poems
By Tina Brown Celona

1.

The grey penguin
Looks for his wife.
He is alone on the ice
And he is lonely for his wife.

He is lonely
for his wife
so he dives.

A leopard seal tries to eat him
But the grey penguin
Is too fast.
He knows he must survive
To rejoin his wife.

So he sits on the ice.

2.

The grey penguin
Is in my hair. The grey penguin
Is in my wife's hair.

The grey penguin
Is a blonde.

I fought with myself
To close my eyes.

Szzz! said the lightning.

I give you thirty seconds
To locate
The grey penguin.

A version of this article appeared in MIT Tech Talk on November 30, 2005 (download PDF).


Topics: Literature, languages and writing, Arts, Staff

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