The Oberlin Review
<< Front page Arts October 14, 2005

Bakkens come better in twos
Christopher Bakken

Within the walls of the colorful and brightly lit FAVA Gallery, the second installment of the Main Street Reading Series took place on Oct. 9. The reading featured the dynamic married couple of poet Christopher Bakken and short-fiction writer Kerry Neville Bakken who teach at Allegheny College in Pennsylvania.

With a strong, confident presence and a streak of humor, Christopher Bakken began by reading his book of poems, After Greece, which won the T.S. Eliot Prize for Poetry in 2001.

The collection of poems was inspired by Bakken’s two-year stay in Greece, where he “became utterly Hellenized” and obsessed with Greek culture.

Intertwining Greek mythology and his own traveling experiences into his writing, Bakken’s Grecian poems explore subjects ranging from romance to genocide and anti-Semitism. As he explained to the audience in a serious moment of his reading, “few countries have endured as much violence as Greece.”

After reading five poems from After Greece, Bakken continued with poems “from the pastoral phase of [his] poetry.”

The audience, composed almost entirely of students, reacted strongly to his poem “Days of 1987,” which describes a rural college town similar to Oberlin.

“We believed in garbage and guitar / we cried a little every day to please ourselves,” Bakken read. “It was always about to snow or snowing, but we still fell in love at least once a week.”

Bakken wrapped up with “Ohio Elegy,” a poem he wrote a year after September 11. The poem describes Cleveland, the suburbs and the meat packing plants of Ohio, while simultaneously commenting on America’s choice to go to war in reaction to terrorism.

Equally engaging and funny, the eight-months pregnant Kerry Neville Bakken followed her husband’s poetry with a short story from her soon-to-be-published book, tentatively titled Necessary Lies. The book, which will include eight short stories, recently won the Chandra Prize for Short Fiction.

Her story, which captivated the attention of everyone in the room, explored the relationship between two sisters and their eccentric mother, drawing primarily from Bakken’s own life experience. Her words captured the moments in life that can be perceived as both sad and ironically and cynically funny.

For instance, Bakken wrote about how her sister used to hide her vodka bottle between her Garfield and Cabbage Patch Kid dolls, and how her mother had the habit of leaving articles about depression from Psychology Today next to her cereal box in the morning, simply because she tended to keep quiet. Bakken read in an intimate manner, the voices of the characters sounding familiar with her throat.

In addition to teaching and writing, Bakken also runs an environmental literary journal called French Creek: The Journal of Undergraduate Environmental Writing and Art.

She encouraged Oberlin students to submit any environmental writing to

For rules regarding submissions, visit

For creative writing majors, she offers the advice of “reading as much as possible, so you gain a sense of what you like and from there develop your own style.”

The next Main Street Reading Series will take place on Sunday, Nov. 13 and will feature Latino poet and playwright Rane Arroyo, and Aimee Nezhukumatathil, a poet and essayist of Filipino and Indian descent.


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