Senior Yasotha Sriharan
Earns MHC's Slot
at 75th Annual Glascock
Poetry Contest

Yasotha Sriharan '98, MHC's representative in the Glascock poetry contest, often takes a historical or imaginary character and gives him or her a voice. This poem, "Rumpelstiltskin Speaks," was submitted for the Glascock, but is not among the works she will read in the competition.


Rumpelstiltskin Speaks

I knew you before the rooms of straw
when Fermat wouldn't let you sleep or wake,
when knight and queen emerged from scented soap
only to be pitted against each other
on a checkered board. Late into the night
the village drunk who was also your father
went creeping about the house whispering
UFOs, alien probes and sadness,
till you silenced him with sleep.
The old familiar feelings of solving
for x are returning. They must be.
Forget about the royal family
and the night your husband dropped rubies
onto your lap, which you promptly gathered
and flung into a tub of water
screaming, 'Eureka, Eureka!'
To hell with magic and blast the riddles.
They disappear into a chain of silver
that you gave away weeping and the mother
you lost once and then again. Remember
the summer you puzzled over Frege
and the rustle of your notebook paper
that curled itself about your ear and whispered:
Rumpelstiltskin's my name, my name, my name?

Yasotha Sriharan '98, Mount Holyoke's representative at the prestigious Glascock Poetry Contest, has been writing poetry "seriously" for only two years. "But in a sense, I've been a poet for as long as I can remember," she says. Her family lived on Papua New Guinea for six years, and images from her childhood there "were filed away in my memory," Sriharan says. "When I took a poetry course from Robert Shaw last year, I learned to translate the memories into poetic form."

"Being in the company of other poets [in class] and reading the work of great poets and using them as a model brought out these ideas," she explains. Sriharan was particularly influenced by W. H. Auden, Robert Frost, Elizabeth Bishop, and W. B. Yeats.

A poem's form, as well as its content, matters to Sriharan. She has written dramatic monologues, couplets, and sonnets, but finds the three-line stanza best suited to "the uneasiness of the atmosphere" in her New Guinea poems. One, "The Mosa Clinic," recounts a tragic incident when a factory owner was electrocuted and died on the operating table. Townspeople stared as the man's life ebbed away.

Although not consciously a poet then, Sriharan remembers keeping a journal of impressions while her family lived in Sri Lanka. Her detailed recall of "a dark train station, in the rain, with porters, and milk cartons stacked up in crates" shows a nascent poet's observational skill. Her love for language goes back even farther. As part of an annual Hindu religious festival, Sriharan traced the letters of the Tamil alphabet in the sand outside her home. She still likes being physically close to her writing, and writes with pencil on paper "to actually touch the poetry on the page."

The Glascock, now in its seventy-fifth year, was the biggest poetry contest the English and philosophy double major ever entered. After it's over, Sriharan will continue working on her thesis, a group of original poems she hopes to publish some day. Sriharan's thesis adviser, English Professor Robert Shaw, calls her "one of the most interesting and most dedicated student poets I've taught here in recent years," and adds, "She communicates the otherness of that distant place [New Guinea] very vividly, as well as a sense of the oneness of human experience wherever life may be lived."

Sriharan says Joseph Brodsky's statement that "we should internalize poetry" pleases her. "It's hard to separate the poem from the poet," she says. "Poetry is simply an extension of ourselves."