I recommend this crystalline essay in the latest issue of the New England Review by my Oberlin classmate Lia Purpura:
Lia’s ability to find surprising connections, to blend intellect and imagination, and to draw her art into an engagement with the world, strike me as qualities Oberlin would have nurtured in her. She observes locally and thinks globally. She appreciates the magnificence of the minute. In her first book of poetry, The Brighter the Veil, there are poems about mosquitos, pennies, buttons. In my favorite, “Buttons,” she writes: “At night/each goes back/through its own darkness./Star after star is led out.” When I first read the poem in 1996, I was in the midst of stay-at-home fatherhood, preoccupied with small, domestic things that in Lia’s poems became large and luminous. In her essay, Lia writes that when she observes people “it’s exactly the boundedness of their lives, the precise sizing down that moves me.” I think of those lightly personified buttons. That was twenty years ago. What tiny marvels was she contemplating at Oberlin thirty years ago? I found several of Lia’s poems in a sepia-spined copy of The Plum Creek Review, Oberlin’s student literary journal, from Spring 1985. Already, at 20 or 21, she was writing poems that make you hold your breath and release it with an ah at the end. In one poem, “Finding Out a House,” she pauses to imagine “somewhere in the attic/a seed between floorboards.” There it is, the tiny detail that so many others would miss.
I didn’t really know Lia at Oberlin. She was an English major, which placed her at a level of sophistication far beyond my reach, then or now. (It amazes me that I have friends who are actual English professors.) She was also a creative writing major, and creative writing was the course in which I received my lowest grade at Oberlin. Diane Vreuls actually used the word “trash” about some of my writing. She was right. I was a good writer who needed to find the right things to write about. Lia was a fantastic writer whose eye and ear already seemed perfectly attuned. It astonishes me that, thirty years later, Lia and I have both appeared in the New England Review.