SU Professor Sharon Cumberland Publishes Poem Collection

The English department at Seattle University, which prepares and encourages students to publish their written works, recently had a faculty member that did just that. Dr. Sharon Cumberland, professor and former director of the creative writing program, just released “Strange with Age,” a book of narrative and lyric poems.

JESSICA DOMINGO • THE SPECTATOR
JESSICA DOMINGO • THE SPECTATOR

With the support of her friends, family, and fellow faculty members Professor Cumberland released her book, “Strange with Age.”

The collection’s launch was celebrated in the Casey commons, with professors, students and other local artists gathered for the event. Cumberland delivered some of her poems aloud and explained the context and background behind.

“I appreciated the chance to see Cumberland’s poetry ‘come to life’, especially after taking one of her classes,” said Leah Remsen, junior creative writing major

“Strange with Age” engages with themes of aging, loss and the passage of time, presented through a variety of poetic forms. It takes readers across several settings, from autobiographical travels to Rome and Glasgow to nursing homes and the author’s imagined landscapes. Just as varied are the subject matter and events that are referenced, from the civil rights movement of the mid-20th century, to more recent affairs like the inauguration of President Obama and the war in the Middle East.

One of Cumberland’s main inspirations was observing her 95-year-old father, who is the subject of the book’s central sonnet cycle. Cumberland’s father is also the namesake of the collection; after hearing him tell a story of being visited by a guardian angel, Cumberland wrote in a journal “my father has grown strange with age.” Another important influence that shaped content of the book was Cumberland’s time with the Greenwood Poets, a writing group she formed in 2005 at the Greenwood Senior Center. It began as a small, experimental project but over time became Cumberland’s main workspace and source of feedback.

“I write drafts of my poems to my poetry group at the Greenwood Senior Center,” Cumberland said. “They critique them, which lets me know if the poem is finished.”

JESSICA DOMINGO • THE SPECTATOR
JESSICA DOMINGO • THE SPECTATOR

Professor Cumberland’s passion for poetry was portrayed during her book launch.

Though early in its publication run, “Strange with Age” has already received glowing support from important figures in the literary world. Sandra Cisneros, the award-winning author of “The House on Mango Street,” described Cumberland’s poems as having a clarity “truer than x-ray or photo”. The collection has also been praised by Kathleen Flenniken and Tod Marshall, the former and current poet laureates for the state of Washington. Cumberland’s works have often been characterized by the accessibility of her voice and the relevance they have to audiences of all ages.

“I loved hearing Dr. Cumberland’s poetry, she uses such beautiful imagery,” said Mia Smith, junior creative writing major and another one of Cumberland’s students

This publication is the latest entry in Cumberland’s long and decorated career of writing poems. She has twice been awarded the Pacific Northwest Writer’s Association Zola Award for Poetry and has also received the Sue Saniel Elkind Award and nominations for multiple Pushcart Prizes. Before “Strange with Age,” she released “Peculiar Honors” in 2012, which was preceded by three poetry chapbooks. Cumberland has also been featured in a number of literary magazines and journals, which she claims are essential to the success of aspiring writers. She emphasized that the process for publishing poems is very different from any other form of literature and that different steps are required to become successful.

“It’s very important to publish as many poems as you can in journals and magazines so that book publishers can see that your work has been accepted by others,” Cumberland said. “You have to know as a publisher that something will work before taking it on.”

Cumberland noted that the mark of a poet’s success can often be seen in the acknowledgements in their works, in other words the list places their poems were published before being collected. A strong record with multiple publications signals to readers and potential partners that an author is worth their time, which is especially important to those just starting out. Cumberland also pointed to acknowledgements as a good source of inspiration when deciding what journals and magazines to send one’s work to.

“Look at the poets you like and check their acknowledgements page,” Cumberland said.

“Strange with Age” will be sold on amazon.com and in local bookstores, but the most direct method of purchase is through Cumberland herself. Her office can be found in the English department on the fifth floor of the Casey building.

Carlos may be reached at
ccervantes@su-spectator.com

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