Poet Frank Ormsby reads excerpts from “Goat’s Milk”

Frank Ormsby read aloud a series of poem inspired by his life in Northern Ireland, his Catholicism and his illnesses on Wednesday afternoon.

Award-winning Northern Irish poet Frank Ormsby presented poems from his new collection titled “Goat’s Milk: New and Selected Poems” on Oct. 5 in the Heineman Ecumenical Center.

For over 20 years, Ormsby has worked as an editor for “The Honest Ulsterman,” a Northern Ireland literary magazine, as well as an editor for multiple anthologies. He was also an English professor at the Royal Belfast Academical Institution.

He introduced each poem, or series of poems, with a small preface about the work, which fostered a personal and comforting atmosphere.

Senior Hadley Cook said, “He spoke beautifully. … The way he delivered the poems was great.”

Ormsby began by reading a series of poems which revolved around nature, specifically the lush farm landscapes of rural Northern Ireland where he grew up.

His poem “Forty Shades of Green” described the different shades of green and how there is no longer one singular word to describe the color. It was inspired by the 1959 Johnny Cash song of the same name. He said the poem was meant to be a metaphor for the newly commercialized Northern Ireland.

His next series related to his Catholicism, and included poems such as “Altar Boy” and “The Confession Box.”

Other poems such as “The Gate” and “The Photograph” followed the same pattern.

Ormsby also included his family in many of his poems, including a somber elegy for his mother commending her hard work on a farm. He said his mother was the reason he attended school.

He also read a few elegies he wrote for his late father, who died when he was young. “My Father’s Funeral” was a tragic piece about laying his father to rest.

Ormsby then read a selection of his original haikus. Some stayed within the classic nature theme, but others strayed and were humorous. He even poked fun at the difficulty of creating the poem because of its rigid syllable count.

  The reading took a turn when Ormsby spoke about living with Parkinson’s disease and diabetes.

The poem “Once a Day” showed the daily devastation of living with Parkinson’s and its symptoms.

The poem “Insulin Pen” told the story of his dependency on the pen, and how he needs to carry it with him at all times.

Yet Ormsby found humor while dealing with his illnesses.

Abby O’Connell, a senior, said, “It is important not to let your illness stop you from doing what you love.”

She added, “It is incredible that it took him over a decade for his first book to be published but then after he was diagnosed, he published a new book once a year.”

Senior Andrew Morin said, “It was funnier than [I] expected.”

Ormsby finished the reading with a collection of farmyard haikus, which feature the perspectives of different barnyard animals. One haiku, which read, “The balls the size of mine/ can only be compared to/the balls the size of mine,” received a round of applause and a hearty laugh from the audience.   

Ormsby answered questions in regard to his teaching job, writing and the conflicts between them. He said not to push oneself, and let the ideas come on their own.

He joked, “My wife thinks it’s the medication.”

Professor Lisa Eck, chair of the Arts and Ideas committee, commented on Ormsby’s “distinctive, philosophical, captivating and humorous voice. … He performs like a storyteller.”

She added, “Events like this, specifically in America, remind us that poetry has a different authority in other countries. …. To be global, we need to see locally. It was wonderful to have a room filled with the shared love of words and life of  [the] mind.”

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