BY MELISSA REESE
An earlier version of this article stated that Dr. Kartalopoulos’ grandmother had cancer and spent years in hospice care. The previous article said Kartalopoulos also was currently a professor at Kansas State University. The article has since been corrected and updated.
CAMPUS – Students listened to Stephanie Kartalopoulos reading her poetry in stunned silence Wednesday night.
Stephanie Kartalopoulos is the author of the poetry collection “Amulet.” She has also been published in Thrush Poetry Journal, Barn Owl Review, Laurel Review, Harpur Palate, Phoebe, 32 Poems and Columbia: A Journal of Literature and Art.
Kartalopoulos received her PhD in English in 2013 from the University of Missouri. She is now an English professor at Kennesaw State University.
Her poetry is inspired by her Greek heritage, her time spent in Athens, Greece with her father, her loss of her beloved grandmother, her moving to the Midwest and all the forms of love, from “familial love, friendly love and otherworldly love.”
“Love can fill a ribcage with sunlight,” she read.
She said her poem-writing process sometimes consists of getting a word stuck in her head, like the lyrics to a song. She writes what she feels in that moment, and then she makes changes after living with what she wrote for a while.
“I play, I edit, I obsess,” Kartalopoulos said.
She said she was beside herself after the death of grandmother. She wrote “To Mary Brass” as a way of understanding and coping with her loss.
“This is what it is to run out of time,” Kartalopoulos read. “Worried and swollen and hovering over an open grave … This is what it is to think you could ever be limitless.”
Brass suffered from an illness that left her spending an extended period of time in assisted living care. Kartalopoulos felt deeply disturbed when she saw her grandmother’s deteriorating body.
“What haunts me isn’t that sadness that I felt,” she said, “but the way veins created puffed-up limbs.”
Kartalopoulos said the hardest part of poetry is being honest with yourself about who you are and not allowing your ego to get in the way of poetic and artistic truth. She said honesty is the most important quality of poetry.
“Let the portrait of yourself be as it is without self-serving empathy and let the poem find its own truth,” Kartalopoulos said. “It’s really hard to be really honest, but it’s also the only way to be.”
She said there is a difference between the actual experience and the emotions connected to the experience, and writing poetry allows her to define the emotional truth of the moment for herself. Her perspective on the experience changes a little when she goes back and edits her work, but for the most part, her emotions remain the same.
“When I own the poem, I own the experience,” Kartalopoulos said.
Matthew Adams, a computer science major, said his favorite poem she performed at the reading was “Flicker and Repair” because it interested him from a scientific perspective. He said he appreciated the more technical and scientific diction in her poetry and how she made use of scientific metaphors.
“I’m sort of, like, a science guy, so I could really appreciate the scientific aspect of it,” Adams said. “She also used words I wouldn’t really expect from — I mean, not that you wouldn’t expect any English words from an English person or a poet, but the scientific words — I just really liked the application of them … You got to know a lot about her [from her poems].”
Dana Rand, a psychology major, said what she most enjoyed about the reading was the emotion brimming behind the author’s words. She found it interesting how living in different places changed her perspective on the world and her perspective on poetry.
“I liked that she spoke a lot from personal experience, and there was a lot of emotion in there,” Rand said. “I loved how she lived in all these different places and how that changed her writing, like, it made her lines longer when she was in the Midwest, and [her poems] kind of contrasted from different places.”
Rand felt emotional when listening to Kartalopoulos’ elegy dedicated to her grandmother. She said the tribute was heartfelt and made her want to write a dedication to her own grandmother.
“I thought it was a really nice elegy,” Rand said. “I thought it was really sweet, and I wish I could’ve written something like that for my grandmother.”
Kartalopoulos was inspired by the amount of interest in her work at her poetry reading. She said she really enjoyed her time at Salisbury University having people listen to her “little poems.”
“The day that I’ve been here has been so rejuvenating and inspiring,” Kartalopoulos said.