Charis welcomes Chet'la Sebree in conversation with Shara McCallum for a celebration of Field Study, a genre-bending exploration of black womanhood and desire, written as a lyrical, surprisingly humorous, and startlingly vulnerable prose poem. This event is co-hosted by the Auburn Avenue Research Library on African American Culture and History.
Seeking to understand the fallout of her relationship with a white man, the poet Chet’la Sebree attempts a field study of herself. Scientifically, field studies are objective collections of raw data, devoid of emotion. But during the course of a stunning lyric poem, Sebree’s control over her own field study unravels as she attempts to understand the depth of her feelings in response to the data of her life. The result is a singular and provocative piece of writing, one that is formally inventive, playfully candid, and soul-piercingly sharp.
Interspersing her reflections with Tweets, quips from TV characters, and excerpts from the Black thinkers—Audre Lorde, Maya Angelou, Tressie McMillan Cottom—that inspire her, Sebree analyzes herself through the lens of a society that seems uneasy, at best, with her very presence. She grapples with her attraction to, and rejection of, whiteness and white men; probes the malicious manifestation of colorism and misogynoir throughout American history and media; and struggles with, judges, and forgives herself when she has more questions than answers. “Even as I accrue these notes,” Sebree writes, “I’m still not sure I’ve found the pulse.”
A poem of love, heartbreak, womanhood, art, sex, Blackness, and America—sometimes all at once—Field Study throbs with feeling, searing and tender. With uncommon sensitivity and precise storytelling, Sebree makes meaning out of messiness and malaise, breathing life into a scientific study like no other.
Chet'la Sebree is the director of the Stadler Center for Poetry and Literary Arts at Bucknell University and the author of Mistress, winner of the 2018 New Issues Poetry Prize and nominated for an NAACP Image Award in 2019. She earned an MFA in creative writing, with a focus in poetry, from American University, and has received fellowships from the Delaware Division of the Arts, the MacDowell Colony, Hedgebrook, Yaddo, Vermont Studio Center, and Robert H. Smith International Center for Jefferson Studies. Her poetry has appeared in the Kenyon Review, Guernica, Pleiades, and elsewhere.
From Jamaica, and born to a Jamaican father and Venezuelan mother, Shara McCallum is the author of six books published in the US & UK, including No Ruined Stone. La historia es un cuarto/History is a Room, an anthology of poems selected from across her six books and translated into Spanish by Adalber Salas Hernández, will be published in 2021 by Mantis Editores in Mexico. McCallum is on the faculty of the Pacific Low-Residency MFA and is a Professor of English at Penn State University. She was recently appointed the 2021-22 Penn State Laureate.