An illustration of a house with a bare tree in front


Issue 18
Stanford University

Melih Levi ’15 was a Ph.D. candidate in comparative literature at Stanford when he heard that poet Daniel Hall was retiring as Amherst’s writer-in-residence and director of creative writing. Levi, then an editor of Stanford’s poetry magazine, Mantis, set out to honor Hall on its pages. The result is a special section, published in spring 2020, featuring new work by 23 Amherst alumni.

“I was a student in Amherst’s English department at a time of transition,” Levi writes in the introduction, offering context about Amherst for his readership: “the so-called ‘old guard’ was on its way out, as eight professors trained in ‘close reading’ and the ‘canon’ announced retirement. Depending on whom you talked to, this announcement was greeted with relief, panic, or some mixture of the two.”

Many poems in the section are about remembering the past and recreating places previously seen, inhabited, passed through or visited.”

He continued: “Many poems in the section are about remembering the past and recreating places previously seen, inhabited, passed through, or visited. They give us a chance to think about how poetry recreates time and space, and as a result, they bring visibility to that which was too obvious, too repressed, or too marginalized to warrant acknowledgment.”

Hall arrived at Amherst in 2000 and directed the creative writing program from 2003 to 2018. (His successor is poet Shayla Lawson, whose book of essays is reviewed on page 40 of this issue of Amherst.)

Levi is now back home in Istanbul, where he is in his first year as an assistant professor at Boğaziçi University. Amherst magazine asked him to choose three works from the special section to reproduce here. All are by emerging poets and are published with permission.

Illustration by Elisabetta Bianchi

Right Before Summer’s Arrival

By JinJin Xu ’17

        From inside the unseasonable heat
& softness of the body’s   first
                                   afternoon       opening

      shoulders    shimmer
            swollen       school yard laughter
     the slow moving creatures

orbit      one   another
  as if     our future selves know this
                                       to be the beginning

            of our   slow   descent
                                      into what we had always known
                              to lie       just   beyond

          the page     its   hushed   doors
                    beyond     the cool
                                                  walls   of a   palm

         pressed     over our eyes
trying    to  delay
                          the elastic snap

                                               of vision’s
                                                     membrane &    still   the adults
                                                  are   forgetting   how 

                              our eyes open into one
          another             how ears too    those hidden
                               gaping orifices             unfurl

      the bone’s slow swelling
until we peek
                               over     the descent

                                                           & fall
                                                                      into the water
                                                                               melon mouth of


The Sun House

By Max Kaisler ’11

One beautiful tree of heaven was enough to make something you could live in. —Eleanor Raymond

Building things is simple.
The earth is quite willing to direct
with frank gestures, a shrug of grass,
a nodding bough.

I have often wondered
why houses were not made like ships
for sailing between trees.

What a passage we might make then:
my sister’s house
headed due southeast
cresting Beacon Hill.

A funny story?
Well, I have always preferred rain.

In Germany I saw a tree from China
growing in the park. I had a notion
to curl in its branches like a worm
and spin silk for the rest of my days.
It was a moment of selfishness.

That, I will not say,
but I am no misanthrope.
If I am in love,
I will say
this is yours, and it is.

Skin in the Game

By Elias Baez ’15

after Emily Dickinson’s “A door just opened on a street—”

I found a book on Triangle Lane.
I, eighteen, was passing by.
Page three spelled out a unicorn
spearing a poet’s eye. 

Sharpie crypted context and writer.
I, drunkenly, tripped by—
passing mirrored wound and horn,
I could not hide in time.