News: Featured Stories

May 27, 2017

UMass Boston professor turns extreme fear of flying into volume of poetry


  • Boston
Lillian-Yvonne Bertram to Join Fellow UMass Boston Poets at May 26 Reading

Assistant Professor of Creative Writing Lillian-Yvonne Bertram has turned her extreme fear of flying into the focal point of her new book, "Personal Science."

“One of the premises of this book is this idea that we create ourselves through the stories that we tell ourselves about ourselves and about our life,” Bertram said. “And so this book is trying to investigate, in some ways, what do those stories look like when they are very terrifying – whether or not that terror reflects reality or it’s just self-made terror.”

Bertram, who joined the UMass Boston English Department this fall, says her poems about anxiety, phobias and superstitions have been percolating for about five or six years now. She describes the feeling as “psychic unease.”

“For the speaker, the unease is ongoing. It’s permanent in a sense. But I do see it as a personal science. It makes sense to the speaker. We all have our personal sciences,” Bertram said.

Bertram reads one of the poems in "Personal Science," “Inside the face inside the heart inside,” in the video clip below.

This Friday at 7 p.m. Bertram will join two other UMass Boston poets out with new books, Lloyd Schwartz and Jill McDonough, for a poetry reading at Brookline Booksmith on Harvard Street in Brookline.

Bertram is already thinking ahead to her next book. In the next academic year, Bertram will use a $1,000 Woodberry Poetry Room Creative Grant to study black women poets like Gwendolyn Brooks and Audre Lorde. She’ll be exploring the Poetry Room’s audio archives, listening to recordings not available anywhere else. Bertram’s areas of interest are contemporary poetry, minority poetry, African American poetics, digital poetics, and experimental poetics.

Even though she is new to UMass Boston, Bertram is already making an impact on her students. Last month, she led MFA students on a retreat to the Crane Wildlife Refuge on the Crane Estate to focus on their writing and the natural world.

“I love the students and the energy and I love the colleagues,” Bertram said.

"Personal Science" is available from Tupelo Press in North Adams.