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Award-winning student poets bring their natural rhythms to the Hammer Museum

Courtesy of Gabriel Malikian
Stefan Karlssor and Gabriel Malikian were selected for the 2012 UCLA Poetry Awards. The have been invited to read their works at the Hammer Museum’s last poetry series event of the school year.

Hammer Poetry Reading

Wednesday, 7:30 p.m.
Hammer Museum, FREE

By Gillian Hughes

May 31, 2012 11:54 p.m.

When people ask Gabriel Malikian why he decided to pursue creative writing, the answer is simple.

“I guess it’s the one thing I believe in the most,” said the fourth-year English student, who is concentrating in creative writing.

Malikian and five other UCLA students were selected for the 2012 UCLA Poetry Awards and were invited to read their work this Wednesday at the Hammer Museum’s last poetry event of the school year. Malikian received a Fred Weld Herman Memorial Prize offered by the Academy of American Poets.

Originally intending to study medicine in England, Malikian said he did not expect he would become a writer. He began pursuing poetry after he and his family moved to the United States.

“Reading poems moves me in a way that nothing else does,” he said. “To study that and to approach creating that is, in my mind, the best use of my time.”

Ivone Alexandre, a fourth-year film and television student, said she remembers working alongside Malikian on a film set and having long conversations about poetry.

“It was all either of us would ever talk about,” Alexandre said.

While condensed language sets poetry apart from other forms of writing, Alexandre said it is especially prevalent in Malikian’s work. Lines from his award winning poem, “Fixing My Father’s Bandsaw,” particularly show his terse style: “The bandsaw stutters then / shudders under its own drive. / Then the sound of steel giving way / under tremendous tension.”

“Gabriel’s poetry is minimal and intense,” Alexandre said. “He has some of the most fury I have ever seen in a person, but he tries to hold it back.”

Malikian said he would like to call his poetry musically inspired by the sound and rhythm of words.

“I think some people kind of overlook the fact that poetry is music,” Malikian said, “just composed with words instead of notes.”

According to Stefan Karlsson, a third-year English student with a creative writing concentration, the musical side of poetry is what makes it so universally enjoyable. Like Malikian, Karlsson is another winner of the 2012 UCLA Poetry Awards and will also be reading his poetry at the Hammer on Wednesday.

“I always think it’s funny when people say that they don’t like poetry,” Karlsson said. “People like music so they must like the rhythm of language. I think poetry is something just natural.”

Karlsson said he tries to write his poems with humor but roots them in something personal. Many of his poems, including some he will read at the Hammer, are about friendship. However, both poets said their work frequently changes topics during the writing process.

“If I begin talking about the roots of a tree,” Malikian said, “it may become something else where I’m no longer talking about that tree, but who I saw that tree with the first time or the mole underneath the tree.”

In the same way, Karlsson said his poems change their courses with the new ideas he has while writing. He said his award-winning poem “So Long Frank” came from several different inspirations and preoccupations of the time.

“When I began I was thinking about a friend of mine. … Then, for some reason, I got this line by Thomas Wyatt stuck in my head, and it ended up making its way into the poem … and I was thinking about trout fishing for some bizarre reason,” Karlsson said. “My mind was just sort of all over the place.”

The reading this Wednesday could bring their poems to life in a new way. While Malikian is concerned most with accuracy and speaking with the sound and pace he originally intended, Karlsson takes a different approach.

“I read with lots of affectation,” Karlsson said. “That’s what makes it fun ““ to adopt a persona in front of everyone and to let the poem have its own voice rather (than) just me reading the poem.”

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