Leah Sienkowski ’14 wasn’t born in a barn, but she has lived in one. An advocate for local food and organic farming, the Calvin senior leaves the door of her poetry wide open for whatever pieces of her life may wander in. In her growing collection of written works, Sienkowski sees her affinity for the earth and her love of words interacting in a natural way.
“My writing influences how I live,” the biology major and writing minor said, “but also, my living influences how I write.”
Sienkowski writes to process her life experiences—and nothing is off limits. The Ada, Mich.-native’s poetry has allowed her to process everything from her work on a vegetable farm to the plight of the Hostess bakery line. For her, a poem is neither a meaningless string of thoughts nor a strictly constructed formula. It falls somewhere in between, and part of its wonder is its smallness.
“We tend to demean small pieces of writing in general,” Sienkowski explained. The 21-year-old said she would encourage poetry skeptics to “think about times you’ve had a very small piece of writing have a really large sway on you. You get something and it makes you feel something.”
For the countercultural millennial, a poem is an opportunity to linger: “We’re inundated with so much text in our life that things just tend to go by really quickly, but a poem is small enough, usually, that it makes you stop and you can read it several times.”
Sienkowski’s own poetry is worth reading again and again, as noted by her winning entry and two honorable mentions in Calvin’s annual Academy of American Poets Prize competition.
But her poetic skills are not useful in literary circles alone. The self-described “ecologically minded” writer considers the physical world and the writing world in equal measure and often weaves them together.
“The way that I think about things is somewhat useful in biology,” Sienkowski shared. “Sometimes understanding the inner workings of a plant is really challenging. You have to think metaphorically.”
I refer to my chest or head
as though this is where I am primarily contained.
Not, for instance,
gathered in hard drives
or waiting at the bottoms of purses,
blinking in pixels.
My lungs fill with atmosphere;
I shout prayers,
while séances mediated by plastic
and cheapened by spirits of the
happen in my pocket.
Who is sharpening whom? I might ask,
and where are they tossing the shavings?
I already checked the wastebasket.
It was cluttered with leaves.