Student Poet Goes on Tour

Allegra Berndt selected as a Connecticut Student Poet recites a poem on Feb. 4, 2013. (Sean Flynn/UConn Photo)

Allegra Berndt ’14 (CLAS) reads one of her poems. (Sean Flynn/UConn Photo)

UConn junior Allegra Berndt has been selected to represent the University of Connecticut on the Connecticut Poetry Circuit, and is reading her work at participating universities throughout the state.

The circuit, which is directed by Manchester Community College professors James Gentile and Mariana DiRaimo, is an annual contest to identify the “outstanding college poets in Connecticut,” according to a press release. Poets are nominated through submissions to their respective creative writing departments, the best of which are forwarded for review by a Connecticut Poetry Circuit panel of “professional poets” who choose the poet most fit to represent his or her college on the circuit.

Berndt says the circuit is akin to “going on tour.”

“[The tour is] more like a road trip, a traveling tour of poetry,” she says, “like a caravan of gypsies, but with less scarves.”

Berndt, a sixth-semester English and psychology major, has previously been recognized for her work through the UConn English Department. Last year, she came in third place – behind two postgraduates – in the Wallace Stevens Poetry Prize Contest, as well as receiving an Honorable Mention for the University’s Edward R. and Frances S. Collins Literary Prize.

Darcie Dennigan, assistant professor-in-residence in English, says her work is “always an unsettling pleasure to read.” Dennigan says Berndt’s poetry borrows “from obscure psychic texts, scientific articles, folklore, parables, and recipes … [and weaves] these elements together to make one, strange, almost mystical whole.”

Berndt emphasizes precise word choice, and experiments with the structure and devices of prose fiction in order to share an emotion or experience with her reader.

“Basically when I started writing I was telling a story,” Berndt says, maintaining that she “didn’t choose” to write poetry. “I was playing around with fiction and it became a narrative poem.”

Berndt cites several influences in her work, notably the “muted glow” aesthetic of her Cambridge, Mass., upbringing. The press release from the circuit also describes Berndt as a collector of “fortune cookie slips in her spare time.”

Berndt is unsure what role poetry will play in her future, but recalls the advice given to her by former U.S. poet laureate Kay Ryan, the featured guest at the Wallace Stevens Poetry Prize Competition.

“She told me that life doesn’t begin until you’re 30, so I figure I’ve got plenty of time.”

Berndt is touring with fellow poets Emma Phillips (Trinity College), Elizabeth Norton Sallee (Wesleyan University), Amanda Schoen (University of Hartford), and Amelia Urry (Yale University) until March 8. The circuit stopped by UConn on Feb. 18.