Michael Cervas Visiting Writers Program

The Michael Cervas Visiting Writers Program is named in honor of Michael Cervas who taught English from 1986-2020 and who initiated two longstanding visiting writers programs: The Westminster Poet Series and the Friday Nights at Westminster series of readings. The Michael Cervas Visiting Writers Program is supported by generous gifts from the Ford-Goldfarb English Department Enrichment Fund, the McKinley Fund, and the Friday Nights at Westminster Fund.  

About Michael Cervas
During his 34-year tenure on the Westminster faculty, Michael taught all levels of English; coached basketball, soccer, track, baseball, golf and squash; worked as a corridor supervisor in Alumni House; and presided as department head for three decades. Having retired from his full-time appointment to the faculty at the end of the 2019-2020 academic year, Michael continues to direct the Visiting Writers Program.

Friday Nights at Westminster

Although the in-person Friday Nights at Westminster program has been paused for the 2020-21 academic year, Jaed Coffin, author of "Roughhouse Friday," and Nathalie Charles '21, 2020 winner of the Brian Ford prize for Creative Writing, conducted a virtual reading to the community on January 29. Sarah Blake is scheduled for a virtual reading on April 23, which will be open for the public to join. Details to follow.

The Friday Nights at Westminster series of readings began in 2009-2010 to coincide with the opening of the Armour Academic Center. Six times a year (twice each trimester) writers are invited to come to campus to give a Friday evening reading in the Gund Room of the Cole Library and then return on Saturday morning to visit with English classes. Typically, English teachers introduce their students to works by the visiting writers prior to their readings or performances, thus guaranteeing an educated audience for the guest writers. The program has featured readings and performances by poets, essayists, novelists, jazz musicians, and singer-songwriters, many of whom, like Jennifer Egan, Ron Carlson, Emily St. John Mandel, Anthony Doerr, Monica Wood, Dar Williams, Kris Delmhorst, Nat Reeves, and Mark Erelli, have national reputations. Local writers and musicians, like Colin McEnroe, Rand Richards Cooper, Lynn Hoffman, Jonathan Gilman, Gina Barreca, and Rob Duguay, have also appeared in the program. One special feature of Friday Nights at Westminster is that the evening always begins with a reading by a student or a faculty member.

Westminster Poet Series

The Westminster Poet Series began in 1999 when Linda Pastan, at the time the Poet Laureate of the State of Maryland, came to Westminster to give an evening reading and visit with English classes the following day. The second poet in the series was Billy Collins, who had just been named United States Poet Laureate. Since then, the school has welcomed award-winning poets from all around the United States to campus for two-day visits. Westminster Poets have been United States Poets Laureate, State of Connecticut Poets Laureate, Pulitzer Prize winners, and National Book Award winners. 

2020-2021 Visiting Poet

Because of the enormous success of Ross Gay’s visit in March 2020, the English Department turned to his good friend and collaborator Aimee Nezhukumatathil as its choice for 2020-2021’s visiting poet. (Gay and Nezhukumatathil coauthored an epistolary nature chapbook called “Lace & Pyrite” in 2014.) It was actually a pretty easy choice to make since Ms. Nezhukumatathil had previously been the Westminster Poet for 2011-2012, and the department knew how good her poetry is and what a charismatic reader and teacher she is.
Nezhukumatathil remembered her visit to Westminster fondly, too, and quickly agreed to be the 21st Westminster Poet in March of 2021. As luck would have it, the poet was in the process of completing a book of short essays, part nature writing, part memoir, which the school chose as an all-school reading selection for 2020-2021. The book, “World of Wonders: In Praise of Fireflies, Whale Sharks, and Other Astonishments,” which will be released in early fall of 2020, will be taught in every English class.  
Nezhukumatathil is the author of four books of poems: “Miracle Fruit” (2003), “At the Drive-In Volcano” (2007), “Lucky Fish” (2011), and “Oceanic” (2018), as well as two chapbooks. “Miracle Fruit” won the Tupelo Press Prize and the Global Filipino Literary Award in Poetry, “At the Drive-In Volcano” won the Balcones Poetry Prize, and “Oceanic” won the 2019 Mississippi Institute of Arts and Letters Prize for Poetry. Nezhukumatathil is currently a professor of English in the University of Mississippi’s M.F.A. program.

All four Forms will study the poems in “Oceanic." Teachers will augment poems from that book with selections from Nezhukumatathil’s earlier books of poetry. Shannon Nakai writes in her Tupelo Press review of “Oceanic”: “In ‘Oceanic,’ her fourth collection of poetry, Aimee Nezhukumatathil writes a series of love letters to the world and its inhabitants. From intimate psalms of love to her husband — whose love wields electricity as they descend the Swiss Alps — to poems addressed to starfish, turtles and the Northern Lights, the ‘you’ in each poem is as fluid and varied as the structures she uses to encapsulate all subjects.”
Below are a few of Nezhukumatathils poems and some links to relevant websites for more information about Nezhukumatathil.

List of 3 items.


    Come in, come in. The water’s fine! You can’t get lost
    here. Even if you want to hide behind a clutch
               of spiny oysters — I’ll find you. If you ever leave me
               at night, by boat, you’ll see the arrangement
    of red-gold sun stars in a sea of milk. And though
    it’s tempting to visit them — stay. I’ve been trained
              to gaze up all my life, no matter the rumble
              on earth, but I learned it’s okay to glance down
    into the sea. So many lessons bubble up if you know
    where to look. Clouds of plankton churning
               in open whale mouths might send you east
               and chewy urchins will slide you west. Squid know
    how to be rich when you have ten empty arms.
    Can you believe there are humans who don’t value
              the feel of a good bite and embrace at least once a day?
              Underneath you, narwhals spin upside down
    while their singular tooth needles you
    like a compass pointed towards home. If you dive
                deep enough where imperial volutes and hatchetfish
                swim, you will find all the colors humans have not yet
    named, and wide caves of black coral and clamshell.
    A giant squid finally let itself be captured
               in a photograph, and the paper nautilus ripple-flashes
               scarlet and two kinds of violet when it silvers you near.
    Who knows what will happen next? And if you still want
    to look up, I hope you see the dark sky as oceanic — 
              boundless, limitless — like all the shades of blue in a glacier.
              Listen how this planet spins with so much fin, wing, and fur.
    (from “Oceanic”)

    Breathe deep even if it means you wrinkle
    your nose from the fake-lemon antiseptic
    of the mopped floors and wiped-down
    doorknobs. The freshly soaped necks
    and armpits. Your teacher means well,
    even if he butchers your name like
    he has a bloody sausage casing stuck
    between his teeth, handprints
    on his white, sloppy apron. And when
    everyone turns around to check out
    your face, no need to flush red and warm.
    Just picture all the eyes as if your classroom
    is one big scallop with its dozens of icy blues
    and you will remember that winter your family
    took you to the China Sea and you sank
    your face in it to gaze at baby clams and sea stars
    the size of your outstretched hand. And when
    all those necks start to crane, try not to forget
    someone once lathered their bodies, once patted them
    dry with a fluffy towel after a bath, set out their clothes
    for the first day of school. Think of their pencil cases
    from third grade, full of sharp pencils, a pink pearl eraser.
    Think of their handheld pencil sharpener and its tiny blade.
    (from “Oceanic”)

    I've become the person who says Darling, who says Sugarpie,
    Honeybunch, Snugglebear—and that’s just for my children.
    What I call my husband is unprintable. You’re welcome. I am
    his sweetheart, and finally, finally—I answer to his call and his
    alone. Animals are named for people, places, or perhaps a little
    Latin. Plants invite names for colors or plant-parts. When you
    get a group of heartbeats together you get names that call out
    into the evening’s first radiance of planets: a quiver of cobras,
    a maelstrom of salamanders, an audience of squid, or an ostentation
    of peacocks. But what is it called when creatures on this earth curl
    and sleep, when shadows of moons we don’t yet know brush across
    our faces? And what is the name for the movement we make when
    we wake, swiping hand or claw or wing across our face, like trying
    to remember a path or a river we’ve only visited in our dreams.
    (from “Oceanic”) 

Contact Us

995 Hopmeadow Street
Simsbury, Connecticut 06070

P. (860) 408-3000
F. (860) 408 3001
Notice of Nondiscriminatory Policy as to Students
In keeping with our support for a diverse community, Westminster abides by all applicable federal and state laws and does not discriminate on the basis of any protected characteristic, including race, color, religious creed, sex, sexual orientation, gender identity or expression, national and ethnic origin, ancestry and/or disability in administration of its educational policies, admissions policies, scholarship and loan programs, and athletic and other school-administered program. Westminster admits students of any race, color, national and ethnic origin to all the rights, privileges, programs, and activities generally accorded or made available to students at the School. 
© Copyright 2021 Westminster School  |  Privacy Policy
AP® and Advanced Placement® are registered trademarks of the College Board. Used with permission.