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The true ‘Confessions of a Barefaced Woman’

Photo by Madalyn Mirallegro

Allison Joseph, a poet of Caribbean descent, visited Bradley on Nov. 3 in the Wyckoff Room of the Cullom-Davis Library to present a reading of her own poems and her husbands to students. 

In her lifetime, she has written over 15 poetry pieces and books, the latest of which is titled ‘Confessions of a Barefaced Woman,’ published in 2019. She currently works for Southern Illinois University as the director of the Master of Fine Arts Program. 

This book’s successor was what brought her back to Bradley for the first time since 2017, this time without her usual companion.

In her opening speech, Joseph shared that her husband Jon Tribble passed away in 2019. She read a poem from one of her late husband’s three books that detailed his experience of growing up and his connections forged with his father while participating in a Boy Scout ritual. Throughout the poem, Joseph kept a smile on her face as she shared her husband’s work.

“We braced against the wind washing out of the hollows. Mumbled fake Quapaw names as my father, who was no longer my father but a chief who could swallow the sun,” Joseph read.

When introducing her book “Lexicon”, Joseph explained to the audience that she was a nerd – she even read the dictionary for fun. Her affinity for language was apparent in her book, which also discussed grieving. Joseph later explained that it was also an ode to being a writer and the constant longing to stop writing. 

“I’ve been a writer practically all my life and I always think about giving it up,” Joseph said. 

Joseph took a pause in between the first poem about the hardships of the pandemic and the second poem about grief. Before she began reciting the poems, she broke down why she first wrote about grief. 

“This book [“Lexicon”] was written long before my husband passed, so the person I’m grieving in a lot of these poems is my mother,” Joseph said.

Her first poem deliberately spoke directly to grief itself by talking about working through the pain and heartache that comes with losing someone, specifically someone’s mom.

Her next poem, titled ‘Dead Moms’, expanded on this point by employing long phrases about the impact that a mother’s love leaves on their child and it lasts within the child even after death. 

Joseph paused after the poem to give people a chance to take a breath before making a joke about reading some of her lighter work and that she does in fact write funny poetry. 

Some of her lighter poems included a poem about a recommendation letter from a professor’s point of view and a poem modeled after OutKast’s song ‘Ms. Jackson’ and Ms. Jackson’s response to the author. 

Joseph continued with the lighter tone by poking fun at Missouri saying that she hates the state and how it sounds like misery. Her joke transitioned into her next poem about Missouri (misery) and Illinois (or as Joseph says, illness).

Not only did she read her poems, but another common theme throughout was how there is always going to be someone that seems to be better than you. Her poem about this feeling related a lot to feelings of self doubt that swirl in peoples heads. And while she does have the urge to quit writing, that feeling is what keeps her in the game.

When she was done reading the poem, she brought her husband up once more. Joseph explained how it was hard to completely start over in the dating world after 30 years of marriage, while making fun of the undesirable men that she began to date. 

Joseph even shared how right before she was dumped by the first lawyer boyfriend, he made her a side interest in the relationship. But the same day, a poet from her work admitted that he was always interested in her.

That relationship with the poet was turned into a trilogy of chapter books that Joseph wrote. The book was meant to take readers through an arc of a relationship from beginning to end. 

After a series of readings from her trilogy, Joseph ended her presentation with a Q&A portion. 

Students asked questions ranging from what was happening with the new relationship to how Joseph balances the dark thoughts in poems to the light hearted ones. 

She left students with a message about coping while being creative in a very dark and difficult world. This last message was prompted by a question asked by senior statistics major Kate Kerr. The answer Kerr received touched her emotionally.

“She talked about being tenacious and finding the happy silly little things in life and I thought that was really meaningful, I thought that was a really validating response to hear,” Kerr said.                

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