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WCSU student named Connecticut Collegiate Poet

Michelle Rochniak

DANBURY, Connecticut — Western Connecticut State University sophomore Michelle Rochniak was named one of four Connecticut Collegiate Poets by the Connecticut Poetry Circuit for 2021-22.

Rochniak, of Wallingford, was chosen by a panel of poets and educators in a statewide contest based on the strength and creativity of her original works. Only four to five student poets are selected each year to receive this honor; students were nominated by their professors. The collegiate poets will join other Connecticut Poetry Circuit members to hold poetry readings at colleges and community events throughout the state so that the public can enjoy original works by upcoming poets.

Chairman of the WCSU Department of Writing, Linguistics and Creative Process Dr. Brian Clements nominated Michelle “because her writing and enthusiasm for writing deserve recognition, and because she models the values of the WCSU Writing Department.”

“Michelle has a passion for writing, an ability to reach and communicate with audiences, and a commitment to compassion and community,” said Clements. “We hope that Michelle’s poems, her performative excellence and her presence on the Connecticut Poetry Circuit will make connections between WCSU, the Writing Department and the wider writing community across Connecticut and its colleges and universities.” He noted that the university will host the Connecticut Poetry Circuit poets on campus this spring.

Rochniak is majoring in Professional Writing with a focus on Creative Writing and minoring in Women’s Studies. She is a member of the WCSU Kathwari Honors Program.

“A Connecticut Collegiate Poet is someone who writes strong, moving poetry, and I am proud to be recognized for this as it is the highest form of validation. I am honored and immensely grateful that Dr. Clements recognized my potential and submitted my work for consideration. I am also glad that every faculty member I’ve met at WCSU has been so supportive of me,” said Rochniak, who started writing poetry as a freshman in high school and did an independent study in poetry her senior year before taking poetry classes at Western Connecticut State University.

“At WCSU, I made many new friends, connected with professors and found my poetic voice. I’m so grateful that I feel at home in the Writing department, and I’m even more grateful that people here appreciate my work and encourage me on a regular basis to continue writing,” she noted. Rochniak’s plans include publishing a poetry chapbook by graduation and proceeding to the M.F.A. in Creative and Professional Writing program at WCSU.

Currently Rochniak has poems published in “Perspective,” the WCSU Honors literary and art magazine, and on the Heartland Society of Women Writers website. “In addition to poetry, I’m obsessed with Greek mythology, which I usually reference in my work as well as my interest in and identity within the LGBTQ community,” she said.

According to James M. Gentile, director of the Connecticut Poetry Circuit, the public events will be their first professional reading engagement for most of these student poets. “They will get to collaborate with peers from other colleges for a memorable experience. Many of the student poets go on to successful careers as writers, editors and in education,” he said.

The Connecticut Poetry Circuit was established in 1968 to continue the work of the New England Poetry Circuit, which was founded in 1964 by the Academy of American Poets and Holly Stevens, daughter of the acclaimed poet and Hartford insurance executive Wallace Stevens. The intention of the circuit is to bring established yet unpublished poets to colleges and universities, as well as oversee a competition among Connecticut students that allows them to travel the circuit as student poets.

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