Speaking Up: Charles Center, Reves Center host poetry, performance event featuring alumna Irène Mathieu ’09

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COURTESY IMAGE / HUNTER MAIN

Returning 10 years after her graduation, Irene Mathieu ‘09 stood in front of a small audience packed with students and alumni. The room’s noise level suddenly changed; a still silence arose as Mathieu followed the College of William and Mary Russian Music Ensemble’s resounding performance. The loud instruments and voices had been amplified around the tall brick walls of Blow Memorial Hall, but now it was just Mathieu and her two books of poems.

Oct. 18, the Roy R. Charles Center for Academic Excellence and the Wendy and Emery Reves Center for International Studies presented the first I-MIC — a homecoming event centered around the three words international, intersectional and interdisciplinary. Organized and hosted by Teresa Longo, the director of the Charles Center, I-MIC strove to celebrate these three ideas through Mathieu’s poetry and 11 featured student performances. 

“At the Charles Center, we focus on mentored student research and interdisciplinary study,” Longo said. “The interdisciplinary piece, it’s about acknowledging the complexity around us; it’s about generating knowledge and ideas from many directions. Poets are really good at this. And, if we really want to embrace complexity, global perspectives are also critical: the Reves Center for International Studies was an ideal collaborator for this event.”

As the main feature of the event, Mathieu opened her performance by admitting that the three words international, intersectional and interdisciplinary have described her poetry and life up to this point.

“William and Mary alumni are accomplished in so many ways,” Longo said. “As a physician, a researcher and a poet, Irene Mathieu is a shining example of what is possible. I wanted to bring her together with current students who are also creative, smart and engaged.”

Mathieu majored in international relations at the College and gained an interest in international public health, leading to her to pursue her M.D. at Vanderbilt University’s medical school. Currently working as a pediatrician and public health researcher, Mathieu has written three poetry books: “The Galaxy of Origins,” “Orogeny” and “Grand Hommage,” the last of which was recently published in March 2019.

“As a poet and a pediatrician, I consider myself a very disciplinary minded person,” Mathieu said. “I’m really focused on how we can use poetry to teach doctors and help them be better doctors, but also how medical in and of itself is a kind of poetry, and the way that the body manifests disease and how our patients speak.”

Combining her love of international relations, medicine and poetry, Mathieu cites her success in these varying fields to the College’s liberal arts education. Many of her poems revolve around her experiences the College provided and her professional life as a doctor.

“I’m very grateful,” Mathieu said. “I think coming here was a really smart decision on many levels, but every time I come back from Williamsburg I’m reminded that one of the really cool aspects of the College is the accessibility of really interesting experiences — whether they be international experiences and all of the studying abroad.”

Mathieu recited five poems from her 2014 book “Orogeny,” their subjects ranging from breakups, the Hippocratic Oath, stray dogs and her experience working abroad in the Dominican Republic under a medical fellowship. After, Mathieu introduced her new book, “Grand Hommage,” which was inspired by her paternal grandma, and recited four poems. Her closer, “Soil,” was dedicated to her partner whom she met at the College.

“I think my experiences have the interdisciplinary and intersectional connections, because understanding power dynamics is really critical to my work in medicine and public health,” Mathieu said. “And without a good understanding of gender, race, nationality, documentation and sexuality, you can’t really fully understand our neighbors and our friends and patients. So, they’re all really interwoven through my work.”

After Mathieu’s 30-minute performance, Longo introduced 11 student performers whose brief pieces celebrated international, intersectional and interdisciplinary ideals — seven of which were performed in different languages. Lucy Greenman ’22 performed a song on guitar and taught the crowd the chorus so that they could sing along.

“I chose a song called ‘Peace,’ which was written by a friend of mine, because I didn’t have a particular international connection, and I thought this would relate to many countries and cultures,” Greenman said.

The event ended with a raffle, where Longo randomly selected names of the audience members to win a copy of Mathieu’s books. Longo then randomly choose two of the performers to win a dinner with Mathieu and herself.

“I wanted to add an extra dose of creativity to this year’s homecoming events,” Longo said.