A Silent Night: Scranton Loses One of Its Own
Last week the literary community of northeastern Pennsylvania suffered a tremendous loss when Jennifer Diskin, poet and writer, lost her brave battle with cancer at the young age of 38. I felt it only fitting to reflect on her writing legacy in this, my first column.
I came to the local reading scene rather late. Heck, I came into writing rather late. See, I was 12 when I decided I wanted to be a writer, but I never really pursued that avenue. Sure, I have the requisite notebooks filled with teenage angst and sheaves of poorly written poetry shoved in boxes in my attic, but it wasn’t until I met the people in Wilkes University’s MFA program that I really became a writer.
It was January, 2008, and my twin daughters were just a year old. I had been toying with returning to school for some time, and decided that teaching would be a career malleable enough to raise my girls outside of a daycare. I was trudging through a masters in education when I discovered that my heart just wasn’t in it. If I was going to teach, I wanted to teach writing, and for that I needed the Wilkes’ MFA program. So, the following year, with nothing more than an idea that maybe I could write, I entered the halls of Wilkes University.
It’s important to know how I came to writing and to Wilkes, because that is how I came to meet Jennifer Diskin. It’s also important to know that I didn’t meet the woman, the actual physical person, until almost two years after I first heard her name, because that is how large Jennifer Diskin’s legacy looms at Wilkes. Hers was the first name whispered when anyone spoke about the talent within the program. (And this is a program with many successful graduates). But for poetry, Jennifer Diskin was it. Not only was she a fantastic poet, but she had a wonderful reading presence and the talent to back it up.
So, it was no surprise years later, when I was forming my reading series, Prose in Pubs, that her name was one of the first mentioned by several people. We had to have her. She’s one of the best. When we finally did have her read for us this past July it ended up being her last public appearance. And I will never forget what she said to me that night, in a crowded bar, a bar bursting with people who came to hear her words:
“You have no idea what this meant to me,” she whispered up at me from the wheelchair to which she had become bound.
And now that she’s gone, I realize just how much that night meant to me. I’m sorry to say I have buried another poet in my lifetime, a childhood friend who had enormous, unrealized talent, and each time we — the writing community — have to give up one of our own, everything stays silent and still for a while.
With Jennifer Diskin’s passing last week, the earth is silent once again. Those of you who knew her well, her friends and her family, will keep her memory alive. Those of us who missed her prime will forever live under the cloud of her enormous talent.
I struggled with the idea of writing this column about Jennifer, because part of me felt that I only knew her as sick. But I realize now that isn’t true. I only knew her as legendary.
Jennifer Diskin’s words live on through her many publications, including her chapbook, Wear White and Grieve, available from Naissance Chapbooks at www.chapbookpublisher.com.
Amye Barrese Archer is a writer and teacher living in Scranton. You can read more about her at www.amyearcher.com.