Tess Barry: Professor, Poet, and Professional Optimist

In a world filled with darkness, finding light and happiness can be difficult. Society has become disheartened and cynical. However, people like Professor Tess Barry manage to find the light in things and share this light with other people.

A professor in the English department, Prof. Barry recently submitted poetry in the Manchester Writing Competition, a concourse that includes fifty countries and tens of thousands of submissions, and a competition she nearly won. “They said it was between me and one other person… I was close, but I didn’t get it.”

The Manchester Writing Competition is not the only notch on Prof. Barry’s poetry scorecard. Prof. Barry, a writer since childhood, has been a finalist for North American Review’s James Hearst Poetry Prize (twice), received Aesthetica’s Poetry Award, and was shortlisted for the 2014 Bridport Poetry Prize. Her poems frequently appear in the North American Review.

I asked Prof. Barry, “How would you describe your personality as a writer?” She responded,“Human. Praising and assuring of goodness and beauty. My work is… hopeful and life-affirming. Poetry doesn’t have to be true, but there is truth in it. There is vulnerability as well.”

Prof. Barry describes her feelings regarding her five shortlisted (or being put on a list of selected candidates from which a final choice is made) poems being displayed on an international scale. “It was terrifying. I was naked, and more than anything I wanted to honor my parents. They were my inspiration.”

Prof. Barry explains this outlook developed during her childhood. She grew up in western Pennsylvania, and she was a member of a family of ten. She claims her parents never complained, worked hard, and were always faithful, and they instilled their values into their children. Prof. Barry was raised in a Catholic household which caused her to “think critically, respect tradition, have a strong sense of right and wrong, and have a positive outlook and understanding. I can’t imagine moving in the world without believing in God. The world is missing faith.” Each family member had a grand appreciation for nature and art, especially her mother. Prof. Barry recalls her mother’s favorite poets being Robert Frost and Emily Dickens and her mother’s responsiveness to aesthetics being ekphfrastic.

“The best writers are readers,”  Prof. Barry explains as she elaborates on her mother reading to her and her siblings when they were young. “I was given a gift. It is my gift to [be able to] write poetry.”Prof. Barry certainly lives up to her gift and her parents as well. She explains, despite her initial apprehension, the vulnerability felt good. “Poetry, like everything in life, is subjective.”

Prof. Barry has traveled all over the world to diversify her writing. She identifies her favorite poets as Shamus Haning and Dame Carol Ann Duffey. She has two step children who have children of their own. She enjoys spending time with them, cooking and eating dinner with her husband, running (until a recent meniscus tear), and, of course, reading. She considers herself lucky and blessed to be at Robert Morris University, for which she has a good time teaching, and feels very connected to the RMU community, and cannot wait to see the students capitalize on their potential!

Written by: Anna Hartwell


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