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Poetry for the Young (and the Young-hearted).

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HoCoPoLitSo’s forty years are full of cherished memories. In this blog post, board member Laura Yoo shares a favorite recent memory from the 2014 Lucille Clifton Poetry Series Reading with Rita Dove and violinist Joshua Coyne.

I was wowed, moved, and inspired during Rita Dove’s reading and Joshua Coyne’s music this past October. Their performances and their talk, facilitated by HoCoPoLitSo’s Co-Chair Tara Hart, was engaging and fascinating.

Meme-Eno-Nsikan-Akpan-DoveCoyne

Violinist Joshua Coyne and singer Emmet Tross pose with three very happy Akpan sisters.

But in my memory of that evening, I am thinking of three young women that I met after the event. They were simply giddy with excitement. They stood behind me in line to have their programs signed by Ms. Dove. They whispered to each other, “That was so cool” and “I wonder if she’d take a picture with us?” I offered to take a picture of them with Ms. Dove, and later they also posed with Coyne and his friend Emmett Tross the singer. These three young women were stirred by the whole evening.

While the performance by Dove and Coyne was phenomenal, it’s these three young women who linger in my memory after the event. I keep thinking, how can we get more of that?

Even as a professor in the English department at Howard Community College, I don’t often witness such excitement about literature, especially poetry, from young people. And this makes me sad. I just want to grab them and say, “Can’t you see? Don’t you see just how beautiful and amazing these words are?”

I think we’re all born with the capacity for creativity, and for poetry. Poetry is everywhere in the lives of children. Everything they do rhymes and the very way they acquire language itself is poetic. My kindergartener says that at school, before they eat, they say to each other, “Bon appetit. Now you may eat!” You can’t tell me that’s not poetry.

In his famous TED Talk, Sir Ken Robinson says that schooling kills creativity, and I wonder if it also kills interest in experiencing others’ creative productions like poetry. Schooling has become a pragmatic and utilitarian endeavor. There is very little room for what are (inaccurately) perceived to be purely aesthetic endeavors like literature and other forms of art. But what many don’t realize is that there is so much usefulness in literature. Steve Strauss, a columnist for USA Today and a small business expert, tells us about a research on the impact of studying literature,

Keith Oatley, one of the researchers, said the reason fiction improves empathy is because it helps us to “understand characters’ actions from their interior point of view, by entering into their situations and minds, rather than the more exterior view of them that we usually have.” This improves interpersonal understanding and enhances relationships with customers and business associates. When you hire an English major, you’re likely hiring someone who brings cognitive empathy to the table. (from “Why I Hire English Majors” in The Huffington Post)

So literature is not only beautiful but also useful.

keep-calm-and-read-onBy the time young people graduate high school and enter a college course like introduction to literature, many of them see literature as a chore and poetry as a mystery. When it comes to literature, most of them stand somewhere between empathy and fear – and perhaps those two feelings are not mutually exclusive.

One way that HoCoPoLitSo tries to cure young people of this fear is through our Writer-in-Residence program. This year, Joseph Ross of Meeting Bone Man (2012) and Gospel of Dust (2013) is visiting high schools in Howard County for poetry workshops. He writes in his blog about the students he worked with at Homewood:

They were asking to be seen and heard, “tenderly.” […] While these young people had been through some difficult times, they used poetry to name their sadnesses and to face them. This is what the power of poetry looks like.

In addition, for many years HoCoPoLitSo has worked with Bill’s Buddies of the Folger Shakespeare Library to visit Howard County schools. This year, thanks to HoCoPoLitSo’ s sponsors and partners, middle school students from all over the county were visited by actors from Center Stage.

Recently, I learned that those three young ladies at the Dove and Coyne event were Nsikan Apkan and her two sisters. Nsikan is a student at Howard Community College with great interest in poetry. She even wrote an article about the event for HCC Times (check out page 19 of the October 2014

Student Katy Day taking a selfie with Billy Collins at Blackbird Poetry Festival 2014.

Student Katy Day taking a selfie with Billy Collins at Blackbird Poetry Festival 2014.

issue).

We also have young people like Katy Day who is HoCoPoLitSo’s Student on Board and a student at University of Maryland, College Park, studying English and Psychology as well as Faheem Dyer who is HoCoPoLitSo’s student intern from Atholton High School. You can read about Katy’s curious claim that “humanities ain’t like the Pre-Chew Charlie’s” and read Faheem’s review of the Dove and Coyne event for the Raider Review.

Young people like Nsikan, Katy, and Faheem will create and carry the future of poetry and literature in Howard County, in Maryland, in the US, and in the world.

In the next few weeks, I will share with you my interviews with Katy, Faheem, and Nsikan. They will tell you what draws them to literature, to poetry in particular. They will tell you about the future of poetry. And we will all see that we need not lose heart about the future of literature, of poetry. We have Katy, Faheem, and Nsikan.

Keep calm and read on.

— Laura Yoo
HoCoPoLitSo Board Member

Have a favorite HoCoPoLitSo memory? Share it with us through this online form and you may find the story the subject of a future blog post.

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2 Comments

  1. […] my previous post, “Poetry for the Young (and the Young-Hearted)”, I promised you voices of our young poetry […]

  2. […] on young people in/of poetry, I have made my own observations about the importance of poetry in the lives of young people and I have interviewed HoCoPoLitSo’s Student on Board, Katy Day about poetry in her life. […]

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