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We asked Howard Community College student Katy Day for her perspective of poetry on campus. Take a look at what she delighted us with:
As I scurried through the halls of Duncan Hall at Howard Community College, on my way to Introduction to Creative Writing, I ignored the framed student poetry scattered throughout its walls, all the way up to class. After all, how good could a student’s poem be, especially to someone like me who didn’t even like poetry?
In class, I was already envisioning my name sprawled across a half dozen book covers in large font as my professor, Ryna May, informed the class that we would all be required to submit a piece of our writing to the school’s literary and arts magazine, The Muse.
I loved my Creative Writing class even more than I had anticipated. Each week I put more hours of work into my short stories than I did for any of my other three classes. Combined. I dreaded, however, the two weeks Professor May had dedicated to poetry. How would I be able to get through two entire weeks without writing a single story? More importantly, how would I be able to write poetry if I couldn’t even understand it?
I don’t think I was the only person in the class with these concerns and Professor May was already on top of that. She gave us all copies of the previous edition of The Muse and asked us to find a poem that we liked. I read through all of them and was shocked by how much I actually liked some of them. I realized it wasn’t that couldn’t understand poetry; I just hadn’t come into contact with it at any point during my adult life. I was blown away by the seemingly endless possibilities offered by a single page of words. I didn’t have a favorite. I had a list.
May showed us videos of current poets like Billy Collins and Taylor Mali; genius on her part. I will never be able to thank her enough for that. She sat back as we watched, casting her line out into the sea of non-poetry believers and patiently waited. She didn’t give us an opportunity to ignore poetry. She captivated us through sight, sound and pleasure as we all soaked in these universal, current poets. So this is what poetry is today, I thought. By the end of the videos, we were all swarming around the bait, snapping wildly at it. She had us hooked.
Of course, once the door to poetry is opened, there are endless other doors and hallways to get lost in. Like a mouse venturing through the walls of an old colonial house for the first time, many paths in poetry can lead to a dead end. People are easily scared off by it, but May was always there, pointing us in a promising direction.
At the end of the course, she encouraged me to submit my work to The Muse. After waiting three excruciatingly long months, I finally heard that they’d be publishing one of my short stories and one of my poems. I was ecstatic.
Professor May also invited me to read a poem at the Blackbird Poetry Festival, an event organized by both Howard Community College and HoCoPoLitSo. At the festival, I knew that a lot of students were being exposed to poetry in their adult lives for the first time, and I loved being a part of that. I was nervous, of course. Who wouldn’t be nervous doing their first poetry reading in front of their teachers, classmates, their mother, and RIVES, who was front and center, chanting my name as I walked to the podium.
Despite the fact that I was trembling with fear on the inside, I made it through the reading and was immediately praised by Tim Singleton, Board Co-Chair of HoCoPoLitSo, who announced after my performance that he liked it so much he would have liked to hear it twice. Professor May said I did great and assured me that I didn’t look nervous at all. One student told me after the event that my poem was his favorite. Rives even said that he loved my poem and I had excellent stage presence. Reading my poetry was like a rollercoaster ride. I was scared out of my mind but so high off of the adrenaline afterwards that I couldn’t wait to do it again.
Luckily I didn’t have to wait long because The Muse reading was only a couple of weeks later. That was a whole different experience of elation, as I picked up the first publication that contained my own work. I can’t express how lovely instructing the audience to turn to page 47 in their book to find MY POEM felt.
Howard Community College didn’t just introduce me to poetry. It provided me with all of the assurance and reassurance I needed as a writer. It gave me door-opening experiences that have fueled me to continue my journey as a poet. The dedicated and passionate English Literature professors gave me an outstanding jumpstart into poetry. Now when I’m strolling around in Duncan Hall and I come to a framed poem on the wall, I take a few moments to read it, and I’m always pleasantly surprised.
The latest installment in our occasional series of blog posts from friends of HoCoPoLitSo. Today Ryna May, Associate Professor of English at Howard Community College, writes of her experience at the recent Dodge Poetry Festival.…
Poetry, like bread, is for everyone.
– Roque Dalton
The Geraldine R. Dodge Poetry Festival once again transformed downtown Newark, New Jersey, into a “poetry village” for a few days in October. The bi-annual festival has been going strong since 1986, though longtime supporters have noticed a different energy since the festival left its traditional home in Waterloo Village.
But one thing has not changed: This remains the Super Bowl of Poetry. There is no other event like this festival, where the old meets the new, where high school students cheer wildly for words, and where the teeming energy of a giant hall of people morphs into a single, quiet heartbeat. Where Natasha Trethewey, the newly minted poet laureate, shares a stage with Amiri Baraka. Where Philip Levine and Dorianne Laux teach us about the lyrical nobility of work. Where aspiring poets, old and young, hang onto every word as if it is bread, as if it is life-giving manna.
The festival is more than a poetry reading, more than an event. It is a pilgrimage to sit at the feet of poets like Taylor Mali, to hear him recite “Like Lily Like Wilson.” It is the chance to be completely surprised by a brand new poet like Emari DiGiorgio and come to your feet when she finishes “Lady Liberty.” It is the chance to be inspired by Jane Hirshfield, who tells us that poetry gives us a voice, gives us courage to face the challenges that life puts before us.
Okay, so poetry isn’t life itself, but it is a way to experience life, a way to see the world and describe it and make meaning out of it. You can only see this, can only feel this at the festival. It isn’t quite Brigadoon, but it has that quality of stepping out of one world and into another. And if you experience it, you will be changed. This event is for everyone, and everyone should experience the Geraldine R. Dodge Poetry Festival at least once. If you go once, I promise you will want more.
— Ryna May
Associate professor of English,
Howard Community College