Friday, August 30, 2013

Writing poetry to be read/published vs. Writing poetry to be heard

Cindy Lyles--a poet who writes to be read and heard--presents a poem at SIUE in 2012
Many professional and aspiring poets are necessarily interested in getting published. They write poems and seek to get published so that their words and ideas might be read. Many of them give public readings, but by and large, they understand that career advancement in the field means having one's poems published, read, and recognized for awards.

The first-year black women in one of my literature courses have a different imperative for writing poetry, I was recently reminded. Many of them write poetry so that they can read the poetry out loud and be heard. Yesterday, after we read Maya Angelou's "Still I Rise," a young sister raised her hand and asked "Are we going to get to write and read our own poetry in this class?"

"Yeah!" others chimed in. "Can we?"

People then began sharing that they've written poems and would like to share them out loud with the class. I was intrigued that they were less interested in having their poems published and read. They were primarily focused on having what they had written heard.

One of the students pointed to another student and said, "she has some poems the people here [all first-year black women] need to hear, and we probably need to invite some of the guys you know, because I have some poems that men need to hear."  Obviously, I'm interested in what those poems that folks "need to hear" sound like.

As someone who wants more people to study poetry (as printed and audio texts), I couldn't resist joking the young sisters about how everybody wants to write poetry, but no one wants to study it. Nonetheless, the difference between writing poetry to be read and published vs. writing poetry to be heard did send my mind in multiple directions.

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