Black History Month Poetry Workshop in a nutshell
Audre Lorde headshot. Photo courtesy of Flickr.

Black History Month Poetry Workshop in a nutshell

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In celebration of Black History Month and Black poets, students at New College of Florida joined together on Sunday, March 24 in the ACE lounge to read, discuss and reflect on the power of poetry. The poetry workshop, facilitated by students and Professor of French Language and Literature Amy Reid,  opened the floor for passionate conversation about the sense of community that poetry can provide for anyone. Powerful stanzas and verses along with poetry recommendations left the group with much to read, feel and appreciate long after the event ended.

The March poetry workshop had no writing expereince requirement and was open to anyone. One of the main points made during the workshop was that poetry may mean something a little different to everyone, and this was perfectly exemplified by the participants. The crowd ranged from poetry fanatics to first-timers, which resulted in an interesting mesh of perspectives. This mixture allowed for newcomers to learn from the experts, and for the experts to experience the thought processes of people who had never read poetry before. The conversation was professional and creative with no judgment or unseriousness, an essential component when attending a workshop in hopes to hone one’s skills. 

One idea shared at the beginning of the workshop revolved around this quote from Audre Lorde: “This is poetry as illumination, for it is through poetry that we give name to those ideas which are — until the poem — nameless and formless, about to be birthed, but already felt. That distillation of experience from which true poetry springs births thought as dream births concept, as feeling births idea, as knowledge births (precedes) understanding.” Much attention was given to the very moving piece “The Uses of Anger: Women Responding to Racism” by Lorde, a Black women’s rights activist. The presentation by Lorde opened discussion into topics such as Black feminist theory and the debate of hierarchy within oppression. The concept of the “Oppression Olympics” was introduced when discussing the Combahee River Collective Statement, which was, according to Tisa M. Anders, “one of the earliest explorations of the intersection of multiple oppressions, including racism and heterosexism. For the first time in history, Black women openly and unapologetically communicated their sexual orientations in the midst of their social justice work, no longer trading their silence for permission to engage in political struggle.” The workshop’s crowd remained respectfully curious when diving into these topics, with a new understanding being offered to all participants. 

The workshop was filled with “Aha” moments, where surface-level words strung together in a rhyme scheme were spoken, but mutual understanding was felt throughout the ACE lounge. This shared understanding was touched upon several times during the workshop, especially when participants shared different pieces that were important to them. The poetry shared included short pieces that revolved around oranges, Lorde’s passionate essay, “Poetry is Not a Luxury” about Black feminism, artistically worded stanzas about love and a few contributions from participants who shared their own original poetry. The style of each piece was different from the next but the sense of appreciation remained throughout. 

Workshop goers bounced back and forth among different forms of poetry, and as mentioned above,  a popular theme was oranges. Poems such as “The Orange” by Gene Lilth and “Orange Peeling” by JV Apante were read aloud by participants. In true workshop fashion, a thorough analysis of this tart-fruit-poetry ensued and revealed themes that ended up being much more sweet than sour. Love, friendship and self-appreciation were a few of the shared motifs in these light-hearted pieces. Workshop participants exchanged their own takes on the idea of peeled fruit, which may seem simple at a glance. But the quoted idea of poetry as an illumination of feelings reminded the group that poetry and most other things, especially fruit, need to be “peeled” back and exposed for what they truly are in order to be fully appreciated and understood. 

The workshop ended with a final poem, “Word” by Aime Cesaire. Originally written in the French language, the poem was translated by Reid for the group. The piece rounded out the two- hour workshop beautifully, offering attendees food for thought moving into the finale of the semester.

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