A Poetic Evening: Discussing Literature, Ethics, and Social Justice

From left to right: Meg Tyler, Gerald Vizenor, Sonia Sanchez, and Danielle Legros Georges.

On Wednesday, October 17, The Boston University Arts initiative organized an event at the Alfred L. Morse Auditorium entitled “Literature, Ethics & Social Justice,” which included readings and discussions with three renowned poets and authors: Danielle Legros Georges, Gerald Vizenor, and Sonia Sanchez.

BU College of General Studies faculty member Meg Tyler moderated the event, in which the poets read their poems, provided insights, and participated in an interactive question and answer session.

“I thought how cool would that be to have these three distinct people up on stage,” said Tyler, who has been an avid reader of these three poets’ work. “With different personalities but the same commitment to using art as a tool to help teach us how to live together more comfortably, to be more tolerant, and to be more honest. So that was the motivation.”

Legros Georges was born in Haiti but grew up in Boston’s Haitian community in Mattapan. She has been honored as the Poet Laureate of the city of Boston. Currently, she is a professor at Lesley University. Georges is the author of two poetry books, “Maroon” and “The Dear Remote Nearness of You.” Her writings have been featured in literary journals, books, and publications, including “The American Poetry Review,” “Black Renaissance Noire,” “Agni,” “The Caribbean Writer,” and many more.

Before narrating a poem, Legros Georges would explain to the audience the emotions or incidents on which she based it.

Georges narrated her poems in a soothing manner. With a calming stage presence, she waved and swung her hands to accompany the tone of each poem.

Before narrating a poem, she would explain to the audience the emotions or incidents on which she based it. Her poems addressed many serious topics, including racism, being a black woman, and natural calamities. One of her most impactful poems, “Intersection,” was about the earthquake that struck Haiti in 2010:

“The earth shook, a portal opened
I walked through it
Ash.

The earth shook, a portal opened
I walked through it
Earth.

The earth shook, a portal opened
I walked through it”

Gerald Vizenor has earned many awards, including the Lifetime Literary Achievement Award from the Native Writers Circle of the Americas.

Gerald Vizenor is of Anishinaabe heritage and a member of the Minnesota Chippewa Tribe: White Earth Reservation.

He served in the armed forces for three years, most of which were spent in Japan. He has also served as the director of the American Indian Employment and Guidance Center in Minneapolis, as well as as a reporter for the Minneapolis Tribune, where he investigated the role of American Indian activists. Vizenor has published more than thirty books in different genres and has earned many awards, including the Lifetime Literary Achievement Award from the Native Writers Circle of the Americas.

Unlike the others, Vizenor dived straight into his poem without any explanations, but in between a few poems, he would take pauses and recall a humorous personal experience (such as owning the copyright in order to restrict the circulation of bad poems) and narrate it to the audience.

He read his poem very softly and yet drew in the audience. His affinity for haiku was clear.

Vizenor’s poems were based on topics such as World War II, the military, and Native Americans.

Sonia Sanchez was born Wilsonia Benita Driver in Birmingham, Alabama. She is a scholar, poet, playwright, and activist. For over three decades, Sonia has been an influential force in African-American literary and political culture.

Sanchez has lectured at more than 500 colleges and universities in the United States. She is the author of 16 books and also a recipient of multiple awards, including as the Frost Medal, the Robert Creeley Award, and a National Endowment for the Arts Award.

Attendees enjoyed three compelling and very different poetry readings.

Sanchez’s personality and demeanor provided great variety in her reading: She changed from calm and relaxed to lively and enthusiastic the moment it was her turn. Not to mention, she brought interactivity, energy, enthusiasm, and unique tones–as well as an element of jazz–into the narration of the poems.

She was not shy of candor and often offered truth without sugarcoating. She invested some time explaining the foundation of her book because she deemed it important for the audience to know her mindset when writing it.

Her poems were fast paced, almost like poetic rap. They were meaningful and profound. She switched from loud reading to whispers, and frequently added sound effects and singing.

“I agree with her notion that poetry makes us stay human,” Yiyan Zheng, a mass communication student said, following Sanchez’s reading of “Does your house have lions?” “I am from China, and China’s grim reality makes me poignant, but it is ancient and modern Chinese poetry that transports and reconnects me with the more humane and beautiful aspect of the country.”

The latter half of the event was dedicated to a very interactive Q&A session.

Members of the audience asked the poets their opinions on a variety of topics, such as finding inspiration to write poetry, unethical practices in poetry, and women poets and their struggle to have their voices heard. The panel of poets answered these questions very elaborately while also adding witty humor to their responses.

“The discussion was my favorite part,” said attendee Vincent Dorrio. “The passion that these poets showed is something I will take with me. I will feel it on and on.”

 

 

Prachi Kabir, Staff Writer

Prachi is a Communication Studies graduate student from India who believes good research is more exhilarating than a good read. Needless to say, she is an avid reader, wannabe wine aficionado, professional daydreamer and hopeful to make a career in PR. Apart from reading, she loves sleeping and eating in no particular order.

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