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Back to March 24, 2014

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Cristo Rey students Randy Biagas-Hill and Hanielis Vargas, left, join Anne Waldman. To the right are Girls Write Now students Najaya Royal and Bre’ann Newsome.

Photo by Janet Sassi

Outreach Out Loud

By Tom Stoelker

Each year Poets Out Loud (POL), the community of poetry at Fordham’s Lincoln Center campus, holds several readings and administers a book prize series.

And while the reading and prize programs anchor the POL, a four-year-old youth outreach program has quietly begun to shape the community as well.

Distinguished poet Elizabeth Alexander
will read with high school students on
Monday, April 7 at 7 p.m., 12th-floor Lounge/Corrigan Conference Center, at
the Lincoln Center campus. Visit www.fordham.edu/pol

 
The outreach program collaborates with high schools and nonprofit groups like Girls Write Now, a writers’ mentoring program for girls. With a focus on reading, writing, and listening to poetry, POL works with underserved high school communities that might not otherwise come into contact with poetry at such an intensive level. POL’s diverse programming exposes the students to poets from all walks of life.

“We want to bring poetry to as many people as possible,” said Heather Dubrow, Ph.D., the John D. Boyd, S.J., Chair in Poetic Imagination and director of the reading series. English professor Elisabeth Frost,  Ph.D., who directed the series for several years, now heads up the Poets Out Loud book prize.

Each month, the high school students meet up an hour before the POL reading to discuss the work they’ll hear that night and to get advice on their own work. Fordham master’s and doctoral candidates in English run the workshops. Toward the end of the session, the evening’s featured poet pops in to meet with the budding writers before they all head to the E. Gerald Corrigan Conference Center for the main event.

At the final reading of the school year, two or three students from each school or organization read their work together with a distinguished poet. Last year, students performed with beat poet Anne Waldman. At this year’s final reading on April 7, they will be reading with Elizabeth Alexander, who chairs the African-American Studies Department at Yale University and who was the featured poet at President Obama’s 2009 inauguration. Poets who have worked with the students include Edward Hirsch and Marie Howe.

“I feel strongly that you can appreciate contemporary poetry better if you know what it’s coming out of,” Dubrow said of the high school program. “It’s not as if it’s all dead white males writing one kind of poetry. There are lots of LGBT poets and people of color drawing on some of what we call older poetry.”

Dubrow selects the graduate students who lead the workshops. This year’s workshop leaders include Amanda Calderon, GSAS ’12, and English doctoral candidate Jordan Windholz. University of North Texas Press will be publishing Windholz’s collection, Other Psalms, in spring 2015, and Calderon’s work will appear in the Kenyon Review and Poetry this spring.

Rebecca Haverson, senior program coordinator at Girls Write Now, praised the workshops as being very accessible to her students. She noted that finding programs in New York City that feature women of color—and incorporate different languages—has proved a challenge.

“Also, having younger instructors makes a big difference to the girls we serve. It affects their ability to frame the topic and speak to it,” she said.

Though Windholz agreed on the importance of diversity in the programming, he sees diversity as more a reflection of the contemporary poetry scene than of any concerted effort.

“We’re just recognizing the broad scope of New York’s poetry communities,” he said.

He added that the main thrust of the workshops is simply to familiarize students with the poetry. None of the students are required to be there, making them more engaged, arguably, than even your average college student.

“As a teacher it always puts me in the position of being amazed by their perspective,” he said. “We acknowledge that we’re serving underserved communities, but we’d be underserved if they weren’t in the program.”

 

 


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