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The Guilfordian

The student news site of Guilford College

The Guilfordian

The student news site of Guilford College

The Guilfordian

Poet weaves words for Bryan Series

“Contrary to news reports, poetry is not dead,” said poet Elizabeth Alexander. “It was reported dead, and it is not at all.”

Alexander took the stage Tuesday night at the War Memorial Auditorium, opening the second event in this year’s Bryan Series.

In 2009, Alexander made history as the fourth poet to read at a presidential inauguration. She told the audience a short anecdote about the poem she recited at President Barack Obama’s inauguration titled, “Praise Song for the Day.”

“The beautiful news that I always knew — but now I have proof — is that poetry matters,” said Alexander. “I have evidence in bags and bags … like the old-fashioned mail bags of letters that came, columns of email. (I received) a flag from the United Farm workers saying, ‘Thank you for the word lettuce.’

“That line (in the poem) talked about the people in this country who feed us, who pick the cotton and the lettuce. And they knew all the history that was behind that word.”

Alexander has been chair of Yale University’s Department of African American Studies since 2009 and her presentation on March 4 was titled “Hearing America Sing: Multi-Vocal Cultures in America.” The talk explored the yield of racial thinking in poetry and history.

Thessa Pickett, a local poet known as Lady Nubia, thoroughly enjoyed Alexander’s presentation.

“I thought that she was simply perfect,” said Pickett. “I loved how she tied in latter day history about our ancestry and tied it to our present day struggles. I felt like she captured it so beautifully.

“She embodied the fullness of what poetry is. And she found the perfect language to explain that.”

Alexander commented on the changes that brought forth the multicultural university, calling her generation the beneficiaries “of an awful lot.”

“When I went to Yale University and arrived on campus in 1980, there had only been women on that campus as undergraduates for about 10 years,” said Alexander. “It didn’t seem that way when we were there, but these changes in who is on our college campuses are really rather dramatic.”

Ty Buckner, associate vice president of communications and marketing, spoke about Alexander’s work and the presentation’s theme.

“She touches on the experience of people of various cultures in America and how we are stronger because we are a melting pot,” said Buckner, coordinator of the Bryan Series, in a phone interview. “She’s a literary activist … a promoter of social change.”

Buckner moderated the Q&A session following Alexander’s presentation.

Questions ranged from inquiries about her writing process to defining community and questions about her dance experience.

Alexander spoke with beautiful rhetoric and a frankness that won over the audience.

“I loved her honesty,” said Evelyn Smith, a piano technician at Guilford College. “I loved the way she talked about race in a way that expanded my concept of it and, at the same time, drew me in. I appreciated … that she doesn’t mince words but never forgets the humanity of all of us. She was fabulous.”

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