English department poetry reading honors Black History Month

Poetry is an expression of thought and a way to deepen the human experience, English Department Chair Vernon Wilson said. Students were able to experience this art form during the seventh annual Black History Month Poetry Reading, which took place in Olshan Lobby from E to H period this Monday. At the event, students recited poetry written by black authors. 

The event was not announced to the student body, though Wilson informed UD English teachers of the event so they could bring their classes to attend and students passing through Olshan could stop by. The small audience facilitated a more intimate environment, Wilson said.

The reading began with a reading of two poems by Langston Hughes by English teacher Rebecca Bahr’s 10th grade class. They performed “Winter Moon” and “The Negro Speaks of Rivers” while moving around the stage and alternating speakers.

After their performance, Wilson took the stage to read “Incident” by Countee Cullen, a poem he finds particularly powerful. It details the author’s childhood memory of traveling to Baltimore and being called racial slurs, demonstrating the power of words to linger in the mind and in the air in the room.

As the scheduled performances came to a close, students chose poems to perform alone, in pairs, or in groups. Performers read from a range of time periods and authors, from “We Real Cool” by Gwendolyn Brooks to Natasha Trethewey’s “Book of Kastas” collection. Sarina Shah (9) felt hesitant to share a poem when she first arrived at the event, but the small audience and supportive environment helped her overcome her apprehension, she said. 

Erianne Flores (9) appreciated how the event fostered conversation about black history through poetry, she said. It is important for people of all races to contribute, despite potential tensions, she said. “Poetry is a way to verbalize things in a pretty way, but is also a form of expression where you can talk about things that are really hard-hitting because it is such a fluid and open form of communication.”