By Jennifer Spencer
Two New York City poets opened the 20th year of Poets Out Loud by sharing work about their beloved city, the 9/11 tragedies and the healing power of art.
More than 140 people attended the reading on Sept. 12 in the 12th-Floor Lounge on the Lincoln Center campus, the first of six events scheduled this year.
Arkansas native Patricia Spears Jones moved to New York in the 1970s. She is the author of Painkiller (Tia Chucha, 2010) and Femme du Monde (Tia Chucha, 2006) and is well known as the program coordinator for the Poetry Project at St. Mark’s Church.
Edwin Torres, a native Puerto Rican who grew up in New York City, got his start in the 1990s at the Lower East Side’s Nuyorican Poets Café. His work mingles poetry with theatre, music, sound and physical improvisation. Torres, who has taught workshops across the United States and overseas, was featured on MTV’s first Spoken Word Unplugged.
Heather Dubrow, Ph.D., the Rev. John Boyd, S.J. Chair in Poetic Imagination and director of the Poets Out Loud reading series, said the diversity of poets featured at the events helps people see the range of what is happening in poetry today.
“The readings encourage—and even inspire—people to enjoy poetry, to think about poetry and to sometimes write poetry,” Dubrow said. “Beyond that, hearing poetry encourages people to listen to language and to realize just how important sound is—that’s relevant not just to their reading poetry, but to participating in conversations and in everyday life.”
Graduate student Cristina J. Baptista, who read two of her own poems to open the evening, said the series is inspiring for potential poets and drives home Fordham’s “New York is My Campus” motto.
“Reading here was an honor and a pleasure, and listening to the other poets is a wonderful opportunity to learn about new work and gain new inspiration,” Baptista said. “It’s valuable for my students to attend simply to get out and enjoy everything that Fordham and New York City have to offer.”
Given the reading’s New York City focus and its timing on the day after Sept. 11, Spears Jones and Torres both read work relating to the 9/11 attacks. Torres, who had dinner at Windows on the World the night before the attack, said poetry was a powerful tool to help process the tragedy and heal from it.
“Grieving through poetry can be like a kind of purging—getting it out, but not forgetting. Through poetry, we are allowed to go to those emotional places that give us the freedom to move on. They are sacred places, often, but we can miss them if we don’t take the time to see.”
Poets Out Loud was founded in 1992 to provide opportunities for the creation, dissemination and enjoyment of poetry. POL’s next event is a 20th anniversary celebration featuring J.D. McClatchy, Julie Sheehan and poetry and music by Lawrence Kramer, to be held on Oct. 27.
The series is free and open to the public.