The Newton Free Library celebrated Black History Month by dedicating a space for Black poets to share original work and honor the artists that came before them at an open mic event.
Hosts Douglas Holder and Ellen Meyers organized a virtual event titled “Celebrating Voices of Color: Poetry Reading and Open Mic” on Tuesday night. Three poets read original poems or shared other artists’ work before opening the floor for the audience to participate.
Holder introduced the first poet, Durane West, who has been writing poetry since he was in middle school.
“In eighth grade, he stumbled upon poetry to express his feelings for a crush,” Holder said. “He has been uncovering pieces of his soul through written verse ever since.”
West opened with a blackout piece that he said was inspired by the lyrics of “The Star-Spangled Banner.” In creating the untitled poem, West pulled words from the anthem and rearranged them in unique verses.
West also read works by other Black poets that inspired him. He read poems from the Oxford Anthology of African-American Poetry, including “Poem for the Blues Singers” by Sterling Plumpp and “Three-Legged Chairs” by Lamont B. Steptoe.
Holder then introduced Julia Kanno, an artist and health care worker. Kanno’s first poem, “The Empty COVID Octopus,” was about her experience as a nursing assistant during the COVID-19 pandemic.
“Freedom from the vent during the day is like finding inner truth, Santa Claus, or even the North Star, or getting a great deal on ‘I want to live dot com,’” Kanno read. “Yet, careful. You are still not or nor you will ever be yourself. You’re in a place that I would sell my soul to not be in.”
Matthew E. Henry, a writer, editor, and educator, followed Kanno and spoke as the last featured poet.
“The poems I’m going to read right now are that intersection between being a teacher of color but also being a student of color,” Henry said.
Henry opened with his poem title “My Third Grade Teacher,” which he said conveyed the myths white educators hold about Black students. He said another one of his poems, entitled “Self Evident,” demonstrates to teachers the dangers of curriculum being colorblind.
Henry concluded his remarks by showing appreciation for having space to showcase Black art with an optimistic tone.
“I mean, thanks for giving us the shortest month and bringing out Black stuff,” Henry said. “But if it can be other than stories of tragedy and overcoming pain and suffering, that’d be cool. We do other things as well.”
Before opening the floor to audience members, the audience took a moment of silence for the poets. Meyers asked the audience to use the pause as an opportunity to process the powerful words that they just heard. One open mic participant voiced her appreciation for the vulnerability of the poets.
“This was magnificent and such raw honesty,” said Karen Klein, an open mic participant. “It’s really amazing, and I congratulate all of the readers. It was a privilege to listen.”
Featured Image Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons