April is poetry in motion


By Diana Newton

Readings and other poetic opportunities abound throughout April in Chapel Hill and Carrboro as part of National Poetry Month.

The opening line of T.S. Eliot’s legendary poem “The Waste Land” famously declares that “April is the cruelest month.” This is certainly not the case for poets and lovers of verse as National Poetry Month unfolds through numerous readings, workshops, and activities planned for April in Chapel Hill and Carrboro. Under the leadership of Chapel Hill’s poet laureate, Cortland Gilliam, Chapel Hill Community Arts & Culture and the Chapel Hill Public Library have organized these festivities.

Blackouts Beyond the Eclipse

Those experiencing a letdown after the blackout euphoria of the total eclipse this week might take solace in creating some blackout poetry at the Chapel Hill Public Library. Every month, visitors will find a display with recycled library book pages from which they can create a “blackout poem.” For those unfamiliar with this genre, the poet scans an original text for words of interest or resonance, then crosses out the remaining words, sentences or paragraphs with markers. Unlike traditional poets who decide what words to add, the blackout poet creates a new work through the process of elimination. 

Blackout poetry is created by eliminating words from existing texts.

Poetry, Popcorn and Pie Night in Carrboro

Alliteration, anyone? On April 15, Carrboro’s current and former poet laureates, Liza Wolff-Francis and Fred Joiner. Invite the public to join them for “Poetry, Popcorn and Pie” —an open mic night from 6:30-8:30 p.m. at the Carrboro Century Center. The first 20 poets to sign up will be able to share one poem with a maximum reading time of 5 minutes while listeners consume kernels or crumb toppings.I changed this because it sounded like a food fight 

Teens Practice Poetry as Protest

Over 50 years ago, Gil Scott-Heron’s satirical poem asserted, “The revolution will not be televised,” recognizing that change requires mobilizing voices and action.  From Greta Thunberg’s asserting leadership around climate change to the Parkland High School students organizing thousands to protest gun violence Restructured to make it parallel, young people have demonstrated that they have the energy, outrage and idealism to do something about the troubling issues of our times.  At the  “Radical Imagining” workshop, teens (ages 13-18) can learn how to channel their activist energy into poetry as a means of seeking social justice. This event will be on Saturday, April 20, from 2-3 p.m. at the Chapel Hill Public Library.

“the poet is a verb”

Chapel Hill Poet Laureate Cortland Gilliam will reprise a gathering he calls “the poet is a verb,” featuring Triangle area poets, followed by a community open mic. Gilliam says the gathering “aims to illustrate an understanding of poetry as a community, a relational practice that moves/activates us toward our collective humanity.” This event will occur on Friday, April 26, from 6:30-8:30 p.m. at the Chapel Hill Public Library. Registration is open to the public.

Gilliam sought out three poets “who I find to be community builders, gatherers, and cultivators”: Jameela F. Dallis, Ph. D., Dasan Ahanu, and James Daniels (who also goes by the stage and music name James Solomon).

Jameela Dallis will be one of the featured poets at “the poet is a verb” reading and open mic on April 26. Photo credit: Jameela Dallis

One of these invited poets, Jameela Dallis, reflected on her role as an artistic “verb” in the public sphere and how her experiences migrate into poetic form. “As a public intellectual, I see my role as trying to make things that people might think as complex or obscure more accessible, to inspire wonder and curiosity.” Dallis does so by writing in numerous disciplines, both creative and scholarly, and by curating art and offering workshops on ekphrasis. This practice allows people to look, think and write about a visual work of art.

While her poetry has roots in her personal experience, Dallis strives to transform aspects of her inner life into something more universal and relatable. Lately, she said, “I’ve been writing a lot of poems about oysters. This is probably the most sustained theme in my work.” In a rich string of associations, Dallis discussed the differences in how oysters look and taste based on where they are harvested and how they act as filters and indicators of healthy water. She noted how some regard these mollusks as aphrodisiacal and how Shakespeare coined the proverb, “The world is your oyster.” I’ve seen this phrase referred to more often as an idiom than a proverb. She then conjured up the image of Zora Neale Hurston sharpening her oyster knife.

From this stream of knowledge about marine biology, literary references and sensory and emotional experiences comes her poem “Oyster Dreams,” in which her deep grief experience is filtered through the bivalve. Dallis will likely read one of her oyster poems for participants at “the poet is a verb” event.

James Daniels, another featured poet, specifically sees himself as a peace builder — “the act of seeking the truth in order to find the root causes of violence” — which he differentiates from being a peacekeeper or peacemaker.  “My hope is that peace — which is not just that absence of violence, but the space to see and breathe freely in what is beautiful in this world — is always present in my work,” he explained. Daniels’ craft is deeply rooted in the complexities of the Black American South, so attendees will definitely hear him read some poems at the event, and perhaps even hear some of his music.

Dasan Ahanu reading from one of his poetry collections. Photo credit: Guangpyo Hong

Southern writer and performing artist Dasan Ahanu will be the third poet to perform at the reading prior to the community open mic. Though he is a self-described introvert, Ahanu’s work as a public speaker, cultural organizer, curator, educator, poet, spoken word artist, educator, songwriter and emcee continually places him in the public eye. He sees his role as a poet as that of “an ambassador and representative of the art form and craft. I feel that my responsibility in the public square is to deliver necessary messages, bring joy, call to question, and tell stories.”

In 2023, he served as the 15th Piedmont laureate, the third poet to hold the post. Others were Jaki Shelton Green and Mimi Herman, according to the website. Ahanu is also the author of six poetry collections.

Aspiring and practicing poets can also find writing prompts from these three featured local poets and Cortland Gilliam on Instagram each Wednesday in April: @chapelhillarts and @chapelhillpubliclibrary.

Robert Frost wrote: “A poem begins as a lump in the throat, a sense of wrong, a homesickness, a lovesickness.” Surely,most people have experienced at least one of these as a place to start writing, or at least listening.

Diana Newton is a coach, facilitator, filmmaker, writer, artist, yoga teacher and general Renaissance woman. Her documentary film, The Ties That Bind, is available for streaming on UNC-TV. She lives in Carrboro and is a UNC alum. This reporter can be reached at Info@TheLocalReporter.press

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