Poetry Out Loud: 2018 National Book Festival

>>Amy Stolls: Is this on? Ooh, it got quiet. To start the day, good morning.>>Good morning.>>Amy Stolls: Woo-hoo. Welcome to the 2018 National
Book Festival: Here we go. [ Applause ] I want to welcome you especially
to the Poetry and Prose Stage which has been supported by the
National Endowment for the Arts, the NEA, since the
Festival began. And we’re proud to
continue that support. My name is Amy Stolls and I
direct the Literature Program at the NEA where we
celebrate literature as an art and essential reflection of our nation’s rich
diversity of voices. And we do this by
helping writers and translators create new
work and connect with audiences through publishers and
other literary organization and programs like
the NEA Big Read which supports communities
coming together to read and discuss one book,
and like Poetry Out Loud which you’re going to
hear about very shortly, and like this Festival. And there are several members of the NEA Literature
Team here today. They are floating around. You can see some of them. They’re not in the back. They’re probably around
[inaudible] oh, hello. They are standing by ready
to answer your questions. And though after each session
will be back at the table where we have free stuff for
you if you’d like to pick it up. And we have a terrific line-up
for you today on this stage. I’m going to turn the
mic over to, in a minute, over to the superb and superbly
unflinching Lauren Miller who managers the Poetry Out
Loud Program for the NEA in partnership with
the equally superb and superbly unflinching Steve
Young at the Poetry Foundation. But before I do, I want
to give a shout-out to the five national student
poets from around the country who have been chosen among
the national medalists in the Scholastic Art
and Writing Awards for their original poetry. They just received their
awards from the Library of Congress yesterday, on behalf
— the Librarian of Congress — on behalf of the Institute of
Museum and Library Services and the Alliance for
Young Artists and Writers. And can I ask you guys just
to stand up and be recognized. [ Applause and Cheering ] Thank you. I really think it’s
students like these and these who are going to save the world. I have no doubt. So here we go. Let the games begin. Lauren.>>Lauren Miller: Hello. Good morning, everyone.>>Good morning.>>Lauren Miller: Good morning. As Amy said, my name is Lauren
Miller and I manage the Poetry Out Loud Program at the
National Endowment for the Arts. On behalf of everyone at
the NEA, thank you so much for joining us here
this morning. So, first off, I’m going
to tell you a little bit about the program and then I’ll
introduce our wonderful guests here on stage, and you’ll
get a first-hand experience of the power of poetry
being read aloud. So Poetry Out Loud is a National
Youth Arts Program that seeks to foster the next generation of
literary readers by capitalizing on the latest trends in poetry,
recitation and performance. Poetry Out Loud encourages
high school students to learn about the classic and
contemporary poetry through memorization
and public recitation. Started in 2005 as a partnership
between the National Endowment for the Arts, the Poetry
Foundation, and the 53 state and jurisdictional
Arts Agencies, Poetry Out Loud has grown to serve more then 3.6 million
students and 55,000 teachers from 14,000 high
schools nationwide. This means that Poetry Out
Loud is in very state, D.C., Puerto Rico, and the
U.S. Virgin Islands. This program helps students
master public speaking skills, build self-confidence,
and most importantly, discover their own
creative voice. If poetry recitation sounds a
bit dry to you, just you wait. In a few minutes you’ll see the
students here on stage recite. And they’re phenomenal, and I
can’t wait for you to see them. So you may be wondering how
does Poetry Out Loud work. So Poetry Out Loud uses
a pyramid structure that starts in the classroom. Winners in the classroom advance
to school-wide competition, then to a regional and/or
a state final competition, and then ultimately at the
national finals which is here in Washington, D.C.
every spring. Poetry Out Loud students
are eligible for prizes at the same national levels of competition including
a $20,000 prize for the National Champion. And every year, Poetry Out
Loud awards more than $100,000 in prizes and school stipends for the purchase of
poetry materials. So, now if I’ve peaked your
attention regarding prizes, for any interested high
school students or teachers in the audience, it’s not
too late to participate. Please visit the
table in the back. We’re giving away
free teachers’ guides for the 2018/’19 school year. And we also have a
wonderful website dedicated to the program,
poetryoutloud.org which has more than 900 eligible
poems, video recitations, and a comprehensive
teacher’s guide. Last year, more than
300,000 high school students participated in Poetry Out
Loud, and today you’ll hear from two state champions who had
it all the way to the top nine at the National Finals. So let’s now introduce
our guests and moderator to the stage. Nicholas Amador is
the 2018 Hawaii Poetry Out Loud State Champion
and our 2018 Second Place National Finalist. Nick is a first-year student at
Harvard studying Astrophysics. In his free time, he likes to
sing, act, and write poetry. He is currently reading
Infinite Jest
by David Foster Wallace. He passionately wants to grow
a beard and for the first time in his life he feels like
he truly can [laughter]. Next up is Xiadi Zhai. Xiadi is the 2018 Massachusetts
Poetry Out Loud State Champion and placed in the top nine
of the 2018 National Finals. Xiadi is from Boston and
also is a current freshman at Harvard University. She’s considering studying
Chemistry and English, but is excited to explore
all opportunities available in college. In her free time she
enjoys running, writing, and meeting new dogs
in her neighborhood, including their owners. Finally, we’re extremely honored
and pleased to be joined by Poet and Poetry Out Loud
National Semi-Finals Judge, Javier Zamora. Javier is going to lead today’s
discussion with out students. He is a 2016/2018
Wallace Stegner Fellow at Stanford University. His poetry has appeared in several publications
includingThe [Inaudible]Review, New York Times,
and Poetry Magazine
. He has also received fellowships
from Colgate University, the National Endowment
for the Arts, and the Poetry Foundation,
among many others. He was awarded the 2017
Lehman Literary Fellowship, the 2017 Narrative
Prize, and the 2016 Barnes and Noble Writer
for Writers Award. His first collection,
, was published in 2017 by Copper Canyon Press. So, without further
ado, please join me in welcoming Javier,
Nick, and Xiadi. [ Applause ]>>Javier Zamora: So what
I thought for this panel — I want to introduce all of you
to the poetry, so they’re going to perform one poem and then
we’re going to talk about it. And at the end, they’re going
to close it up with a poem. And do one of you want to start?>>Xiadi Zhai: I’ll start.>>Nicholas Amador: Sure.>>Xiadi Zhai: Okay. “Degrees of Gray in
Philipsburg” by Richard Hugo. You might come here
Sunday on a whim. Say your life broke down. The last good kiss
you had was years ago. You walk these streets
laid out by the insane, past hotels that didn’t last,
bars that did, the tortured try of local drivers to
accelerate their lives. Only churches are kept up. The jail turned 70 this year. The only prisoner is always
in, not knowing what he’s done. The principal supporting
business now is rage. Hatred of the various
grays the mountain sends, hatred of the mill,
the Silver Bill repeal, the best-liked girls who
leave each year for Butte. One good restaurant and bars
can’t wipe the boredom out. The 1907 boom, eight
going silver mines, a dance floor built
on springs — all memory resolves
itself in gaze, in panoramic green you know the
cattle eat or two stacks high above the town, two dead kilns,
the huge mill in collapse for fifty years that
won’t fall finally down. Isn’t this your life? That ancient kiss still
burning out your eyes? Isn’t this defeat so accurate, the church bell simply
seems a pure announcement: ring and no one comes? Don’t empty houses ring? Are magnesium and scorn
sufficient to support a town, not just Philipsburg, but towns
of towering blondes, good jazz, and booze the world
will never let you have until the town you
came from dies inside? Say no to yourself. The old man, twenty
when the jail was built, still laughs although
his lips collapse. Someday soon, he says, I’ll
go to sleep and not wake up. You tell him no. You’re talking to yourself. The car that brought
you here still runs. The money you buy lunch with,
no matter where it’s mined, is silver, and the girl who
serves your food is slender and her red hair
lights the wall. [ Applause ]>>Javier Zamora: Thank you. It’s different being up on stage because usually I’m
in the audience. And being next to you, it’s like
you make the poem come alive, like literally with
— like [inaudible]. Thank you. And now, you want
to share yours?>>Nicholas Amador: Yeah.>>Javier Zamora: Absolutely. “Two Guitars” by
Victor Hernandez Cruz. Two guitars were left
in a room all alone. They sat on different
corners of the parlor. In this solitude they
started talking to each other. My strings are tight
and full of tears. The man who plays
me has no heart. I have seen it leave
out of his mouth. I have seen it melt
out of his eyes. It dives into the
pores of the earth. When they squeeze me tight
I bring down the angels who live off the chorus. The trios singing loosen organs
with melodious screwdrivers. Sentiment comes off the hinges
because a song is a mountain put into words and landscape is the
feeling that enters something so big in the harmony. We are always in danger of
blowing up with passion. The other guitar —
in 1944 New York, when the Trio Los
Ponchos started with Mexican & Puerto Rican
birds, I am the one that one of them held tight like a woman. Their throats gardenia gardens. An airport for dreams. I’ve been in theaters
and cabarets. I played in an apartment
on 102nd Street after a baptism pregnant
with women. The men flirted and were
offered chicken soup. Echoes came out of
hallways as if from caves. Someone is opening the door now. The two guitars hushed and
there was a resonance in the air like what is left by the
last chord of a bolero. Thank you. [ Applause ]>>Javier Zamora:
And as you start with a very simple question,
how did you choose the poems? Because my understanding is that
there’s a book that you have to — like a choice
of 160 or so poems, or what about these two poems that you just performed
captured you or –>>Xiadi Zhai: Would you
like to go for first?>>Nicholas Amador:
Sure, I’ll go first. Yeah. So the way we
picked the poems — it’s a catalog online on the
poetryoutloud.org website. And there’s a bunch of different
ways you can browse it. You know, there are
some restrictions. For example, of the three poems
that you pick, one of them has to have been written
before 1900 –>>Javier Zamora: Mm-hmm.>>Nicholas Amador:
— and one of them has to be less than 25 lines. How you distribute those
requirements is up to you. You can have one poem fulfill
both of those or you can have, you know, two different
poems fulfill two of those requirements. And then the other one can be
whatever you want it to be — a really long poem that was
written really recently. But, basically, though,
there are so many poems that it’s really hard to pick. At least it was for me. I’ve done the Poetry Out
Loud competition three years in a row, so what I always,
always did was I started by just clicking the
Random Poem Button, because there is one of those. And you can just read
a bunch of poems. And, you know, part of what I
did was the poems that I picked, I sort of picked
them strategically, so I would have one
sort of funny one, usually one really serious,
old one, and then one that was kind of, you know — had like elements of magical
realism in it that, you know, parts of it were funny and
parts of it were very serious and emotional, so “Two Guitars”
was that one for me this year. And also I would try to pick
poems that I felt like I could, you know, put my own voice
into because there are poems that are wonderful, you know,
in my opinion, that I love, but that I wouldn’t
want to recite on state. You know, E.E. Cummings,
for example. I love his poetry,
but that’s, you know, it doesn’t necessarily translate
to the spoken word as well. So, yeah, that’s how I
would pick those poems. The whole ordeal took
me several seeks.>>Javier Zamora: And did
they change [inaudible]?>>Nicholas Amador: Oh,
yeah, oh, yeah, all the time.>>Javier Zamora: So you chose
different ones every year that you competed.>>Nicholas Amador: Every
year that I competed, yeah.>>Javier Zamora: Oh, okay. How about you, Xiadi?>>Xiadi Zhai: I mean, the
best way I could describe it — both of us started
colleged recently, and orientation is throwing like a thousand-plus
freshmen together and forcing them to socialize. And I feel like a poem or poems
for this is a lot like that. You meet a lot of different
people the first few days, and eventually you develop
relationships with some of them. And you learn and understand
them more deeply and sort of connect with them
in that way. So I think the very start, when you start clicking
the Random Poet Button, that’s sort of the frantic
I know I have to socialize but I don’t really know what
I’m supposed to do right now. And it only gets
easier from there. And I think a lot of it is
choosing a poem that you feel like really speaks to
you and, of course, can communicate clearly
on stage. But there are some poems
that are very complex and have a whole
slew of emotions that really take your time
and energy to understand. And I think those poems
are really valuable and really the gems
of poetry, all that.>>Javier Zamora: Thank you. That’s a beautiful metaphor. And so that was what captured me because as a judge you
— I learned so much. It’s like I’ve read some
of these poems before. But I feel like the
best performances are when you really showed
another face that I’ve never really
thought of about the poem. So I was wondering how long did
it take you to find that niche into the poem and how
long did you practice, and like who helped
you and, you know?>>Xiadi Zhai: For me,
it took a lot of time. I don’t even know how much time. But my English teachers
at school helped me a lot, I think — the fact that they’re
so familiar with a lot of poetry and how they have
different visions. But I think a huge part
is having multiple people contribute to how your poem
is interpreted in the end because everyone has a
different understanding or different life experiences,
and it all changes the way that a poem is absorbed
by someone. So, for instance, the way that
my mom viewed “Degrees of Gray in Phillipsburg” was different
than how I wanted to view it. But sort of interlacing
other people’s experiences with your own and trying to understand it more
deeply in that way. So my process took a lot of
people and a lot of practicing in my room and a lot
of time and effort in communication with others.>>Javier Zamora: Right.>>Nicholas Amador: Yeah, I —
the -practice process, for me — I sort of, like shamelessly,
asked to practice my poems in front of anyone who wanted
to hear them [laughter]. You know, in front of my
mom or my dad, who’s here, and my English Teacher and
Poetry Coach at my high school. Here name is Laura
Cowerland [assumed spelling]. She was absolutely fantastic. I met with her once or
twice, you know, every week. And in terms of, you
know, the long term sort of practice thing — it’s like
once you memorize the lines and like really get
it to the point where like you can recite
the whole poem before you go to sleep just really quickly
like two guitars, you know. That’s the easy part, really. And it’s not easy. But it’s the easy part
because after that, it’s sort of figuring out
not only what the poem means, you know, what these
complicated phrases and weird metaphors mean,
but what they mean to you as the person who’s reciting it, because that’s what
it’s all about. Poetry Out Load is about, you
know, putting yourself into it and realizing what it
means to you and what sort of message you want to
convey to the audience. And the whole thing
is, you know, it’s completely subjective. People, you know,
like Xiadi was saying, they’ll interpret one poem
completely differently. And one of the more interesting
things that I took away from my three-year relationship
with this program is that often two or three people or even more will do the same
poem, and it’s not boring when you watch several people
do the same poem in a row, because everybody
interprets it differently. There’s an infinite amount
of ways to interpret a poem, and that’s what’s so
beautiful about it.>>Javier Zamora: And did
you have a relationship with poetry before
the program or — I know you come from
an acting background.>>Nicholas Amador:
Mm-hmm, I do.>>Javier Zamora: And do you? Because like for
me I remember it. So I graduated high
school in 2008, and this program
started like 2006/2005. So I actually knew
about the program. And my English teacher
said, you should do this. I’m like, no. I’m so scared of being in front
of people, even though I’m — now I’m talking in
front of people. But what — if you didn’t
come from a acting background, or if you did, what
inspired you to take that? For me, it was like that
extra step being a teenager and being in front of people. So like what inspired you and
how good poetry helped you?>>Nicholas Amador: Well, yeah. So I acted since
like middle school. I was doing musicals
and plays and stuff. So I’m generally comfortable
in front of crowds. But Poetry Out Loud — for me it’s actually very
different from acting. You know, when you deliver a
monolog in front of somebody, it’s — you’re really — I
mean, ideally, you’re becoming that character who’s delivering
the monolog in that play. You know, you read the whole
play, you sort of figure out what this character’s
all about, what their motivations are, what
their background is, you know. You sort of physically
like become that character, and emotionally and
mentally and all of that. But when you’re doing the poem,
or when I’m doing the poem, I’m not in a different
character. I really am me. You know, it’s not — I’m myself
when I’m delivering the poem. So that actually makes
it a lot more vulnerable. I’m making myself a lot more
vulnerable when I’m doing a poem as opposed to when
I’m doing a monolog. And I get a lot more nervous. But I did — you know, there
are obvious similarities between acting and
poetry recitation. And I started Poetry Out Loud
sophomore year, again, at — on my teacher’s recommendation. And, yeah, because they had seen
me act and they had, you know, recommended that I do this. And I was like, yeah,
sure I’ll try it. And I mean, it’s been great.>>Javier Zamora:
Will you share?>>Xiadi Zhai: For me,
my poetry journey sort of started in second grade.>>Nicholas Amador: Wow.>>Xiadi Zhai: I had a
phenomenal English Teacher who really was really
into the poetry unit, and [inaudible] communicated that really well
to his students. And I think that just goes to show how important
a good teacher can be in someone’s education and
development, just in life. But after that I started writing
poetry and reading poetry more and more, and having English
Teachers along the way who really encouraged
that and inspired me. And then I went to a high school
called Boston Latin School which is very traditional. And we have a mandatory
component of our English class called
Declenation [assumed spelling] which is essentially memorizing
someone else’s speech or book or monolog and making it
your own and performing that. So that’s when my involvement
with public speaking began, and I didn’t learn until my
junior year of high school that somehow poetry and
public speaking actually went hand-in-hand pretty well. And I’m really glad that
there happened to be a program at my school and I happened to
discover it even if it was later on in my high school period.>>Javier Zamora: Wow. Wow. Well, good job, teachers. Keep telling her to do poetry. And what advice do you — would
you have for like a freshman or like somebody in middle
school who’s thinking about doing this program? Like if they’ve never
heard of it?>>Nicholas Amador: My advice —
just like start reading poems. I did not get into poetry
as early as Xiadi did. You know, maybe — there’s
this story that I always tell. When I was in fifth grade there
was this project where we had to memorize a poem and recite
it and like write it out and do a little illustration
that went with it. And I was super happy about
it because I loved poetry. I hadn’t read a lot
of it in fifth grade, but I recited “The
Raven” by Edgar Allan Poe. And I got like a two out
of four on the — well — but the reason — I think
I recited it pretty well, but the reason was because
I — when I illustrated it, I didn’t use color
which was one of the — it’s heartbreaking [laughter]. But “The Raven.” I mean, that poem isn’t — that’s a black and white
poem to me [laughter]. But so I did that, and
got a two out of four. And I was like, I hate English. You know, all the way
until like eighth grade when I readTo Kill a
, and I was like, oh, my god, I love literature. So that’s when I started
get back into poetry. But in terms of advice,
I mean, start early, start reading poems, start,
you know, reciting them. Really fall in love with it. Find poems that you
really, really love. Memorize them, recite them, you
know, to people that you know, and just, yeah, just immerse
yourself in the whole world of it because it’s a big world.>>Xiadi Zhai: I
completely agree. I think reading is so important
to developing a love for poetry. When you start, there’s sort
of like some famous ones that you always read, like
Shakespeare’s “Sonnets, and then you think that’s
sort of all there is to poetry, and you feel like
you’ve understood it, you’ve seen it all. And then, for me, at least,
in my AP Literature class in 12th grade, my teacher
was really into T.S. Elliott. And I’d never read
T.S. Elliott before. And to go from my
understanding of poetry to be like Shakespeare’s
“Sonnets” and like John Dunne, to reading like T.S.
Elliott and “The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock,”
like that’s insane. It’s incredible that you can
do all of that in poetry, and I never would have learned
that if I didn’t keep reading and keep exploring and
discovering new authors and new styles and new ways to communicate the same
emotions over and over again.>>Javier Zamora: Oh,
T.S. Elliott, huh? Because you’re a big
fan of that same poem.>>Nicholas Amador: Mm-hmm. “J. Alfred Prufrock,” that’s
my favorite poem of all time, “Love Song of J.
Alfred Prufrock.”>>Javier Zamora: Wow. Could you — do you know
the beginning of the –>>Nicholas Amador:
Oh, my goodness. I recited it last year to –>>Javier Zamora: Yeah. Without putting you on the spot.>>Nicholas Amador:
[Inaudible] you and I when the evening
is spread out –>>Xiadi Zhai: Against
the sky –>>Nicholas Amador:
— against the sky like a patient etherized
upon a table. Woo.>>Javier Zamora: Oh, yeah. Is that etherized? Etherized?>>Nicholas Amador: It means that word etherized
— I’m like, wow.>>Nicholas Amador: It’s
just like [inaudible]. It flips you on your — yeah. It’s — I’ve never — that’s
the first time that I — poetry can do that, oh my god.>>Javier Zamora: And
are you reading now? And I know that you’re
both starting college, so you’re both freshmen. You just had orientation.>>Nicholas Amador: Mm-hmm.>>Javier Zamora: Are you — when I started writing
I didn’t tell people that like I did poetry. I was like shy about it. It was like my own thing. So I wonder if your friends, or
if you’re introducing yourself like in — at college. Like, you know, I do this. I do Poetry Out Loud, you know. I like recite poetry, or not. I don’t know.>>Xiadi Zhai: You
can advertise.>>Javier Zamora: I know. This is what I do.>>Xiadi Zhai: I don’t. I think, for me, poetry
is a very internal thing. And even what you said
about being vulnerable –>>Nicholas Amador: Yeah.>>Xiadi Zhai: — I think
even reciting in front of like my parents is
actually pretty hard at times because you have to
get into this mindset where you really isolate
yourself into this poem. So I don’t think I’m
thank public about it. I don’t go around, you
know, just saying –>>Javier Zamora: I’m a poet.>>Xiadi Zhai: —
poetry [inaudible]. But I think for people who do
do that, like that’s incredible, and we need more people like you who really emphasize the
effect of poetry on life.>>Javier Zamora: Yeah.>>Nicholas Amador:
I tell people that. I go around. I, you know, I, I’m
[inaudible] shameless about it. Like I said before,
because it’s — this is such a big part
of who I am, you know. I would not be the
person I am right now if I didn’t have
Poetry Out Loud, let alone poetry in general. It’s such a — and it should be
a big part of who everybody is because it’s so important. It’s such an important
way to share, you know, ideas that can change the world. And even ideas that
don’t change the world, that just are important to you.>>Javier Zamora:
That was very — it is about dreaming as well — [inaudible] that’s why I
read poetry because it’s like thoughts that
imagine a different world, and I am interested to hear if
you’re still a huge fan — – are you — what are
you reading right now? And it doesn’t have
to be poetry, but are you still writing, or do
you ever write at the same time that you’re like
practicing to recite?>>Xiadi Zhai: I
definitely still write. I think while you immerse
yourself in these poems for Poetry Out Loud, it’s sort
of hard not to be inspired by them to write and to view
what you’ve viewed throughout your life in a very
different way. And I journal a lot. I think journaling is actually
really helpful in terms of communicating your thoughts
and condensing them and trying to see how you can just go
through your day and reflect. But I think, you know,
reciting poetry, reading poetry, and writing poetry,
they’re all in one category. And I think they build off
of each other extremely well.>>Nicholas Amador: I agree. I a lot shyer about my writing. I do write, but that’s something
I don’t generally, you know, share poems that I’ve written
or talked to people about it. There was one time that I did. I went on a date with this girl
last summer, and I was just like — it was just — it was
like — we went on one date. And I wrote [laughter],
I wrote a poem about it. It was like this passionate love
poem, and I got it published in this — oh, god,
in the school –>>Javier Zamora: Tell us. I can Google it.>>Nicholas Amador: — magazine. No, no, I don’t think
you can find it. Don’t look for it. But, yeah, I got it published
it in the school thing, and I didn’t tell her about it. And like she read it
and she was like what? Because it was the most
embarrassing thing. It came out like in December and
I’d written it in the summer, so it was something
from a long time ago. So I, yeah, I don’t share
my poetry [laughter]. But I do write, and it
is important to do that.>>Javier Zamora: And one last
thing before we close it off with you two reading —
reciting one more time. What do you think
poetry can help us figure out about the political world
that we’re living in right now? It’s a very difficult question and a very difficult time
that we’re living in. So what, if anything,
did poetry teach you or not teach you that it can do. I guess what I’m asking is, what can poetry do
politically for us right now?>>Nicholas Amador: There —
you know, when you watch debates and you watch the news, it’s a lot of people just
saying the same thing over and over again to
me on the news. And I feel like at a certain
point the only real way that you can sort of
convey what’s important is through something like a poem. And that’s a difficult thing
to say because I, you know, I’m not exactly sure — sometimes it’s a fine line
between like delivering a speech and delivering a poem. But, you know, poems
are all about like — they’re short, usually, you
know, with the exception of “The Love Song of
J. Alfred Prufrock.” Most poems are pretty short. And it’s all about
like packing in — a lot of the time
it’s about packing in a really important
message, often political into like a couple of lines. And because of that, because
of how condensed it often is, it really hits you like, you
know, like a ton of bricks. It is so much more
impactful, to me at least, than a really long speech. You know, I can watch
something that’s like an hour-and-a-half
long, and it has a message. And I’m like, yeah,
I agree with that. But if it’s something
that’s really, really short, and it has that same
message, it’s like, woo. And especially today, you
know, in such a polarized and often dangerous political
climate, it’s really, really, really important that we all
sort of figure out what it is that we believe in, and
figure out how to communicate that clearly, because, you know,
oftentimes it’s, especially now, really important to say what you
believe and to put it out there.>>Xiadi Zhai: I wouldn’t have
[inaudible] as beautifully as that, but I think empathy
is so important to poetry, and I think more than ever it’s
also something that we need to keep in mind when we’re in
a political climate and talking to other people with maybe
differing political views, but justifications and their
own personal experiences to back it up. And I think, you know,
poetry – it just tries to communicate the
human experience. And I think politics
is also centered around the human experience. And both of these, if
we don’t really try to understand ourselves and the
people around us and the people that make up our world, I don’t
think it would be valuable at all. So I think in that way empathy
is the center of both in trying to understand what we
need and what we want in our futures I
think is very similar.>>Javier Zamora: Yeah. Well, thank you two
for your thoughts. And, hopefully, the
President could think the same as you two [laughter]. But do you want to close it
off by reading another poem?>>Xiadi Zhai: Sure.>>Javier Zamora: Yeah, yeah.>>Xiadi Zhai: Okay. “The Golden Shovel” by Terrance
Hayes After Gwendolyn Brooks. I. 1981. When I am so small,
Da’s sock covers my arm. We cruise at twilight until
we find the place the real men lean, bloodshot and
translucent with cool. His smile is a gold-plated
incantation as we drift by women on bar stools, with nothing left
in them but approachlessness. This is a school
I do not know yet. But the cue sticks mean we are
rubbed by light, smooth as wood, the lurk of smoke
thinned to song. We won’t be out late. Standing in the middle of the street last night we
watched the moonlit lawns and a neighbor strike
his son in the face. A shadow knocked straight. Da promised to leave
me everything — the shovel we used to bury the
dog, the words he loved to sing, his rusted pistol, his
squeaky Bible, his sin. The boy’s sneakers
were light on the road. We watched him run to us
looking wounded and thin. He’d been caught lying or
drinking his father’s gin. He’d been defending his
ma, trying to be a man. We stood in the road, and
my father talked about jazz, how sometimes a tune
is born of outrage. By June the boy would
be locked upstate. That night we got down
on our knees in my room. If I should die before I wake. Da said to me, it
will be too soon. II. 1991. Into the
tented city we go, weakened by the fire’s
ethereal afterglow. Born lost and cooler
than heartache. What we know is what we know. The left hand severed and
schooled by cleverness. A plate of weekdays cooking. The hour lurking
in the afterglow. A late-night chant. Into the city we go. Close your eyes and
strike a blow. Light can be straightened
by its shadow. What we break is what we hold. A singular blue note. An outcry singed
exiting the throat. We push until we thin, thinking
we won’t creep back again. While God licks his kin, we
sing until our blood is jazz. We swing from June to June. We sweat to keep from weeping. Groomed on a diet of
hunger, we end too soon. Thank you. [ Applause ]>>Javier Zamora: Thank you.>>Nicholas Amador:
That was good.>>Javier Zamora: Nick?>>Nicholas Amador: Yeah. Talk about political poems. This is “The New
Colossus” by Emma Lazarus. Not like the brazen
giant of Greek fame, with conquering limbs
astride from land to land. Here at our sea-washed, sunset
gates shall stand a mighty woman with a torch, whose flame
is the imprisoned lightning, and her name, Mother of Exiles. From her beacon-hand
glows worldwide welcome; her mild eyes command the
air-bridged harbor the twin cities frame. “Keep ancient lands,
your storied pomp!” cries she with silent lips. “Give me your tired, your poor,
your huddled masses yearning to breathe free, the wretched
refuse of your teeming shore. Send these, the homeless,
tempest-tossed to me. I lift my lamp beside
the golden door!” Thank you. [ Applause ]>>Javier Zamora: Oh, thank
you, Xiadi, and thank you, Nick. And thank you all for listening. And, hopefully, if
you’re teachers out there, you encourage all your students
to participate in this program and that you continue to teach
poetry and you continue to read. Thank you very much.

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