|Articles, Campus Life, United States on 2014-04-06 17:10Z by Steven|
Natasha Trethewey, the 19th Poet Laureate of the United States spoke in Finney Chapel for the third convocation of the spring semester. She read poetry from throughout her career and spoke on the ways she understands history through the lens of her intimate, personal relationships.
In his introductory speech President Marvin Krislov cited this understanding, noting the presence in her poems of “personal and social histories intertwined.” This was particularly pertinent given the date of her visit: March 4. This year marked the first anniversary of the day that classes were suspended following the vandalism and hate crimes on campus.
Before ceding the stage to Trethewey, Krislov acknowledged the student activists who have been working to change campus discourse, as well as Sarah Cheshire ‘14, Lillian White ‘16 and Cuyler Otsuka ‘14, the organizers of the “Oberlin History Lessons Project” which was displayed in the lobby of Finney Chapel and based around one of Trethewey’s poems.
The connection between Trethewey’s poetry and Oberlin’s remembrance of these events was clear. “I believe history is ongoing,” Trethewey said, before quoting Faulkner: “the past isn’t dead, it isn’t even past.” Poetry, she emphasized, is a way to connect people, a way to affect the heart and the intellect.
A Southerner and the daughter of a white father and a black mother, Trethewey’s work focuses on the history of race in American society and history, some poems more obliquely than others. She began the evening with “Miscegenation”, a poem about her parents’ illegal marriage in Ohio. The poem introduced Trethewey’s style—lovely language and loaded statements fitted into the confines of strict form. She then recounted when the KKK burned a cross on the lawn of her childhood home, after her grandmother allowed the parking lot to be used for voter registration, and followed this with a pantoum, which further recalled the incident…
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