STORY BY ADAM ROGAN
Douglas Kearney, an award-winning poet, visited Cowles Library last Thursday to perform some of his own poetry and to highlight several other local poets.
The Coalition of Black Students and RunDSM coordinated the event, entitled “SHOUT,” along with the help of Professor Brian Spears.
Kearney presented seven students who performed their own poetry on topics ranging from the perpetuation of racial stereotypes and the lure of fame to riches, drugs and false perceptions of beauty.
Maddie Cox, one of the student-poets, shared how she first came to love poetry.
“I like poetry because it’s a way to express myself and have people actually listen,” Cox said. “If you have a mic, people will listen.”
After the students showed their skills, Kearney took the podium to perform. He threw his voice and contrasted whispers into the microphone with sudden shouts, slow speech and quick words, including a set of three songs.
The songs focused on the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, while Kearney’s poems commented on domestic abuse, abortion, miscarriage and college.
After the event, many of the audience remained to speak with Kearney, his favorite part of performing.
“It’s fun to get up and do the work,” Kearney said. “The work stays the same, your reading of it changes, but the work kind of stays the same. What changes are the people you’re engaging with.”
Although his tastes have grown over the years to include poets like Bob Kaufman and Harryette Mullen, Kearney said he grew up listening to hip-hop.
He highlighted De La Soul and Ice Cube as some of his early favorites.
Cox found poetry in a different way, saying she was invited to a poetry workshop in high school and became immediately hooked on the art.
However, Kearney’s love of poetry did not blossom as immediately as Cox’s did. He began writing fiction, but found that he would become fixated on the words and lose the story along the way.
“I was more interested in how the language bounced off of itself,” Kearney said. “I realized that so much of poetry is taking that language and making it do remarkable things.”
Not only has his interest in poetry grown over the years, but Kearney also enjoys encouraging conversation.
“When I first started, I felt like the job of my work was to provide answers and that oftentimes meant oversimplifying problems and questions,” Kearney said. “I’ve discovered it is much more honest and much more rewarding. Sometimes your work is just driving towards another question. And then when you have a conversation about that … people are now talking about the issue because you didn’t give them an answer to it. You gave them a question that people feel like perhaps they can answer.”
Although his poetry might be saddening to some, Kearney is a hopeful person.
“We are in this together,” Kearney said. “That’s what civilization is.”