Walker’s Goal Is to Surprise People With the Emotions of Poetry April 7
Frank X Walker knows that not everyone loves poetry. He knows that a middle school English class might have set a person against the literary form at an early age. But he also knows how to make poetry exciting, emotional and even fun.
Walker will be the speaker at the College of Southern Maryland’s Spring 2017 Connections Literary Series on April 7. He will read his poems starting at 7:30 p.m. in the Fine Arts Center (FA Building), Theatre, 8730 Mitchell Road, on the La Plata Campus. Attendance is free, and the community is invited.
Walker is a former Kentucky Poet Laureate and is a professor of the English and African American and Africana Studies Program at the University of Kentucky. He is the founding editor of Pluck! The Journal of Affrilachian Arts & Culture. His poems have become part of the curriculum for CSM students in some English classes.
Walker said that he expects to see some of those students attending his readings perhaps begrudgingly, he teased, and he wants to show them that poetry is not boring; rather, it is full of emotion and excitement.
“Part of my personal mission is to find the people in the audience who have made up their minds about poetry,” he said. He said he is aware that many people may attend such events because they are forced to attend for a grade, for a friend or for a spouse. Those are the folks he wants to reach, to surprise them with a presentation that shows poems and poets can be anything — funny, sad, emotional or entertaining.
“Everything they’ve heard about poetry is bad, so my job is to give them a really good reading to shape their opinion of poetry and then make a connection and hopefully change their minds,” he said. “I love it, because it’s like being a teacher again.”
Walker said standing at a podium and reading his work gives him a chance to share his love of poetry and show what it can do for people. “A lot of people are not sure what to expect. It’s like starting a new relationship,” he said. “I try to de-mystify the poetry process and show them where poetry comes from.
“My favorite part is the questions-and-answers segment after the reading. You learn a lot about your audience after the reading,” he said, adding that he hopes there are attendees who are new to poetry as well as potential writers who may be learning to develop their own voices. “Hopefully they end up finding out that poets are human people who are funny and sad but also warm and just humans.”
For those who already love poetry, Walker hopes to connect with them and even show them something new. “But if they hate it, I try to give them more than they expect.”
CSM Vice President of Academic Affairs Eileen Abel was introduced to Walker’s work 20 years ago when he was a guest artist for a program for high-achieving rising seniors in Kentucky, and Abel was a teacher in the program. “He was engaging — riveting — when workshopping with the students,” Abel said. “But then came his reading. He blew me away. … Walker is one of America’s most important writers today.”
CSM Languages and Literature Professor Neal Dwyer has been using Walker’s poems in his teaching, and he asks the students to use them as an example of poetry being a way to give a voice to the voiceless. The assignments charge students to find a person whose voice has been muted or silenced and then find a way to make that voice heard. The classes also focus on the role literature can play in the telling of history — who writes it, who edits it and whose voice is heard.
Walker has been voted one of the most creative professors in the South. He is the originator of the word “Affrilachia,” and he is dedicated to deconstructing and forcing a new definition of what it means to be Appalachian. He has lectured, conducted workshops and read poetry at over 400 national conferences, arts centers and universities across the globe, including Derry, Northern Ireland; Santiago, Cuba; Shanghai and Beijing, China; Mainz, Germany; Toronto, Canada; New York’s Lincoln Center; the University of California at Berkeley; Notre Dame; and Appalachian State University.
“Connections is a program that brings in nationally recognized writers who use their literary artistry to shake up their audience just a little bit: niggle our conscience, ask questions about uncomfortable social issues, touch on difficult (and often unspoken) human experience and emotions,” Abel said. “Frank X Walker is one of those writers who does all of those things, crafted in some of the most beautiful imagery and language coming out of contemporary American letters.”
Walker’s speech and reading are free to attend, thanks to the sponsorship of the Charles County Arts Alliance and Maryland State Arts Council, African American Heritage Society of Charles County Inc. and the Diversity Institute at CSM.