Event focuses on racism and reflection in poetry

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Sharon Olds and Robin Coste Lewis, both poets, were guests at the “Literary Legacies” event Nov. 16 at the Godwin-Ternbach Museum.

Kimiko Hahn, a distinguished professor at QC, welcomed the audience by introducing both poets.

Lewis praised both Olds and Hahn as she was familiar with them.

“Hahn was my teacher. I have learned so much from her,” Lewis said. “Sharon lays a foundation builds a plant for writers. I read every book of hers, and I got terrified in a good way.”

Lewis is the author of “Voyage of the Sable Venus” that explains the history of black women and discrimination against them. It was came out last September.

The book takes place at different times in history and contains narratives on slavery for example. Passages from it were read by Lewis.

“Head of a black woman, resurrected and powerless. Female resembled by a monkey. Standing a woman holding a staff surrounding a human head. Black female has a black symmetrical mouth,” Lewis said.

Olds followed Lewis and spoke about the changing form of poetry.

“I don’t know what poetry is. Poetry is changing. What it will be in the next ten years, I do not know,” Olds said.

Olds’ wrote “Stag’s Leap,” released in September 2012, and is filled with poems about her personal life and how it feels to no longer love.

“’Have faith old heart, what is living but dying?’ I have this feeling, when I wrote that last line, I asked myself ‘is that poetry?’ I felt smart. I did not know what it was until today,” Olds said.

A question-and-answer session at the end of the event led a student to ask Lewis about fear.

“I think fear is a sign. If I am afraid to do it, then it is a sign that I must go towards it,” Lewis said.

Lewis referred to a time when, in Olds’ class, she was afraid to read poems about sexual abuse, but she acknowledged the wisdom in them.

“When I encounter scary material that I have to read, I read it. Often, scary material can be educational. That was an example of iy and I believe that young people need to learn more about sexual abuse as well,” Lewis said.

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