PICTURED: Clockwise from left: Joy Harjo (photo by Matika Wilbur), Tracy K. Smith (photo by Rachel Eliza Griffiths) and Juan Felipe Herrera (photo by Carlos Puma/UC Riverside)
by Emily Dodi
Poetry is having a moment. Amanda Gorman, the first youth poet laureate, the youngest inaugural poet in U.S. history and the first poet to perform at the Super Bowl, said it best. She tweeted, “Poetry at the Super Bowl is a feat for art and country because it means we’re thinking imaginatively about human connection even when we feel siloed.”
California Lutheran University is seizing the moment with Voices of the Nation: Celebrating the Work of U.S. Poets Laureate, a free three-part webinar series.
“The series focuses on how poets and poetry examine America past and present, illuminating beauty, variety, power and prejudice,” says Jacqueline Lyons, an associate professor of English and creative writing and the host of the event.
“At each event, students in the Cal Lutheran honors English class ‘Poetry and the National Consciousness’ will present selected poems by each laureate. A panel of poets and scholars from the Cal Lutheran faculty will provide cultural context on topics such as social justice, immigration and indigenous land struggles,” Karin Grennan, CLU’s media relations manager, explains.
The first webinar on Feb. 17 focuses on Tracy K. Smith, the Pulitzer Prize-winning poet and the U.S. poet laureate from 2017 to 2019. Smith once said, “Poetry invites us to listen to other voices, to make space for other perspectives, and to care about the lives of others who may not look, sound or think like ourselves.”
On March 10, during the discussion of his work, Juan Felipe Herrera will read from his new collection of poetry, Every Day We Get More Illegal. Herrera, who became the first Latino U.S. poet laureate in 2015, was also the poet laureate of California in 2012. In an interview with California State University, Fresno, Herrera explained how the small agricultural towns of the San Joaquin Valley that he called home influenced his work: “All these landscapes became stories, and all those languages became voices in my writing, all those visuals became colors and shapes, which made me more human and gave me a wide panorama to work from.”
Voices of the Nation concludes on April 4 with an appreciation of Joy Harjo, the current U.S. poet laureate. A member of the Muscogee (Creek) Nation, Harjo is the first Native American poet laureate. She once said, “I feel strongly that I have a responsibility to all the sources that I am: to all past and future ancestors, to my home country, to all places that I touch down on and that are myself, to all voices, all women, all of my tribe, all people, all earth, and beyond that to all beginnings and endings.”
Focusing on these three great American poets, we’re reminded of the power of poetry to connect us and help us understand ourselves and each other. Let’s hope the moment lasts.
Voices of the Nation was made possible with support from California Humanities, a nonprofit partner of the National Endowment for the Humanities.
The first installment of Voices of the Nation: Celebrating the Work of U.S. Poets Laureate takes place on Wednesday, Feb. 17, 7-8 p.m. Registration is required; visit CalLutheran/edu/voices.