Poetic Justice event allows Washington College community to share poetry amid turbulent political times

By Megan Loock

Elm Staff Writer

On Wednesday Nov. 4, Clifton Miller Library, in partnership with the Rose O’Neill Literary House, Writers’ Union, Sophie Kerr, and Collegian, hosted the first spoken word poetry series event, “Poetic Justice: What does it mean to you?” 

Despite the virtual format, members from the Washington College community gathered to share poems in an intimate space of healing and support. 

Current students and faculty members alike were encouraged to perform poems original or written by others that signified what poetic justice meant to them. In total, five people read: freshman Joshua Torrance, sophomore Jana Lewis, junior Kat DeSantis, senior Justin Nash, and Instructional Technologist for Miller Library Raven Bishop.

Bishop said that for her, poetic justice is “turning to pen and paper seeking comfort and using the process as a means of sorting out complex and challenging issues and the emotions they elicit.” 

Bishop shared an original poem, “Our Lady Colossus,” inspired by Emma Lazarus’s 1983 poem “The New Colossus.”

“Lazarus paints a picture of the Statue of Liberty as a welcoming, motherly figure but, in my mind, a very passive one,” Bishop said. 

In her adaption of the poem, the Statue of Liberty is no longer a passive mother but an “enraged goddess.”

“When I wrote my poem, I was responding to the rage so many women were feeling at the Kavanaugh Supreme Court confirmation hearings,” she said. “I chose to read this poem last night because we are on the heels of another fraught Supreme Court confirmation which was again so tied to issues surrounding women’s rights, the inclination of government to legislate women’s bodies, and the question of where does the law end and my [female] body begin?”

A majority of the poems that were performed presented themes of political unrest. 

For Lewis, poetic justice is more personal. 

“I am a first generation American,” Lewis said, “Being an immigrant was horrible enough because people make fun of your accent.”

Lewis read “A Letter to Your Flag” by Ronald Vinson “with some modifications.”

“I added some things about female empowerment especially for Black women,” she said, “I wanted to be seen as somebody.” 

The event coincidentally fell on the day after Election Day.

“It would have happened anyway, but it was one of those serendipitous happenstances,” Research and Instruction Librarian Alexandria Baker, the main organizer of the event, said. 

There was a growing theme of anxiety that emphasized the topical relevance of social unrest that defined this election season which could be seen in the poems that were shared.

Though she did not perform a poem, Baker shared what poetic justice meant to her. 

Baker shared a picture of a sculpture of Jen Reid, a Black Lives Matter protester, that was erected in Bristol, England.

Marc Quinn, the artist, “was inspired by an image of Ms. Reid standing on the plinth with her fist raised during the Black Lives Matter protest on June 7, moments after [Edward] Colston’s statue was torn down and dragged into the harbor,” according to BBC. 

The sculpture was raised where the statue of Edward Coltson, “philanthropist and slave trader,” as NPR described him, once stood. Coltson’s statue was toppled down during a protest on July 15. 

“We as a society are as comfortable with calling a slave trader a philanthropist as we are describing Black people as threatening,” Baker said.

Lastly, Nash read three successive poems: Kyle Carrero Lopez’s “After Abolition,” J. Jennifer Espinoza’s “I Dream of Horses Eating Cops,” and Steve Scafidi’s “For the Last American Buffalo,” that coincided as a successive narrative.

According to Nash, the order of these poems is “a working-backwards of sorts.”  The poems imagined justice for and commented on the corruption of law enforcement. 

“I think there’s a lot of power in imagining better worlds,” Nash said. “The three poems I read either prescribe or hypothesize kinder worlds in which justice is a given. That’s the kind of future I think we need to hold onto, and what I wanted to provide for everyone tonight.”

All of the poets received exuberant applause for their performances. While no deeper conversations occurred among the audience members, they provided an intimate space for the performers to amplify their voices through the art of poetry.

Clifton Miller Library will be hosting another Poetic Justice Spoken Word Event on Nov. 23.

Featured Photo caption: Raven Bishop sharing her original poem, “Our Lady Colossus.” Photo by Rebecca Kanaskie.

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