I am tempted to say that there are no words to describe the events of the Blackbird Poetry Festival. But that would be a lie. I have many words.
The morning and afternoon activities engaged Howard Community College students in exploring poetry. The morning workshop led by two poets – Steve Mendes and Chris August – asked students to read, write, and share poetry. There were more than 50 students in that room, but Chris and Steve created a sense of community among those students through poetry.
The afternoon’s Sunbird event is really a unique one as it offers a platform for student poets to read their own works and share the stage with master poets – last year it was Billy Collins and this year it was Taylor Mali. Sunbird event allows students the opportunity to learn from other poets while – through performance – gaining confidence as poets in their own right. I’ll never forget the student who walked up to the podium somewhat timid. He was soft spoken and shy but he read his poem about a friend whose talents he admires. As he read, I think, his voice got stronger.
Listening to Mali’s performance was great, of course, but what was really special was watching him speak with student poets off stage, joke with them, comment on their works, and even tease them a little. Nsikan Akpan of HCC will always remember reading her poem to Mali during an intimate lunch gathering and having him sign her poem. Faheem Dyer of Atholton High School will always remember sitting on the stage next to Mali for a chat. Katy Day of University of Maryland (formerly of HCC) will always remember her talk with Mali about “dropped titles”.
The readings and the performances of Sunbird and Nightbird brought words to life – made me laugh and cry. But it is Mali’s moments of teaching and sharing with students that I will always remember and appreciate about Blackbird Poetry Festival at Howard Community College. (That and Mali’s demonstration of how a 3-legged dog pees.)