How Poetry is Encouraging the Work of Dreams
“For women, then, poetry is not a luxury. It is a vital necessity of our existence.
It forms the quality of the light within which we predicate our hopes and dreams
toward survival and change, first made into language, then into idea, then into
more tangible action. Poetry is the way we help give name to the nameless,
so that it can be thought.”
—from Poetry Is Not A Luxury, by Audre Lorde
My work as an intern for the arts program Poetry Out Loud, has led me to reflect on my own understanding, exposure, and love of poetry, along with how it has impacted my life.
Poetry Out Loud is a recitation competition founded in 2005, with the aim to inspire students and encourage their literary development. Through funding from the National Endowment for the Arts, students obtain confidence, a critical knowledge of traditional/contemporary writing, and a mastery of public speaking. Since its start, the competition has reached over 3 million students in over 10,000 schools in the nation. The Minnesota State Competition for Poetry Out Loud will take place at The Loft Literary Center, in March 2019.
In high school I didn’t have the opportunity to participate in Poetry Out Loud, yet my love for poetry and literature remained present and persistent. Holding me prisoner to all its glory, writing encouraged me to view poetry as the ultimate work of my dreams. One of my favorite poets and writers, Audre Lorde, continues to reiterate over twenty years after her death: poetry is not a luxury. It is both breath and battle cry.
I cannot remember the first poem I wrote, but I do remember the first time literature discovered me in my adolescence longing, and how spiritual of an experience it was, to feel as though I had been found. As human beings we are taught to correlate language with experience and emotion—poetry is the vehicle to which we form a bridge between the heart and the mind, creating tangible realities from our imaginations.
“Art is a wound turned into light.” — Georges Braque
With the current state of our world, hopelessness is running rampant and unchecked. The revolutionary presence of poetry and art in our societies, is more necessary than ever before. When we recall the work of revolutions, a common thread can be found running through almost all of them: young people and their preoccupation with dreams.
Art does the work of dreams by combining memory with intention and precision. Poetry, prose, and literature, make it possible for our wildest dreams to be heard and actualized by giving young people the opportunity to express their inner magic, and the brutal truth of change.
To quote the immortal line from Whitney Houston’s "The Greatest Love of All," “children are our future, teach them well and let them lead the way.” This line has been used countless times in conversation surrounding the welfare of our society, and for good reason. These days, young people actually want to be the future of change. Most of the time, what stands in the way of revolutions, is the lack of opportunity for it.
I believe opportunity can be crafted and conjured. When we encourage young people to participate in programs like Poetry Out Loud, we make it more possible for them to use their voices as vehicles for change—and change is necessary for a future where everyone is treated equitably; and where inequality is merely a thought, of the past.
Shentoria Cobbs is the Loft’s Poetry Out Loud intern for 2018-19. She is an aspiring writer, poet, and cultural critic from the Midwest, who believes that love and literature can be revolutionary. She has spent the last five years learning, consulting, and teaching with various organizations and colleges in MN on topics of intersectionality, diversity, equity, and inclusion. She is currently cultivating a book of poetry centered around transformation and joy for women and people of color. In addition to her interests, she is eager to engage with folks who are interested in freedom work, and can be reached @shentoriamonaye across all platforms.