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Award-Winning Poets Deliver the Goods

April 18, 2018
Pulitzer-Prize-winning poet and author Gregory Pardlo.

On the first warm Friday of the year, a crowd gathered at the former home of the legendary poet Langston Hughes for the third in a series of readings for the MFA program in creative writing at CNR. Free and open to the public, the series features distinguished writers whose work reflects the program’s mission of civic engagement.

Mercy Tullis-Bukari, MFA student and Pushcart Prize nominee, introduced the poets to a packed parlor.

Multi-award-winning poet Nicole Sealey stepped up to the mic and read her first poem, the first person who will live to be one hundred and fifty years old has already been born from her latest collection Ordinary Beasts. The soft blue light of dusk haloed her as her musical voice filled the parlor. She recited several more poems including, Candelabra with Heads, which utilizes a poetic form of her own creation called an Obverse. The enthusiastic crowd contemplated every line as it lingered in the air.

Pulitzer-Prize-winning poet and author Gregory Pardlo was next to captivate the audience. He opened with readings from his poetry collections Totem and Digest. His final reading was from his new memoir entitled Air Traffic. Gregory had fun with the interactive audience, who on several occasions were thrown into raucous laughter.

During the Q&A after the reading, Sealey asked Pardlo several questions, including one about the difference between writing memoir and writing poetry. The crowd of aspiring writers leaned in. Pardlo responded, “I’m easing away from the idea that there is a difference.” Sealey stated that much of his memoir does in fact read like poetry. In his reply, Pardlo stated with a smile that “it was just a matter of taking out the line breaks.”

Pardlo was a font of inspirational and thoughtful insights about poetry and storytelling. One quote that resonated with the audience came after a question pertaining to his memoir Air Traffic. He said, “We don’t go to poems to find out what happened in the latest event…at the foundation, the poem is the event.”

MFA student Sharmaine Ong appreciated the interaction between the poets and the audience.

“It felt as if we were also in conversation with the authors,” Ong said. “It felt like we were all peers, learning from each other’s experiences.”

Both poets stayed after to sign books and continue the conversation with students.

The Langston Hughes House in Harlem is home to I, Too Arts Collective where the public can enjoy an array of literary and creative events throughout the year. The CNR MFA program has partnered with I, Too Arts Collective to help bring literary greatness to the forefront in this historic location.

Renée Watson, author of Piecing Me Together and founder of I, Too Arts Collective, headlines the next reading on May 8, at 7pm. The event will take place at The Langston Hughes House located at 20 E. 127th St. in Harlem.

Article contributed by MFA Student Liz Kelso, '18