When I was a literature student, a classmate lamented that poetry was a dying art form. Our teacher was much smarter than we were, and disagreed completely. She schooled us with the idea that there is better poetry happening now (gasp) than ever before. From Tumblr, to rap songs, to fellows at famous universities and beyond – our world bursts with poetry. It’s still a force because it speaks to us, though sometimes we don’t know why. Amongst the deluge is genuine talent.
This Friday, June 22, two renowned poets will gather on stage for an evening of poetry at the Maui Arts and Cultural Center. They will take the stage together, presenting an evening immersed in the power of poetry and exploring its role as an “antidote” to the chaos in the world around us – an antidote we are all looking for. For those unsure of the role and meaning of poetry, this reading will include a discussion and an audience Q&A woven into it, so that participants can dig a little deeper.
“We are honored to have two incredible voices joining us, weaving together a meaningful conversation for this special edition of The Green Room,” said Sara Tekula, interim Executive Director at The Merwin Conservancy. “Both Naomi and Cathy are truly gifted writers and compassionate women who care deeply about our world.”
The reading will follow a unique format, which Tekula was excited to share with me. “While their overall theme is to explore poetry as an ‘antidote’ for our chaotic times (a nod to current events and political atmosphere), I just learned that they are going to segment the presentation by topic area and share poetry that is relevant to that topic, have a brief discussion about it together, and then share poetry relevant to another topic, etc. I haven’t seen a poetry reading done this way and I think it will help the audience understand poetry in a way they maybe haven’t before. I’m really excited to witness the magic that is bound to happen with these two amazing forces for good in the world.”
Reading poetry is not easy for everyone, but listening to poetry, especially spoken by the artist who created it, is a connected and beautiful experience that transcends the page. When listening to poetry, the lyricism and rhythm and intention of the words comes alive – much like listening to music.
After the reading and an intimate Q&A with the audience, there will be a book signing, a reception with refreshments, a book fair and live music.
Naomi Nye, who is visiting from Texas State University where she is a Professor of Creative Writing in Poetry, is a diverse and prolific writer with a list of accolades that are literally too long to list here. The New York Times reported that “Nye displays a palpable, unwavering empathy and hope for a better world.” She’s drawn on her experiences traveling around the world to create that empathetic, humanist view through her writing.
Of Hawai‘i native Cathy Song, renowned poet Richard Hugo wrote, “Song’s poems often remind a loud, indifferent, hard world of what truly matters to the human spirit.” Song is a noted teacher and leader of creative writing workshops through Hawai‘i’s “Poets in the Schools” program. “I’m not there to give [the students] false praise. It’s not going to do them any good,” Song has said of her work with the program. “Sometimes I tell them to rewrite something over and over, and they do, creating a really good poem. You’ve got to be willing to dismantle… to realize that poetry is something made outside of yourself,” Her family and ancestry inform her writing, and she is particularly interested in the ties that bind communities, families and individuals.
The two are hosted by The Green Room, an environmental and literary salon series hosted by The Merwin Conservancy. The Merwin Conservancy was created to advance the inspiration of Maui resident and past U.S. Poet Laureate W.S. Merwin by supporting innovation in the arts and sciences. Tekula calls the event series “Food for the soul,” noting that they have been said to “rouse appetites for literature, poetry and the arts.”
“These events expose the Maui community to writers, poets, and other types of visionaries that we wouldn’t normally have access to, and the setting is quite intimate,” Tekula added. “Participants are able to talk directly with these inspiring presenters before, during and after their event, and are also surrounded by kindred spirits in the audience. I really see it as a community building opportunity, as well as a place to come and be inspired to write, create and to cultivate a reverence for language, nature and the imagination.”
The event begins at 7 p.m. in the McCoy Studio Theater at the Maui Arts and Cultural Center. Tickets are $25 per person, with a $10 rate for students presenting a valid student ID. Tickets are available at the theater’s box office, by phone at 808-242-SHOW or online at Mauiarts.org/merwin
Photo of Naomi Shihab Nye: Chehalis Hegner
Photo of Cathy Song: Sam Davenport