Poetry on the Plaza celebrates the art of words

Gracie Awalt

The breeze blew through oak tree branches and birds chirped in the midday sun, as the words of poets echoed against the outside walls of the Harry Ransom Center. Some people listened with their eyes closed, hands clasped and heads bowed as if in prayer.

“Poetry provides a way to experience your life in a different way,” English graduate student Annie Bares said. “It makes you think about things you might not have otherwise thought about at work or in general day-to-day life.”

The Harry Ransom Center celebrated the works of the poets of UT faculty with Wednesday’s Poetry on the Plaza event, where English associate professors Roger Reeves and Lisa Olstein read poetry to a group of about 30 people outside of the building in honor of National Poetry Month.

According to their official website, the Academy of American Poets was inspired by the successful celebrations of Black History Month in February and Women’s History Month in March, and decided in 1996 to dedicate the month of April to the celebration of poets and their work.

Olstein read poems that captured feelings and experiences from the past, like the collections in the Harry Ransom Center. She said words are like haunted houses that contain history.

Olstein said the month of April sparks discussion about poetry, opening doorways into the world of poetry and giving a chance for people to walk through. She said she wishes every month was National Poetry Month.

“I’ve always had the bug for language,” Olstein said. “I find it mesmerizing, soothing and stimulating. I turn to writing and reading literature to discover things, and to have new experiences and have my mind transformed by what other people think.”

Reeves said writing poetry is comparable to running because these activities allow him to cope with negative realities around him, such as race relations.

“It’s a way of you testifying and speaking back to the world that would sometimes have you believe that the day is ugly, or that you’re not beautiful,” Reeves said. “For me, writing poetry is a way to look in disapproval at what’s happening around me.”

Reeves said people who are confused by poetry should treat poems as an experience, such as listening to wordless music like classical or jazz.

“A poem doesn’t tell you how to arrive at everything like a manual or a cookbook,” Reeves said. “I think people should embrace their confusion. Clarity, like beauty, is in the eye of the beholder.”