Cheers to the weekend, Saints! I hope you all had a great Thanksgiving break!
The latest guest brought to Marymount by Arlington Poet Laureate Dr. Holly Karapetkova, and the Program in Literature & Languages was poet and literary activist Ethelbert Miller. Washington City paper named him as “The Poet” of DC. According to Dr. Karapetkova, he also has the esteemed honor of being the most invited poet to Marymount, having been a guest poet at least eight times prior. Another honor to add to his long list of distinguished accomplishments, which also include being the Director of Howard University’s African American Resource Center and for serving on the board of almost every major literary organization in the country. Miller has authored over 15 books, and his collection of poetry, The Collected Poems of E. Ethelbert Miller was edited by Marymount alum, Kirsten Porter, who was also present at the reading! He read from several of his works, including his memoir, Fathering Words: The Making of an African American Writer, and the first book in his trilogy of “baseball poetry,” If God Invented Baseball: Poems. I know what you must be thinking. Poetry about baseball? The coupling isn’t as crazy as you may think. For Miller baseball (the game of his youth) and poetry (a great love of his life), create a harmonious union that allow him a way to speak to the many changes of life. But I’ll let Miller explain it in his own words:
When you get this book, the poems begin with me just enjoying the game of baseball as a young person growing up in the South Bronx. So, there’s games in which I’m playing with my friends … friends of my childhood and from my neighborhood. But as you go through the book, there’s poems about baseball but then poems begin to deal with the whole thing of aging … This is where I found this book very important for some of the work I do. I try to be accessible. I take my readings to universities but also to prisons and to senior citizens homes. When I go into the homes and I’m talking about baseball, there’s so many people that immediately think about Jackie Robinson and the Brooklyn Dodgers, but what does the poem serve? It helps people who are in senior citizen homes, who are in the early stages of dementia. So, if I come in and I’m reading my poems and all of a sudden, I say a name … it triggers something. It brought back the memories. You know, the game and the players. And that can be very, very important … for a brief moment connecting to something. And this is where poetry can be very healing.
Throughout the entire reading, Miller dropped poetic gems all over the place. His take on the power of friendship amongst writers was especially affecting:
I think one of the beautiful things about being a writer is also being a member of a community. And it’s an opportunity to share not just your writing but also your appreciation for literature … If you’re blessed and fortunate and you can maintain these friendships over a period time, then it’s almost like your extended family. And it’s also a way of life that’s filled with hopefully happiness and joy.
I would be remiss if I didn’t also relay the words of wisdom from Marymount’s very own, Kirsten Porter, who encouraged students present at the reading, saying:
I just love being in a Marymount space, cause it feels like home to me. I think back to when I was there, and it doesn’t feel like that long ago … If there’s anything that I can say, from my perspective as a student, that maybe I could encourage you guys. I met Ethelbert Miller at a poetry reading. I had not heard of him yet and had an amazing professor who told me, ‘You gotta go to this reading’. I had finals I had to study for and all these tests. I was like, ‘Listen, I’m on my way home.’ She said, ‘I promise you won’t regret it’. I made the choice, and I stayed and it changed my life completely… Go to the events, be open. Try a little bit of everything. You never know what you’re going to latch on to. When I think about the way I thought my life was going to go before I met Ethelbert ... I knew I was going to be an English major and do something with that … But there are so many things that I was gifted, by first saying, ‘Yes.’
The Virtual Poetry Reading was an absolute success! Well-deserved thanks to Dr. Karapetkova for hosting and to Ethelbert Miller for visiting with us once again. For more information about Ethelbert Miller and his books, click here and here. Check your Marymount email for news and updates on the next Virtual Reading. Until next time!