Thursday, Oct. 3, Grand Valley State University held a Poetry Night featuring award-winning poets
Ellen Bass and Kevin Young as a part of their 17th annual Fall Arts Celebration.
The public, as well as GVSU writing, humanities and integral studies students, were invited to the Eberhard Center located on the Pew Campus for a free night of snacks, socialization and
poetry. The event began with a public reception at 5 p.m., followed by the readings at 6
p.m. Each poet was given 30 minutes to deliver their works. The night concluded with another reception and book signing.
This year, Event Coordinator and Writing Professor Patricia Clark built on her goal of previous years–to have contrasting voices for the audience to enjoy–by selecting Bass and Young with a goal in mind. She hoped to use their presentation to transform and positively impact the ways in which those attending viewed poetry.
“I just want people to hear and listen and enjoy,” Clark said. “(I hope attendees) take away that what poets do, any of us can do–which is reflect on your life and on little moments that happen that mean a lot to you. Write those down, celebrate those, because that’s what life is.”
Each poet selected some of their work to present, old and new. Bass read in-depth about her prior
relationships and new experiences as well as what she had wished for her daughter’s life.
In contrast, Young focused on his youth and his experiences facing racial segregation as he grew into the man that he is today.
Clark explained the style of the two poets as being different, but still very personal. “[Young] writes about all kinds of things–music, the blues, history, visiting the South. [Bass] doesn’t write about as wide subject matters perhaps, but goes deep into certain subjects, like family and her physical affection for certain people,” Clark said.
Bass was thrilled to read alongside Young and hoped that her poetry moved those that heard it.
“Poetry has the capacity to enlarge us, to deepen and broaden us. A good poem transforms us. It sharpens our attention. It wakes us up. That’s what I hope the audience experienced,” said Bass. “Kevin Young is a masterful poet. His poems have an astonishing clarity of vision and he understands the way that personal history and the larger public world are inextricably connected.”
Both poets are well renowned for their work and have received numerous awards. Bass is the author of eight poetry collections as well as several nonfiction works and was elected in 2017 as a Chancellor of the Academy of American Poets. She has received awards such as the Lambda Literary Award for Poetry and the Pablo Neruda Prize for Poetry, as well as fellowships from the California Arts Council and the National Endowment for the Arts. She was also awarded two Pushcart Prizes.
Young is currently a poetry editor for The New Yorker and the director of the Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture. He has written thirteen books of poetry himself and is the editor of nine other works. Of the awards he has received are the American Book Award, a finalist for the National Book Award and the Los Angeles Times Book Prize and the winner of the Paterson Poetry Prize.
“I try to write in a voice that is precise and clear. I believe in what the great poet, Galway Kinnell, says about poetry: ‘To me, poetry is somebody standing up, so to speak, and saying, with as little concealment as possible, what it is for him or her to be on earth at this moment,’” Bass said.