Poetry can enact social and political activism, and is a tool for understanding difficult topics such as sexism, racism, homophobia and transphobia. It allows for people of different backgrounds to sympathize with one another and also learn about the history of each others cultures. Through poetry, people of all genders, races, religions and abilities can come together to enact social change.
“Poetry is a shared experience. A poem about a difficult topic is the result of someone, a real human being, ruminating and putting pen to paper about something grounded in their real human experience,” said MSU Denver student, Jamie Tran.
These human experiences can be understood more in depth through poetry.
“Poetry requires deep self examination, both in its creation and its reception. When I share my poetry with others, I am inviting people to feel deeply with me. As we collectively open our hearts to one another, taking action to improve our collective conditions begins to come more naturally,” said Suzi Q. Smith at the Bridge Speaker event.
MSU Denver hosted Denver poet and activist Suzi Q. Smith for the 25th annual Bridge Speaker event on Feb. 23 in the Tivoli Turnhalle.
The event celebrates African-American women and their experiences and contributions to society. Each year, the Bridge Speaker talks about their life and work, and is meant to symbolize the bridge between Black History Month in February and Women’s History Month in March. The event seeks to “educate our campus on the experiences and contributions of African-American women. It also addresses diversity initiatives like fostering social awareness, academic enrichment, and increasing multi-cultural campus competencies.”
“After seeing and hearing Suzi Q, I totally believe that poetry can make histories of people and communities of color more available to everyone. But I think any approach to learning history is lacking if you don’t start by looking at your own history, interrogating it and recognizing any legacies or institutions that may have skewed how you live your life or how other people live their lives,” Tran said.
Smith is the executive director of Poetry Slam, Inc., a position she started in 2014. She works both as an organizer and has competed as a poet since 2006. She has participated with various other organizations, such as the Martin Luther King Jr. Marade and earlier this year spoke at the Denver Women’s March.
Smith seeks to educate and motivate through her poetry. Her poems touch on topics like single motherhood, body image, loss, violence, intersectionality and the impact of black women in history. Smith said that poetry represents the voice of the people, and allows us to say the unsayable, using imagery and figurative language to illustrate our emotional experiences.
“This voice can be used to spark political action,” said Anahi Russo, a professor of women’s studies at MSU Denver. “Political action is not only about rational strategies, but it mobilizes many emotions, visions, our utopias, our dreams, our ways of being that are larger than ourselves, which I think poetry can achieve more viscerally.”
Smith’s poetry joins the pantheon of great black poets like Langston Hughes and other Harlem Renaissance figures. Exposure to the literature of another culture or country helps deepen understanding across barriers.
“Poetry represents the voice of the people; at its best, it is accessible, honest, and urgent,” Smith said.