University of Miami students majoring or majoring in poetry discuss their craft and offer samples of their writing.
It can be hard to come up with a definition of poetry, but we recognize a poem when we hear one.
Think of the verses read by poet laureates at presidential inaugurations. Those of Robert Frost. Listen to Richard Blanco’s 2019 commencement address – a poem written for the graduating class titled “Teach Us, Then”.
The words of poets inspire many of us, make us think, cause us to reflect on our past and give us hope for the future.
April is National Poetry Month, which was launched by the Academy of American Poets in 1996 to honor the role poets play in our culture. To commemorate this month, several University of Miami students who are currently studying poetry are sharing their craft.
These student poets started writing for different reasons, but they all share a passion for self-exploration, which poetry certainly provides.
Readers should note that the following poems contain graphic descriptions which may be disturbing.
Serene Brielle Thompkins, second year English student majoring in poetry, with a minor in human and social development.
Thompkins remembers writing very early in his childhood. At the age of 8, she vowed to use poetry as her primary form of expression to ease her social anxiety and mask her shy personality. It became easier to communicate in writing instead of verbalizing one’s emotions, she said.
Her inspiration was her grandmother, who led a difficult life in England and became a survivor of an abusive marriage.
“I felt compelled to tell his story and explore the intergenerational trauma his legacy has caused,” she said. She admires authors such as Toni Morrison, Audre Lorde and Joan Didion, and is particularly fond of the contemporary poet Ocean Vuong.
“I strive to have a meaningful voice in literature and to provide some form of solace to others because that’s what I find when I read,” she said. “My work is centered on acknowledging the present moment, not clinging to the past and relinquishing control of the future.”
Here is a sample of his work that was written for a class assignment.
It’s late. I am sick, struggling with the indelible image of death.
It matches the top of my pants with their dense fabric ends,
roll up misfortune in tweed cocoons as if an order could bring us back.
I sit in silence, waiting to hear his touch again. I let the sudden rustle
laundry precede his sudden contact. I let him kiss those sick, shriveled lips,
give him a taste of burgundy he won’t forget. I pray this will make me strong.
That he likes-dab and squeeze. Unroll the seashell pink ribbon from my chest,
and lie down to rest. Let me choke on the laxity of my lover’s language.
Let his palm abrade the lesions. Give me everything back – my eyelashes, my lips and my eyebrows.
Let it shape what’s left of me, slice me to reveal the carmine within.
Feed his heart if need be. Take my organs and turn them into scarlet cords.
Leave my limbs so he can climb beyond our moon and our sun. let him dig
the wings of old photos, curly portraits and moldy dresses. My widower: stuck
under a starless lake. My widower remains inaccessible, broken and brainless.
My widower visits the cemetery, prematurely carving his grief into gray stone and clay.
So let me, let me be like a lost star. Let him see me again, twinkling in the morning,
and through his mourning, grant him enough willpower to put us back together. I pray.
Fabrizio Darby, junior majoring in health sciences and biology with a minor in poetry.
Darby wants to get into the medical field, but poetry is such an important part of his life that he hopes to incorporate it into his practice.
“People look at me weirdly,” he said. “But I still see myself as a ‘Doctor Poet.’ ”
He thinks that if many doctors knew how to express themselves in the way that poetry allows them, there would be “fewer misdiagnoses and better doctors”.
According to Darby, “the best doctors are the ones who are the most human and try to connect on a human level.”
He started writing poetry in the fourth grade in his native Jamaica. He wrote a poem about climate change which won third place in a local competition.
In Jamaica, many of his poems stem from the admiration of nature and its environment. Once he arrived in the United States, he began to write poems exploring his status as an immigrant and as a foreigner adjusting to a new land.
Here is a sample of his work, which was for a class assignment.
Great Memories (for Grandpa)
I can smell the dust even closer to dusk,
musky raindrops of equine sweat on dry earth,
and thunderous applause of flippers and clogs.
The bright yellow horseshoe staring me straight in the eye,
with the name of a race,
soon the backdrop of a triumphant hand,
holding a wavering whip for the winning jockey.
My grandfather has no horse in this race,
yet I see him clinging to a little piece of paper,
with a paradox of loss or luxury.
Grandfather’s trembling hands
harnessed around the five square inches of this white debt,
was shaking like an arrhythmia.
I would see those trembling hands again.
I can feel the frenzied ferocity furrow upon furrow,
I feel like the air is pinching the hairs of my skin,
stroking each one then ripping them off, pop!
go to the door,
as a cornucopia of clops pound the earth,
and a blatant outburst of “Bring it home now bwoy!”
of my grandfather, who would return home a few years later,
when his hands held a white sheet.
Not a piece of paper.
These trembling hands that discover varicose veins,
are roadmaps guiding metastatic disease.
This white sheet was shaking like his hands that day.
Those shaking hands.
His ever-so-blatant voice belts nostalgic thoughts of moments
where clogs were therapeutic.
But now the sound of a hoof would make me whip a horse harder than any jockey.
“Take him home” say the heavens as he nears his final mile.
The race was over and I didn’t even see him cross the finish line.
Christell Victoria Roach, in her final year of the MA Poetry program, and recipient of the Wallace Stegner Fellowship at Stanford University.
Originally from Miami, Roach was encouraged to write by Jen Karetnick, a renowned creative writing teacher at her high school, Miami Arts Charter School. While a violist and pursuing a career as a musician, Roach fell in love with creative writing.
“Poetry is my language and prose is my world,” she said. She has written plays and short stories, but poetry is her preferred way of expressing herself.
Roach was first drawn to writing her first poems after an unfortunate incident where she was the victim of racial slurs, she said. She was so confused and hurt by the incident that she began experimenting with words to counter the hurtful words thrown at her and her race.
“I saw poetry as a conversation. And in my poems, I could talk about things that I didn’t really feel comfortable talking about in person,” she said. “Thus, poetry became a means of exorcising emotions.”
Here is a sample of his work; it was part of his thesis.
Women leave you with children
A mother enters the river, my daughter
pressed against his chest. They say she cried
as she swam to shore, alone.
I know this love. The mother says there was
no place for her. The water clung to her
body like a child. The girl was moaning
as his mouth filled – a coda. In music
we call it a double return: Blues
in the making. In 1856 Margaret Garner
crossed the Ohio River, pregnant.
She loved her daughter to death.
What kind of love is this? The women
in the south of Spain too. They were born
children in the oceans, springs, and rivers—
kept them under, away from men who used
their sons as alligator bait and their daughters as whores.
The red tide crosses the ocean;
somewhere a woman uses all her strength
release a child she is not raising