ST. BONAVENTURE, NY – Somalian-born poet Ladan Osman looked at the crowd of approximately 100 people gathered in the Loft of the Regina A. Quick Center for the Arts and opened the recent Visiting Poets program not with verse but with a call to action.
“In a time like today, under the current administration we are under, it is more important than ever to continue to be a voice, especially when our voices are being taken away,” said the Brooklyn resident.
Though Osman recently won the Sillerman First Book Prize for African Poets for her full-length collection of poems, "The Kitchen-Dweller’s Testimony." the first poem she presented was someone else's.
And she sang:
“Southern trees bear strange fruit, blood on the leaves and blood at the root, black bodies swinging in the southern breeze, strange fruit hanging from the poplar trees,”
The melodic 1939 poem by Abel Meeropol, "Strange Fruit," exposing racism and the lynchings of blacks in America, had been recorded by Billie Holiday.
Osman kept up the themes of oppression and societal problems as she read her own poems in a pleading but conversational voice.
"Flesh that dances on bare feet and grass, love it. Love it hard. Yonder they do not love your flesh. They despise it. They don't love your eyes. No more do they love the skin on your back," she read from her poem "Beloved."
The audience listened in rapt silence to every line of every poem she read. And every time she finished a poem, the audience applauded wildly.
When Osman finished reading her poems, she excitedly introduced poet Dr. Donika Kelly, an assistant professor of English at St. Bonaventure, whose debut poetry collection was selected for the 2015 Cave Canem Poetry Prize and was named to the 2016 National Book Award longlist for poetry.
Kelly told those gathered that her “love” collection tells an overlapping story of her love life and the ups and the downs she encountered.
“Who make bearable all that you must bear. What needs doing, regularly. You fear your life without them; the hawk perched on your roof, eyeing the smaller. The larger, safe for now,” she recited from "How To Be Alone,"
After the readings, both poets conducted an open forum, answering questions on preferred writing techniques and the amount of time usually spent on one piece. They also offered one overarching message to the audience: that they would continue to speak on what is right and not to allow those in power to stop them from doing so.
And that night's audience set an attendance record for a poetry event in the Loft, noted Roger DeAngelo, a university maintenance employee who kept bringing in more chairs as the crowd continued to grow.