Fall Bingham Reader Kevin Young Addresses Upperclassmen
by Elana Golub on Friday, November 22nd, 2013
On Wednesday, November 15th, poet Kevin Young spoke to students of Classes I and II in King Theatre as this fall’s Bingham Reader, joining the series of established writers who come to Milton Academy each year to present their writing and work with students in Creative Writing classes.
Ms. Baker, one of the teachers who annually select the Bingham Reader, notes that she chose Young because of the techniques that he highlights in his poetry. “I think he offers our student poets some really interesting lessons in experimentation and innovation in poetry writing,” comments Ms. Baker. “He reaffirms for students the notion that poetry is a lyrical form, and that attention paid to sound is critical to meaning.”
Young agrees, hoping that students took away the value of sound from his speech. “It’s only to the good to hear a poem out loud,” he said. “Sometimes I can’t really get a poem until I hear it.” Margaret Miller-Bartley (I) also believes that sound added to the power of Young’s poems. “When reading his poems in class, I didn’t love them,” she says, “but when I heard him read the poems out loud, I really appreciated his work.”
Ms. Baker also hoped to draw to the forefront of the community an embodiment of diversity in Young’s persona and writing. “We have committed to bringing in writers from a diverse background, and that mattered to me in selecting him,” she said. “We want writers who themselves are from a variety of backgrounds, but also whose writing, in subject matter, represents diversity.”
The selection committee succeeded in this sense, as Young takes a myriad of his inspiration from African-American ideals. “[Being black] is a source of strength, a source of tradition, and it is full of multiplicity. I find it useful [in my writing.]” commented Young on his heritage, noting that he incorporates aspects of African-American history, music, and culture into much of his writing, especially in his book The Grey Album.
In addition to sourcing much of his work from his racial background, Young believes that much of his poetry is “rooted in [his] everyday life.” In his reading, Young demonstrated to students how his work “captures life in its many forms.” Young revealed a wide range of these forms, starting with the lighthearted pieces such as “Ode to a Chicken,” later followed by works on more serious matters such as the death of his father. “I’m a big griever,” he said. “That’s where a lot of my writing takes place for me.”
Students who worked with Young in their Creative Writing classes gave him mixed reviews. “I felt that he was trying so hard to remain professional that he was holding back from sharing his opinions about our work,” comments Shira Golub (I). “I wish he hadn’t been so reluctant,” agrees Cody Cortes (I). “I think he’s a great writer, but not as compelling a person. He read a lot of poems, but didn’t stop to really explain his artistic viewpoint on them.”
Young’s reading, however, raised a generally positive response within the student body. “I really liked him because he knew his audience,” says Elle Blake (I). “By choosing to read a poem about Boston, he made the assembly more relatable.”
“I thought he was awesome,” says Neil Chandra (I), “I thought that the way he ordered his presentation, moving from the funny poems to the more somber ones, was really effective.”
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