This fall, we’re hosting the second biennial Newark High School Poetry Festival. Groups of students from every public high school in Newark will be coming together at Rutgers-Newark’s Paul Robeson Center for a day of poetry readings, conversations, and performance workshops. Nicole Homer is one of the poets who will be joining Newark students for this exciting event.
Have you ever written anything you were afraid to share?
Yes! The poems that became the foundation of my book Pecking Order were originally just for me because I was trying to figure something out about being a mom and about how race played into how I experience that. A lot of it started with what happens to bodies naturally, medically, quietly. There was a large silence surrounding what I was going through, so I tried to write my way into the conversation I wished I had access to. The first time I read one of them out loud I was shaking. The collection I’m working on right now, Fast Tail, is taking shape this same way. I gave myself permission to write whatever I needed to write, and I don’t have to share or publish any of them. I needed to promise myself that so I could do the work I need to do. For me, that fear lets me know I’m exploring in the right direction but doesn’t mean I’m obligated to share it.
Do you have any advice for those who are trying to help students engage with poetry?
Share the poems you love. Start with work that moves you and brings you joy. We can worry about scansion and enjambment and form soon enough. When I was little, my grandmother recited her favorite poem, “Invictus,” for me, and she so visibly loved it. She told me why it moved her, what her favorite lines were, what they meant to her. It was not at all a technical explanation. I moved into a hunger for craft later, but it started with enjoyment. Teachers are in a hard, hard spot in terms of what they must do to meet requirements and what they know will benefit their students, because the two don’t always align. I think with poetry, whenever possible, privilege love of it over everything else because the everything else comes if there’s a love. The urgency of much of contemporary poetry can offer people a way of feeling seen. Poets are writing in context of and in response to this uncertain world; they are not flinching back from discussing race, politics, violence, bodies, gender, and more, so the things that we as humans are preoccupied with are the subjects of poems.
What are you currently reading?
In August, I tried #TheSealeyChallenged, named for Nicole Sealey who challenges us to read one book of poetry every day in August, so I’ve been reading a pretty wide selection of books, from revisiting old favorites to discovering new ones. This morning I read Gregory Orr’s The Last Love Poem I Will Ever Write. Tomorrow, I’ll re-read Vievee Francis’s Forest Primeval.