Poetry@Tech gives students the tools to tap into their creative side

Photo by Maya Flores

It may surprise some, but Tech is home to a diverse community of poetry lovers and poets themselves. Tucked away on the first floor of Skiles is the Poetry@Tech office, a hub of poetry activity on campus and in the local community.

“[Poetry@Tech] was created by two Georgia Tech alums who — independent of one another — had decided that a world-class university like Georgia Tech needed a world-class poetry program,” said Travis Denton, Poetry@Tech.

Those alumni were Bruce McEver and Henry C. Bourne. Both were introduced to poetry through humanities courses at Tech and wanted to provide future generations of students with the resources to engage with poetry in meaningful ways. To do so, they created endowments establishing the H. Bruce McEver Visiting Chair in Writing and the Margaret T. and Henry C. Bourne, Jr. Chair in Poetry.

“That began to define our mission: to bring poetry and poetry instruction to students, faculty and staff here at Georgia Tech,” Denton said. The program accomplishes this mission through classes, workshops, readings and community outreach.

Through the years, Poetry@Tech has added several distinguished poets to its ranks. Current director Ilya Kaminsky is a poet known for his award-winning book “Dancing in Odessa.”

“We’re amazingly glad to have him here. It’s amazing — he has absolutely mastered the music of poems and the sounds of poems,” said Denton of Kaminsky, who is legally deaf.

Poetry@Tech Founding director Thomas Lux, who passed away in 2017, was also a critically acclaimed poet. For Denton, Lux’s attitude about Poetry@Tech continues to ring true.

“People would come up to [Lux] and I and say Poetry@Tech seems to be an oxymoron, because it’s not the focus of the university — that has changed over the years,” Denton said. “Having poetry at Tech is not an oxymoron.

“The students here are incredibly creative in whatever field of study that they’re in,” Denton continued. “What I love to see is that creativity channeled into poetry. It gives students an opportunity to tell their stories, to inspect their lives, find value in their experience, put that on paper and share it with other people.”

In addition to providing poetry instruction to Tech students, the program also invites the community to engage directly with authors at poetry readings.

Denton stresses how important it is that every poet at the readings is dynamic and engaging. He recognizes that a person who is unfamiliar with poetry may not be willing to give it more than one chance.

“No boring poets,” Denton said. “Maybe students studied poems in high school and they got turned off in some way; so maybe they’ll show up at a Poetry@Tech event. That’s the second chance for them to fall in love with poetry.”

The next Poetry@Tech reading is on November 15 at 7:30 p.m. in Kress Auditorium. Billed “An Evening of Poetry,” the event will featuring readings from Kamilah Aisha Moon, Valzhyna Mort and Travis Denton.

The event will also mark the release of the 2018 issue of “Terminus” magazine, which is published by Poetry@Tech. The magazine is an anthology that includes the newest poems from visiting poets as well as art, fiction, nonfiction and memoir. It is available to everyone on campus for free.

Each reading attracts an audience of around 275 people, “which is unheard of for a poetry reading,” Denton said. Community members from outside of Tech make up around half of the audience.

“It’s been amazing to see the community support, and the campus support and the support from the administration that allows us to bring folks from everywhere,” he said. Professors from schools throughout Georgia such as Berry College and Gordon State College bring groups of students to Tech just to attend the readings.

In addition to classes and readings, Poetry@Tech provides free community workshops every spring. The organization also brings poetry into Georgia middle and high schools.

For example, a Spanish teacher at an Atlanta middle school reached out to Poetry@Tech with a special request. The teacher begins every class by reading a poem in Spanish, and her students have read the works of poet Juan Felipe Herrera. When she learned that Herrera, who was the United States Poet Laureate from 2015 to 2017, would be visiting Tech in the spring, she started working with Poetry@Tech to arrange for him to visit her students as well.

Poetry@Tech also works with senior citizen homes and community centers. For several years poets from the organization have visited Positive Impact Health Center, which serves individuals living with HIV and AIDS. Many of these individuals also struggle with homelessness or substance abuse.

“It’s been really interesting to see this healing power of poetry happening in this place where a lot of people are in despair, or their soul needs mending in some way,” Denton said. “A couple of years ago, [a Positive Impact client] wrote us a thank you note, and it said: ‘When I was asked to be in this poetry workshop, I thought I’d rather chew glass. After going through it, it changed my life … ’ because it taught this person how to tell their story, and that people are going to listen to it.”

For more information, visit poetry.gatech.edu.