As part of the poetry series held in the Wriston Art
Galleries, poet Erica Dawson came to Lawrence on Thursday Feb. 14 to read from
her most recent epic poem, “When Rap Spoke Straight to God.” Dawson teaches at
the University of Tampa, where she is the Associate Professor of English and
Writing and the Director of the Low-Residency MFA in Creative Writing. Her poem
is a captivating meditation on what it means to be black in America today, with
Dawson weaving in various parts of her identity to make the story all the more
personal. Womanhood, Christianity, hip-hop and the current state of the country
all make it into her tight and elegant verse.
She read two extended chunks from the beginning and end
of the book and skipped a large portion in the middle, which I only realized
when she said that she was skipping a part of the book to alert the people that
were following along with their own copies, like the person sitting next to me.
One only wishes that she could have read the entire book from start to finish
because of how mesmerizing she was to listen to.
Dawson also uses different styles of delivery to make her
points and expand her narrative. She incorporates spoken word, rap and a more
straightforward verse delivery to create an expansive story that brings her
personal experiences outside of herself and into a dialogue about race in
America that encompasses a myriad of stories and lives.
Dawson opened the floor for questions at the end, and
while I did not write down any of the actual questions that were asked of her,
I did write down some statements that she made that stood out to me. She talked
about her writing process, which consists of her listening to her favorite
music to get inspired. She explained, “I called it research, but it was really
just lying around listening to my favorite music.” This struck a personal chord
with me and others in the audience as I, too, like to listen to music to get my
creative juices flowing, and oftentimes that is the only thing I end up doing
for several hours.
She also spoke, both in the Q&A and in her poetry of
being afraid to be the one black woman in her academic and literary circles and
being seen as the stereotype of the ‘angry black woman.’ She talked about
reclaiming her space and not being afraid of being herself, even if that means
people are going to lump her into a group that has been constructed by the
dominant, negative forces in our society.
Overall, the entire event was incredibly impactful, and
Erica Dawson brought an almost meditative, compelling energy to her poetry,
which carried over when she spoke to us afterward. I look forward to attending
more poetry readings in the future.