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.