David Kirby Leads a Joyful Appreciation for the Power of Poetry

By Tara Keimel

Joy to the world was the focus one recent afternoon on Florida State University’s campus. Or, at least, joy to the poems we’re able to share, enjoy, and discuss.

FSU English Professor David Kirby coordinated and led the first-ever “Poetry Celebrates,” an event aimed at inspiring and encouraging poetry that celebrates the shared and unique experiences humanity encounters.

Poetry Celebrates.jpgThe event took place Friday, April 6 in the Bradley Reading Room in the basement of FSU’s Strozier Library, with cookies and lemonade provided. The sense of community was obvious as the room slowly filled around the 2 p.m. start.

Happiness and a general sense of comfort flowed among the literary types gathered in the room, there to listen to and celebrate poetry that uplifts, heals and incites hunger. Yes, poetry about warm delicious pie was also present.

In a message promoting the event, Kirby wrote, “to many, poetry is angst-ridden (which much of it is) or impenetrable (which it shouldn’t be). Yet there has always been a deep strain of celebration in poetry; indeed, more poetry celebrates than it denigrates, castigates, and ruminates.”

A panel of several of Tallahassee’s most acclaimed poets, including James Kimbrell, Michael Rothenberg, Yolanda J. Franklin, and Dorothy Chan, participated PoetryCelebrates_event.jpgin the hour-long event to bring Kirby’s words to life. Panelists read poems by A.R Ammons, Phillip Whalen, Lucille Clifton, and Alberto Rios before granting the audience the floor to share their own favorite poems. 

The readings invited conversations spanning from the trick of the first person pronoun to figurative joy capsules you could have enjoyed conveniently with that lemonade in hand.

“Not all poetry is sad,” Kirby said, after the official wrap of the first Poetry Celebrates. “I want people to remember that.”

The air during a poetry reading can sometimes be heavy. But though poetry’s goal is to heal, the path to get there is not always bright and shiny. The afternoon did not shatter the sad poet stereotype, but rather, somehow flipped the idea.

“A lot of joy in poetry is wedded in sorrow,” Kirby said, during his brief introduction to the event and discussion. “You’d be surprised at the kind of joys there are out there.”

The readers led listeners into the phenomenal world, the metaphysical and the physical, tightly bound and typed on single pages and spoken for just single minutes. Silence swallowed the room as attendees consumed each word. Questions were asked, ideas were given, and minds were filled.

Through gathering and sharing comes strength and change, and in celebrating both the past and present, those present at the event pushed for a better tomorrow.

Sad poetry and consequently the “sad poet” image will always be around, but by unveiling the joys that lie beneath reveals the unseen meaning; it just takes the help of some of Tallahassee’s finest poets to help get there. 

Tara Keimel is a senior English major, with a concentration in editing, writing, and media.