Alexander W. Dreyfoos School of the Arts | 501 S. Sapodilla Ave, WPB, FL 33401

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Alexander W. Dreyfoos School of the Arts | 501 S. Sapodilla Ave, WPB, FL 33401

THE MUSE

Alexander W. Dreyfoos School of the Arts | 501 S. Sapodilla Ave, WPB, FL 33401

THE MUSE

POET TYEHIMBA JESS VISITS DREYFOOS

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Haley Johnston
Pulitzer Prize-winning poet and author Tyehimba Jess reads selections from his book “Olio” to students. “Olio” features the stories of black entertainers in the 19th and 20th centuries. Jess presented a series of five syncopated sonnets on twins Millie and Christine McKoy, who were some of the characters. “As a creative writer, I have never seen anything presented in the way he did. He presented concrete poetry as a body, rather than just a piece of literature,” communications junior Elise Nau said. “He didn’t tell the stories of others; he embodied them.”

A The New York Times article titled “Florida Secretary of State Resigns After Blackface Photos Resurface” was projected on the screen in Meyer Hall, greeting students as they walked in and setting the tone for the presentation. On Jan. 25, award-winning poet Tyehimba Jess visited with the goal of teaching the student body the link between history, literature, and current events.

 

Jess presented selected poems from his Pulitzer Prize-winning book “Olio,” which tells the stories of forgotten black entertainers in the 19th and 20th centuries. Utilizing syncopated sonnets and untraditional formatting, Jess explains the history of minstrel shows and the impact they had on American culture.

 

“As a creative writer, I have never seen anything presented in the way he did. He presented concrete poetry as a body, rather than just a piece of literature,” communications junior Elise Nau said. “He didn’t tell the stories of others; he embodied them.”

 

Like most literary artists that come to Dreyfoos, Jess is a performer in the Palm Beach Poetry Festival. Communications teacher Carly Gates planned Jess’ visit and believes his work can make a unique impact on the students.

 

“We’re so lucky to get [Jess] because he’s just such an incredible poet,” Mrs. Gates said. “Compared to the other poets we’ve had over the years, he is more nationally recognized. We’re actually bringing somebody who’s won the Pulitzer Prize, which is not something that we can normally say. I think what made him unique is really the structure of his poems.”

 

Prior to Jess’ visit, several English teachers prepared their students by reading and discussing his work, especially viewing his TEDxNashville performance, in which he read a series of syncopated sonnets on twins Millie and Christine McKoy.

 

“[While showing Jess’ TED Talk,] I would stop the video and ask my students questions such as ‘Why do you think Jess made it possible for the poems to be read forward and backward?’,” English teacher Theresa Beermann said. “I think it is interesting to see the convergence of history and art. In one of his interviews, he said he wanted to give a voice to people that might not otherwise have had one, and the McKoy twins are an example.”

 

Along with the impact the poet’s visit had on English teachers, the communications department was uniquely affected: Many creative writing students found the opportunity to meet a successful professional writer refreshing and exciting.

 

“Jess’ lecture helped me feel more secure about my process of revision for my poetry,” communications junior Sam Hahn said. “Hearing someone with published work say that they have to go through around 30 different drafts of work before settling on one shows me that I shouldn’t be as insecure in my early drafts.”

The most important message of Jess’ visit was the importance of carrying history to the common era through an engaging medium, like poetry, which will prompt people to become more engaged and willing to learn.

— visual junior Whitney Young

Regardless of major, many students were inspired by Jess’ poetry, especially the connections he made between the past and present.

 

“The most important message of Jess’ visit was the importance of carrying history to the common era through an engaging medium, like poetry, which will prompt people to become more engaged and willing to learn,” visual junior Whitney Young said. “It was significant to meet someone so recognized in their field, and I hope people take away how much work it actually takes to craft something intricate and make it so beautiful and interesting to the audience.”

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About the Contributor
Lila Goldstein, News Editor
Lila Goldstein is a second-year staffer on The Muse as well as News Editor. Lila has a passion for all kinds of writing, especially journalism, and is rarely ever without an opinion on current events. Outside of school, Lila loves to read, watch films, and collect records from vintage music stores (she so far has 62 albums). If you ever get in to a car with her and the Beatles radio station doesn’t immediately come on, something is terribly wrong. Lila is a green tea snob and West Palm Beach foodie, and always has a restaurant recommendation for Dreyfoos students. Overall, Lila is very excited to work with her News staffers to create an incredible section and make The Muse the best magazine it can possibly be.   If you would like to contact this staffer, you may reach them at [email protected]
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