Black Dog Barks Up Right Tree

Last Friday at Black Dog, a poetry reading hosted by Emory student literary collective The Pulse, College senior Eugene Ahn (center) addressed the difficulties of growing up a minority through his poetry. | Photo by Julia Munslow/Staff
Last Friday at Black Dog, a poetry reading hosted by Emory student literary collective The Pulse, College senior Eugene Ahn (center)
addressed the difficulties of growing up a minority through his poetry. | Photo by Julia Munslow/Staff

By Julia Munslow

Antiquated, monotonous and boring: the often misleading reputation of poetry and everything that Black Dog proved contemporary poetry is not.

Emory’s literary journal The Pulse hosted Black Dog, Emory’s first undergraduate student reading series, at the Woodruff Library Courtyard last Friday (Oct. 24). Eight Emory undergraduate students shared their poetry, including members of Minds on Mic, Emory’s slam poetry team.

The outdoor space allowed poets and audience members alike to mill around the stone steps and grassy lawn together before the show, eating, talking and enjoying the fall weather.

Editor-in-Chief of The Pulse and College senior Dana Sokolowski was one of the creators of the Black Dog series. Sokolowski and co-founder of The Pulse senior Emily Gutierrez developed the reading series two years ago with help from former Creative Writing Fellow Harmony Neal.

Sokolowski explained that the trio wanted to give students a place to read their work, as well as to recognize talented individuals on campus by reaching out and asking them to share their poems, or other types of written work, through the reading series.

Minds on Mic team member and College senior Elliot Levy kicked off the evening with a candid and heartfelt poem about his father, delivering his piece with conviction and sincerity.

Levy, first inspired to try slam poetry by the documentary “Brave New Voices,” encouraged everyone to try going to slam poetry, stating, “People enjoy it and might not even know it.”

Slam poetry is a competitive form of performance poetry, traditionally judged by audience members on delivery as well as content.

College sophomores Maya Bradford and Jason Ehrenzeller followed Levy. Bradford presented a soft-spoken but powerful poem about La Llorona, a mythical woman who drowns her children in order to be with the man she loves, while Ehrenzeller shared three poems, including a work about being born with a heart defect.

Following Bradford and Ehrenzeller, College senior Eugene Ahn bounded up onstage and told the audience about his hopes for his future kids, infusing humor into a discussion of the difficulties of growing up LGBTQ, female or a person of color. His relaxed confidence and comfort onstage only added to his presentation of his poem.

College senior and Wheel Editorials Editor Rhett Henry and College sophomore Hilleary Gramling followed Ahn. Henry gave the audience a mini history lesson, sharing a poem about number stations, shortwave radio stations used during World War II. Gramling, though nervous during her first poem on breaking a vase, seemed to relax into her second and third poems, reading with poise and certainty.

After Henry and Gramling came College sophomore Caroline Schmidt, who confessed before the start of the series, “I’m trying to be more honest in my poems.”

Schmidt’s promise of increased candor in her work fell far from short. Schmidt used her poetry to paint candid images of her experiences, sharing poems about her mother, bulimia and making love on a sailboat.

Minds on Mic team member and College senior Philip Winkle closed out the series with a stunning and dynamic piece about first times and comets. His stage presence alone proved his experience with slam poetry, as his animated performance captivated the audience, who laughed and engaged in the poem.

Winkle cited poetry as “an outlet for people who are trying to express themselves,” affirming its importance to the arts.

Though all of the poets had distinctly different writing styles and stories to share, Black Dog created a space where each one fit.

“[Black Dog is] a way to get to know students in a different way, especially if you don’t read poetry,” Sokolowski said, encouraging all students to attend. “It builds community; it helps students feel what they’re doing is valid.”

Schmidt agreed with Sokolowski, stating, “I think [people] would find a lot of factors that they can identify with [at Black Dog].”

The audience’s enthusiastic and supportive responses to the poetry shared provided evidence that poetry holds the power to touch people of all backgrounds.

“[Poetry is] about expression, about this celebration of language,” explained Schmidt. “It doesn’t have to be unreadable.”

Despite USA Today naming Emory the number one school for aspiring writers, the event’s attendees explained that they felt Emory’s poetry scene today is not as strong as it had once been. Minds on Mic  previously held regular open mics and readings, along with placing fifth in 2012 in the College Unions Poetry Slam Invitational, a slam poetry competition with nearly 50 competing teams. Emory’s reading series, “What’s New in Poetry,” will end this December. Regardless of the many obstacles, the arts community is full of impassioned, supportive individuals who are determined to bring poetry back stronger than ever.

Levy and Winkle of Minds on Mic echoed Schmidt’s sentiments, encouraging intrigued students to reach out to them. They hope that everyone is simply aware of the slam team’s presence on campus.
“We’re coming back,” Levy asserted confidently.

Sokolowski encouraged budding writers, stating earnestly, “What we write is meant to be shared.”

Black Dog was funny, sobering, insightful and, above all, inspiring. For those who love poetry, Black Dog is the perfect stage to relax and listen to student poets. And for those who have never voluntarily read a poem in their life and despise the thought of listening to poetry for an hour, let Black Dog prove you otherwise.

The next Black Dog series will take place in November.

— By Julia Munslow, Staff Writer