Lilley | Race, Class, and Place

Gary Copeland Lilley

I am a southern-born African American writer, and therefore race, class, and place were dominant themes in the day-to-day life in the region where I was raised. When I was a much younger poet one of my mentors pointed out that I was calling attention to some hot button societal issues in my poems and doing it without standing on that political soapbox that turns a poem into a manifesto. Of course, that statement made me beam. A manifesto is cool if I want to express “this is what I believe, this is what I want.” But poets write poems, and to me art is never subordinate to the political. My poetry projects have included poems of witness, personas, historical recollections, dramatic monologues, the lyric and the narrative push. A select choice of details help to bring my personal sensitivities gleaned from a particular up-bringing in a particular region into my poetry. This workshop will examine the tools and strategies poets use to create an understated, yet powerful statement, with quality, incorporating race, class, and place into poems while maintaining that firm artistic handle on the day-to-day situations, the universal themes that connect us to one another.