Arts & Entertainment

The International Poetry Forum- From Grant to Gallery   

Written by Alycia Butler 

The International Poetry Forum (IPF) was a reading series started and directed by Dr. Samuel Hazo from 1966 to 2009. Hazo founded the IPF to show the transformative power of spoken poetry to all people. The IPF sponsored readings by over 800 poets and performers from 36 countries who came to Pittsburgh to read at the Carnegie Music Hall and Heinz Hall.   

Carlow University was one of 24 institutions to receive the “Humanities Research for the Public Good” grant for the 2021-2022 academic year. The grant gives several undergraduate students from each institution a chance to engage in interdisciplinary research of the IPF archive. Samuel Hazo assisted in collecting and organizing the items for the archive; which includes newspapers, letters, posters, videos, and audio recordings from the events. The university has given the opportunity to work with the archive to many staff, facility, interns, and students. Of which, library staff and interns first organized the archive materials for Grace Library and into folders for student research. Caitlin McDonough interviewed Samuel Hazo, alongside media arts and animation major James Balsimo. Kaitlyn Stamm, one of the interns and a writer for the Carlow Chronicle, wrote about the IPF progress in November of 2021 in the article “CIC International Poetry Forum Grant Project”, highlighting that experience.  

Dr. Sigrid King of the English department at Carlow was personally involved in the progress of the archive. Due to that, she assisted her Spring 2022 students’ research of the poets from the IPF. Nine students in the “EN 102- Writing & Research about Lit” class conducted research in the archives, as well as secondary research about the poets they picked. Dr King expresses the importance of archival research for her students, saying, “They are the first researchers to use the International Poetry Forum archive materials, so their research is ground-breaking and original. Because undergraduate students ordinarily do not have the chance to access archive materials, this opportunity has been especially valuable.” The students include: Ashley Anderson, Alycia Butler, Sydney Edwards, Jalon Jones, Emi Leong, Madeline Longmore, Keturah Musuraca, Malcolm Randall, and Edward Simo.  

Ashley Anderson chose to research Muriel Rukeyser (1913-1980), a bisexual writer who read at the International Poetry Forum on the 7th of February 1972. Rukeyser was able to travel and write about the injustices she saw while in college. She was arrested and detained for four days after a Vietnam War protest. Ashley Anderson also had the opportunity to create a video about the IPF using interviews, audio recordings, and the ephemera in the archive as well as interviews with fellow classmates. 

Yevgeny Yevtushenko (1932-2017) was a Russian poet that was researched by Alycia “Lee” Butler. Early in his life, Yevtushenko’s family evacuated to Zima, Russia, a small town on the Trans-Siberian Railway. After World War II, he was able to move to Moscow and wrote about Stalin’s injustice during the Khrushchev Thaw. Some of his most famous works include “Babi Yar”, “Bratsk Station”, and “Flowers and Bullets”.  

Sydney Edwards researched Gwendolyn Brooks (1917-2000), who Edwards also had the opportunity to read about in her poetry class. Brook’s poetry reflected radical political consciousness, racism, sexism, and economic deprivation. She based most of her poetry on her experiences and daily instances of racism. Brook’s stated that she was writing about the human experience, and that activism is a part of the human experience in an interview for Christian Science Monitor. 

Jalon Jones delved into the work of Daniel Berrigan (1921-2016). Berrigan was a Jesuit priest who dedicated most of his early life and education to his religion. On the 17th of May 1968, he and 9 Catholic activists seized and burned hundreds of draft records in Catonsville, leading to the trial of the “Catonsville Nine”. He would later read at the International Poetry Forum on the 23rd of October 1968. 

Emi Leong explored Adonis Ali Ahmed Said (1930-Present). Said faced a year of imprisonment in Syria for his political actions, afterwards he would willingly choose to be exiled in order to be released. While in exile, he spent four years in Lebanon, growing to like the place and settling down there. As he grew in popularity, he would read at the International Poetry Forum twice, once in 1971 and again in 1983. While at the forum, Samuel Hazo would translate Said’s book, The Blood of Adonis. 

Adrienne Rich (1929-2012) was researched by Madeline “Maddie” Longmore. Rich wrote “Snapshots of a Daughter-In-Law”, which explored women’s roles, sexuality, and family dynamics. She also published the essay “Compulsory Heterosexuality and Lesbian Existence”, which challenged social norms. Rich would attend the International Poetry Forum on the 24th of October 1973. She later declined the National Medal of the Arts award given to her by the Clinton Administration in protest of concentrated power. 

Lucille Clifton (1936-2010) was studied by Keturah Muscuraca. Born in New York, Clifton came from an impoverished family. She read at the International Poetry Forum on February 24, 1971. In her lifetime, she published over 30 volumes of poetry and novels, was the first author to have two works of poetry nominated for the Pulitzer prize, and the first African-American to hold the title of Poet Laureate of Maryland. Clifton asked to be remembered as “a woman whose roots go back to Africa, who tried to honor being human. And who tried to do the best she could, most of the time. My inclination is to try to help”. 

Edward (Ed) Simo explored Derek Walcott (1930-2017). Born and raised in the Caribbean, Walcott’s work surrounds the realities and troubles of colonialism and postcolonialism life in the Caribbean. He discusses the negative effects of colonialism on culture and literature and believed in the recreation of Caribbean identity and reclaiming of heritage.  

In 1959, he founded the Trinidad Theater Workshop with his brother. Walcott then later read at the International Poetry Forum in 1972.  

Malcolm Randall explored Kurt Vonnegut (1922-2007). Vonnegut was an American writer who wrote fiction and science fiction. In his work, he highlighted the horrors and ironies of war. Captured by the Germans and held captive in a former slaughterhouse during World War II, he used his experiences to write “Slaughter House Five”. He read at the International Poetry Forum on the 17th of November 1971. Vonnegut is considered a socialist and a humanist for his anti-war stance. 

Much of the work from the authors that spoke in the International Poetry Forum can relate to current-day activism, social justice, sexuality, and war. Malcolm Randall explained that Vonnegut shared strong messages in his writing that continue to be important. He stated, “It is especially important since the conflict in Ukraine is going on. Vonnegut was very anti-war and it shows in his most popular novel Slaughterhouse-Five.” 

Each student in King’s class compiled their research into a 4 part essay as well as into a presentation for Scholars Day. Their essays can be found on the official IPF Exhibit site. The class of 9 shared their poet in a round table discussion, each student talked for 4-5 minutes. They presented on Thursday the 21st of April at 4:00pm in AJP 107. Additionally, each student chose an object from the archive, including letters between Mrs P Garfunkel to Hazo about Yevtushenko’s reading and an essay from Walcott, that was highlighted in their presentation and framed in the gallery. 

Their work in the archives came to an end, with the Gallery’s celebratory opening occurring on Tuesday the 19th of April. Dr Samuel Hazo himself attended the opening, reading some of his own poems. In the hybrid event, the archive and gallery researchers were able to attend in person in the 20 person room. The gallery “To Hear It with Our Eyes” will be open from April until October 2022. For Carlow University, the work does not stop there. Dr King expects to teach the class again in Spring 2023. Although the date is not yet known, Grace Library is expected to release the archive on their website.  

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