Claudia Rankine, author of five collections of poetry, shared her work and the message she conveys through her poetry with a full audience in the Dodd Center Konover Auditorium at the University of Connecticut Wednesday night.
Poet Donna Solitario delivered a captivating reading of some of her poems and shared the stories which inspired them Tuesday at the Storrs Center Barnes and Noble. The woman sitting on tbhe stage introduced herself as the poet who would be reading some of her work and smiled at each person as they entered. It was clear she was excited to see each person arrive, even though the crowd was small.
Once the event officially started, one of Solitario’s long-time friends, Eva Devine, stepped up to the stage to begin the interview portion of the event before allowing Solitario to read some of her personal favorites from each of her three books of poetry.
Devine began by asking where it all started, in reference to Solitario’s writing of poetry. Solitario spoke of often writing poetry as a kid, but as she grew older she forgot about it as life began to get in the way. Then, 30 years ago, she met Devine and told her the story of her dysfunctional family: full of abuse, addiction and mental illness which made her childhood difficult.
It was Devine who first put forth the idea of writing a book about her troubles. Solitario later acknowledged this in her second book, “Coming Home to My Heart”, in a poem dedicated to Devine in which she wrote “she planted a seed for me to follow my dreams.”
The close and personal relationship between Solitario and Devine allowed the interview to feel less like a formal event and more like a discussion between two friends who wished for their story to be heard.
Solitario first talked of her inspiration for her first book of poetry, “Embrace the Light”. She explained that, when she was teaching at Job Corps, a free residential education and job training program or young adults ages 16-24, she noticed many of her students going through problems similar to the ones she faced at their age. To help a particular student who was having a hard day, she gave him a poem of hers, and the next day, he came back with it typed, complimenting her work and explaining how much it helped him to read it.
Suddenly, more and more students were asking for her poetry, so she decided that her first book of poetry would be about her own past experiences as a way for other young adults and children out there to know that they are not alone and that things do get better as time goes on.
This idea of helping others facing abuse is one of the main reasons Solitario has continued writing. Even today, if she notices someone who is feeling down in a McDonald’s or Dunkin’ Donuts, she offers them some of her poetry as a way to help them know they are not alone in what they are suffering.
It was not until her second book, “Coming Home to My Heart”, that Solitario truly dug deep and wrote about her abuse, since her first book was more general and focused on the idea that things will get better for those who are suffering. The first 36 pages of her second book are completely dedicated to discussing her own abuse, which she said helped heal her.
Her favorite poem from the book is the one that shares the name of the book as she feels it “touches on everything.” This is also one of the poems she read for the audience.
Reading a poem and hearing it read by the poet are two very different experiences. When reading a poem, the reader tends to put emphasis on the words they connect with most and reflects slightly on the emotions it evokes before moving on to the next poem, but hearing it read by the author is something else entirely.
When Solitario read “Coming Home to My Heart,” the audience knew which parts were most important as she stressed the words when she spoke. They were able to reflect on certain passages as she took longer breaks between certain stanzas and her tone of voice evoked the kind of emotion she wanted the audience to feel when they read it.
Solitario then discussed her third and most recently published book, titled “A Poet’s Heart”. While discussing this book, she mentioned how the inspiration for it came from her experience as a GED instructor in Springfield, Mass. and seeing students fighting the horrors of addiction, whether it be their own or a family member’s.
After seeing this, she decided it was time to write a poetry book that shared spirituality, as her religion and relationship with God is something she constantly cited as what helped get her through her past.
While reading a poem of the same name as her third book, she read a line that explains how important she believes her job as a poet is: “A poet’s heart cares to speak the truth.” This truth she speaks of is the truth of her abuse which resonates and helps those who face the same challenges.
Towards the end of the event, Solitario expressed how important it is for her to make sure her work is available for anyone who needs it. In order to make this possible, Solitario uploads all her books online, including two which have yet to be published into hard copies, so they are available for everyone, especially those who cannot afford to go to a bookstore and pick up a hard copy.
Solitario’s poems about abuse and spirituality are honest and uplifting. If anyone wishes to read her work to connect with her stories or just to enjoy nice poetry, her first three books can be found at the Barnes & Noble located in Storrs Center.
Kassidy Manness is a campus correspondent for The Daily Campus. She can be reached via email at firstname.lastname@example.org