August 31, 2007

Poet Discusses International Identity

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The Fall 2007 Reading Series made a fresh start yesterday as more than 200 people attended a poetry reading by poet Willie Perdomo. In just an hour, the PEN America Beyond Margins Award winner read aloud more than ten poems on the struggle of cultural identity, Hurricane Katrina and his favorite four letter word — love.
“Perdomo writes poetry in the context of a particular life and historical moment,” said Prof. Stephanie Vaughn, director of the creative writing program and organizer of the Reading Series.
Many of Perdomo’s poems relate to his identity of being a Puerto Rican.
“One of the things we bring over … specifically from the Carribean … is our sense of spirituality and religion,” Perdomo said.
However, he emphasized that he alone cannot represent the whole culture.
“I’m not speaking about a whole race of people. I’m only speaking about a slice.”
Through reading selections from his published works, Where a Nickel Costs a Dime, Smoking Lovely and more, Perdomo showed how the “[power in the spoken word] enhances poems.” Such “enhancement” was well-received by the audience as it enthusiastically responded to Perdomo’s readings.
“[Perdomo’s voice is] seductive, powerful and devastating, but witty,” Vaughn said.
Perdomo also demonstrated the “sense that poetry is universal,” said Prof. Ernesto Quiñonez, creative writing.
Susan Wolcott ’79, agreed. “You can understand the story, not just the rhythm and words,” she said.
The poet’s incorporation of day-to-day language in poetry also impressed students and staff alike.
“Perdomo will use curse words. He will use Spanglish. He will use slang. But he will not corrupt the language,” Quiñonez said.
“I like his use of everyday language in a poetic and powerful way,” said Alex Tretink ’08.
Audience reception was generally very positive. Sara McDermott, ’10, described the experience as “unbelievable … I jumped out of my seat!”
According to Prof. Kenneth McClane, English, it was a “magnificent reading.”
“When few people understand the need for poetry and fewer people read it, Perdomo’s an example to why we both need poetry as a matter of the heart, the mind, and the possibility,” he added.
At least six more writers are expected to visit Cornell’s campus and contribute to the Fall 2007 Reading Series. Quiñonez encouraged more students to “take advantage of these readings.”
“We feed you words and physical food. So make sure you come!”