Reading reportage about police brutality stirs up an underbelly full of primal feelings and Darryl Lorenzo Wellington is a brave man to lead a group designed to digest editorials on the subject, find the resonance in them, and make them over into poetry. He shared several articles and poems, and read poignant pieces which mastered this knack of turning social commentary into poetry, such as Poem about Police Violence by June Jordan, written in 1980 referencing Arthur Miller, an African American businessman and community leader who was killed in Brooklyn 1978 in a chokehold by the police, an eerie echo to Eric Garner killed in a similar manner 36 years hence in Staten Island. In The Falling Man (for Eric Garner), Darryl showed his own talent of creating art out of the ashes.
In a striking and radically different approach inspired by the same 2014 tragedy, Darryl read A Small Needful Fact by Ross Gay, which evoked the palpable precious humanity behind the name of the brutalized, teaching us of Eric’s former profession as a horticulturist, using imagery of his big hands gently planting into earth, nurturing the things that make it easier for all of us to breathe; a not-so-subtle heartbreaking irony. Beyond the content, Darryl took us through the structure of these poems, contrasting the use of syntax and punctuation as we discussed how these details and choices were used to contribute to the meaning and how they impact us.
Emotions were high for a few of us throughout the session, given the heart-shredding stories and base culture that allows them to happen, and Darryl navigated all of them with grace and composure, protecting the tenderness, and artfully stopping commentary that tried to derail the focus. He held the space beautifully, with his infectious laughter and incisive clarity, and I admired the generosity with which he handled all the different perspectives and knowledge (or lack thereof) of the subject matter.
Using the examples of a blues song by Robert Johnson and a letter to the police by June Jordan, we spent time composing our own poems and sharing them in class. The quality of writing and expression by the other participants was inspiring; it’s amazing how much talent resides in this town and I was grateful they were drawn to this workshop.
The time went by too fast and I wished the class could have been longer. Perhaps Darryl will do a reprise. With so much rich material and his expertise, it would be a natural choice for an ongoing offering, and I encourage anyone to seize the opportunity to listen to and learn from Darryl.