ATCHISON, Kan. — Poetry isn’t about spreading a message, or attempting to change the mind of the reader, one of the leading creative minds of Kansas told Benedictine College students on Tuesday evening. Poetry is about people.
“Poetry exists outside of the classroom,” Huascar Medina said at a gathering at the McAllister Boardroom of the campus located in Atchison, Kansas. “It is an opportunity, a chance for people to communicate with one another in the most honest way. Poetry can be used to have hard conversations in soft ways.”
The seventh poet laureate of Kansas, who is serving a two-year tenure that began this past summer, said he aims to dispel the notion that poetry must be composed of pretty words that rhyme and represent a closely regulated high art form.
A Topeka, Kansas, native of Puerto Rican heritage, Medina has published several books and works as a freelance copywriter as well as the literary editor of seveneightfive magazine of Topeka. His poems, which are often written in both English and Spanish, are a reflection of his working-class roots and his cultural and political experiences.
If people regard such contributions as their personal truth, Medina said, that’s fine, but poetry by nature should be free to be beautiful, or ugly, or a little bit of both. What matters most is, is it sincere?
“My truth is my everyday experience,” Medina said. “I would like to spend the rest of my days writing nothing but love poems, man. That would be a dream. But that’s not necessarily the truth that I’m living right now. The truth is what is present in my poetry.”
Gabriella Mammia, who is studying art and English at Benedictine, said she found Medina’s sincerity to be inspirational.
“It is so important to remember the importance of authenticity in art,” she said. “It is really easy to put pretty words together, but if they don’t mean anything, that’s not poetry. I really admired his emphasis on being true to yourself, how it can be beautiful, how it can be ugly. That doesn’t matter, as long as it is your truth.”
The day-to-day job of the poet laureate of Kansas is to travel around the state and region and speak to nonprofit educational and other organizations that have a keen interest in the purpose and benefits of studying poetry and literature.
“Huascar represents the connection between poetry and identity, which is so important,” said Julie Sellers, Ph.D., a professor of Spanish who has known Medina for years. “Many times, people get started in poetry by just writing about themselves and what is most known to them. Poetry is thus the way they can relate their own experiences.”