Students, faculty and staff in Steely Library April 24 were treated to a heaping helping of “Affrilacia,” a term coined by poet Frank X Walker, who read select poems from his critically acclaimed books of poetry.
“I don’t know anyone else who has coined a term in the Oxford English Dictionary,” said English professor Danny Miller of the term ‘Affrilacia,’ and the poet who created the term.
This term refers to the group of writers with the same unique insight as Walker: African Americans living in the Appalachian Mountain area whose voices are often not heard over the trumpeted stereotypes found in the mass media.
Before starting, Walker told the audience he hoped poetry was the reason they were there. “This is not a lecture,” he said. “It is an art form that is best enjoyed out loud.”
The first poem Walker read, “Kentucke,” answers a question he is often asked when touring with his works, “Are there black people in Kentucky?” His answer is yes: “we are the amen/in church hill downs/the mint/in the julep/we put the heat/in the hotbrown/and/gave it color/indeed/some of the bluegrass/is black.”
Many poems Walker read to the audience were historical in nature, told from the viewpoint of Lewis and Clark’s illiterate slave York, taken from his book “Buffalo Dance: The Journey of York.” Walker said even if you didn’t love history, as long as you knew about the Lewis and Clarke expedition, readers can relate to the poems told through York’s eyes. “This series (of poems) gives voice to a man who didn’t have one,” Walker said.
The Danville, Ky., native’s focus is not on race alone.
However. “I don’t only write about race. I write about anything that connects me to the world,” he said. A few topics Walker dwelt on were familial anecdotes, relationships, basketball and the unique culture of Kentucky.
Attendees of the reading left with a new found respect for contemporary poetry.
“I always thought about poetry as Shakespeare. I didn’t think I was going to appreciate modern poetry as much as I did, but I do,” said sophomore music major Gabriela Castillo on her experience with the poetry reading.
Senior English major Tim Kennedy was impressed with the poet’s portrayal of Kentucky. “The poems about Kentucky were very true. I think it increased my appreciation of contemporary poetry.”
Walker read poems from his three published works, “Affrilachia,” “Buffalo Dance: The Journey of York” and “Black Box,” as well as poems from his work-in-progress, a sequel to “Buffalo Dance” told from the point-of-view of York’s slave wife.
Professor of English John Alberti said Walker will be joining the English faculty in the fall as a visiting writer. “It’s going to be a real treat for the university,” he said.
Another English faculty member, Tamara O’ Callaghan, is also looking forward to the fall. “I’m very excited to have another published author in our department,” she said. “He has experience both as a teacher and a writer.”
Walker will be teaching two classes next semester: Intro to Creative Writing and Poetry Writing.