Our A Rally of Writers keynoter this year (2019) is poet, educator and Fulbright Scholar, Will Langford. We talked to Will about poetry as art and his love of the spoken word among other things. Read Will’s bio on the Archive page.
You are a poet and an educator. What excites you about teaching poetry?
As an educator, I am thrilled by the opportunity to witness my students find confidence in a new skill set. Poetry is a language that everyone can learn and grow in. When students paint a picture with their words, crafting the perfect metaphor or line, I feel alive in the arts and in the world.
I am constantly inspired by my students’ creativity and bravery. I draw as much inspiration from my students as I do my artistic contemporaries. My work as a community-engaged teaching artist has taken me around the nation and across the globe. I am grateful to my students, and to all of the educators/artists I’ve worked alongside. I am grateful to make my living in a way that surrounds me with art!
Spoken word has become so much more popular and accessible to the masses. What do you say to traditionalists who don’t see it as poetry?
To those who don’t see spoken word as not having the same heft and adherence to tradition, I would say: Poetry’s earliest roots are in an oral tradition that is older than written storytelling and poetry. Spoken word artists continue that tradition with great attention to detail in their writing, and they illuminate that writing with oratory might. Spoken word takes poetry to its rightful place: where it can be shared among the people.
Why did you zero in on poetry as your art?
I participate in several art forms outside of poetry, including painting, and photography, but poetry is the art that has spoken to me most directly, as a creative. Poetry readings and poetry slams have told me stories I might never have heard elsewhere. Similarly, as a poet, I feel empowered to tell my story, to share it in a way that brings people closer— to the arts, and to the artist that lives in each of us.
You are a Fulbright Scholar. How did that inform your work or your approach to the work?
As a Fulbright Scholar, I worked in Western Kenya at the Salvation Army Kolanya Girls’ School, and alongside the ELEWANA NGO. My primary role was that of an educator, though I found myself wearing many, many more hats. In my time in Kenya, I taught English, poetry, time management, life skills, and even led art-intensive in-services for teachers across the county. I learned to utilize a wide range my skill set, and I felt purposeful and invigorated in doing so. Yet, none of this work was done alone’ I was supported by a dedicated group of local educators, students, parents, and community members without whom my efforts would have been in vain. Stateside, I keep these lessons in mind. I pursue projects that I’m truly passionate about and inspired by, and no others. I seek to build impactful programs, but more so, I aim to cultivate strong relationships in my community. As the old adage goes, “it takes a village.”
Who is your favorite poet?
When I’m asked who my favorite poet is, I usually respond, “Living or dead?” So, I’ll cheat a bit and give you both. My favorite living poet is probably Jamaal May. His enthusiasm for spoken word was immensely impactful to my development as a poet. His language is fierce, precise, and exudes a classic Detroit cool, all at once. In the other category, I’d have to say Langston Hughes. His work weaves humor, weariness, and humanity. Hughes continues to floor me, and to inform my writing and my thinking as a poet.
What’s your next big project?
I’m always working on so many projects at once! I’m working with All of the Above Hip-Hop Arts Academy, The Wharton Center, and the producers of Hamilton to curate a spoken word competition that will award two free tickets to Hamilton. The event is called Be In the Room (Check it out here), and you’re invited! In April, I’m leading several creative writing/performance workshops in the Lansing area. Check out my website, WillThePoet.Com for more details!