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Poet Laureate to visit UA

photo courtesy of STEVE LEWIS
Dolores Kendrick - Author of several books of poetry visits next week for a reading at the Poetry Center on Wednesday and a lecture at the Woods Memorial Library on Feb. 24.
By Kylee Dawson
Arizona Daily Wildcat
Thursday, February 17, 2005
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Dolores Kendrick does not believe in limiting herself or her poetry with labels. Therefore, her attitude perfectly defines who she is as a woman and a poet.

Students, faculty and others will get a greater glimpse into Kendrick's poetry next week when she will read selections and give a lecture on the benefits of poetry in everyday life.

"I'm going to give several examples of how poetry is fluent in other people's lives and workable in people's lives," Kendrick said. "And if we keep poetry out of the elitist state and bring it back to people, in this way, then people can bring it to us."

Kendrick, a native Washingtonian who was appointed Poet Laureate of the District of Columbia in 1999, often writes about black women, slavery and other narrative themes, but she does not appreciate her poetry being coined into any specific categories.

"People try to pigeonhole me," she said. "They say, 'Are you a feminine poet?' or, 'Are you a Catholic poet?' People try to claim me. 'You are a black poet.'

"I'm a poet. And the fact that I am African-American is not incidental as to who I am, but it doesn't dictate my vision. And whatever my vision dictates, I will obey."

Kendrick's heritage does not limit her interests when it comes to literature, but she believes it certainly is important for people to respect it.

For Black History Month, Kendrick has organized a series of poetry readings at the office of Washington, D.C., mayor Anthony A. Williams, who is offering "tremendous support."

The readings are, of course, welcoming for people of all backgrounds.

"White people celebrate Black History Month too," Kendrick laughed. "But I think for the benefit for the public, we have to surface our history for the public."

During a discussion with an acquaintance, Kendrick was recently reminded that many people do not realize the accomplishments of black inventors - specifically Garrett Augustus Morgan, who invented the traffic light.

"We have to make people aware of not only the presence of black people so that we're not invisible, but also the great contributions black people are making," she said.

Kendrick was fortunate enough to know one of the greatest contributors to American literature.

"Gwendolyn Brooks was my wonderful mentor until the day she died, and she and I were friends," Kendrick said. "So, it goes without saying, I think she was one of the most important poets of the 20th century. Black, white, green or yellow."

Kendrick was also friends with James Baldwin and loves reading Richard Wright and Ralph Ellison. But she is not exclusively interested in black writers, and loves Chinese, Israeli and American Indian poets' work, among others.

"They're not well-known names, but their work is very, very powerful," she said.

William Shakespeare is also a favorite, but she believes people should not limit themselves to the European poets who tend to dominate classic literature.

"I don't read what the universities call 'the canon,' all the traditional poets," she said. "I like (William Butler) Yeats, I like (Enoch) Arden. But that doesn't get it for me.

"I move in all these directions because, one of the things I'm going to say this in my speech is that, I don't think poetry is Anglo-Saxon, American or only in the English editions. I take a worldview of poetry and, to me, you can't use that word and make it exclusive to one culture. And we do that a lot. My thinking goes beyond that."

Kendrick's poetry also extends beyond the page. With the help of manager Harry Teter, she is in the process of adapting her poetry book, "The Women of Plums," for a theatrical production at the National Theater.

Like Brooks, Kendrick has collected a repertoire of accolades, including being inducted by Chicago State University into the Literary Hall of Fame for writers of African-American descent. But she is not "about" success measured by awards.

"I like them, but they don't take priority over my vision and my need to share that vision with others," she said.

"My business is to really develop my skills as a poet and my vision as a poet and to share it with others as much as I can, and I'm thanking God for the honor."

Dolores Kendrick will read from her books - including her latest, "Why the Woman Is Singing on the Corner (2001)," and some new poems at the Modern Languages Auditorium on Wednesday at 8 p.m.

Her lecture, titled "Poetry as a Living Force Capable of Working in Everybody's Life," will be delivered at the Woods Memorial Library, located at 3455 N. First Ave., on Feb. 24.

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