Ask a Poet: Kyle Dargan

This fall, we’re hosting a High School Regional Mini-Festival at the Paul Robeson Center in Newark. Through readings and performances, Q&As and discussions, a group of poets will engage with hundreds of Newark high school students over the course of one school day in October.

For the next several weeks, we will be featuring short Q&As with some of the participating poets on the Dodge Blog each Friday. This week, we’re talking to Kyle Dargan

Originally from Newark, New Jersey, Kyle Dargan is the editor and founder of Post No Ills online magazine and an Associate Professor of Literature and Assistant Director of Creative Writing at American University (Washington, D.C.). His debut collection, The Listening, was awarded the 2003 Cave Canem Prize and his sophomore collection, Bouquet of Hungers, won the 2008 Hurston/Wright Legacy Award for poetry. Dargan’s poems and non-fiction have appeared in the Newark Star-Ledger, New York Times Magazine, Poetry, American Poetry Review, BuzzFeed,, and other venues. His most recent poetry collections are Logorrhea Dementia and Honest Engine. He lives in Washington, D.C.

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KGD (Print Quality)What is a misconception about poetry that bothers you? Why?

That one needs to understand—if not have a mastery of—all the terminology and craft minutia to read or write poetry. The most important thing is being able to find and articulate what moves us about poetry. Once you know that, you can bring in the technical understanding to identify how the poem was able to create what you felt.

Have you ever written anything you were afraid to share?

Of course. I mean, I think there should be a little fear in sharing any of yourself and your passion in poetry because the fear means you care. If you did not care how the poem and what you say in it would be received, you aren’t invested in saying something sincere and vulnerable—the type of writing that allows you to grow as a human being and for people to grow closer to you through the writing.

Do you have any advice for those who are trying to help students engage with poetry?

Yes. I think we go about it all wrong when it comes to teaching poetry to young people, especially young brown people in America. We start with the canon’s “classics” (which isn’t very representative) and then get frustrated when the students aren’t engaged. But if you start with poems that reflect the realities and specific experiences of the students you are teaching, they’ll be invested enough to actually want to do the work to understand how this art form is capturing and rendering something they recognize, something that validates them. It makes a difference. You need to introduce people to poetry with poems they can see themselves within.

Do you have a favorite memory from time spent in Newark?

Newark is such a huge city. It isn’t just downtown, like many people outside of the city think. I came of age in City Hall. I fell in love at Branchbrook Park. I watched the world from high up in an apartment building on Elizabeth Avenue. I helped conduct research as a Minorities-in-Medicine fellow at UMDNJ. I mean, the way I grew up, I got to experience all of the city, and in that way it all runs together for me. People talk about east ward and north ward and south and west ward, but it was all just Newark to me, and I have great memories everywhere.

Do you have a favorite spot in Newark? A park, restaurant, open mic venue, etc.?

Newark is changing. A lot of the things I loved aren’t there anymore, Je’s Soul Food Restaurant on Halsey Street is gone. Queen’s Pizza … it’s still there but it is owned by different people now—the flavor has changed, and it is essentially gone to me. The kind of gentrification I saw over the past ten years in Washington, D.C. is finally coming to Newark, as I suspected it would. But that is the nature of cities—they “reface,” they change. But I have a good friend who works as Mayor Baraka’s chief policy adviser, Tai Cooper, and you’d be hard pressed to find someone whose love for Newark runs deeper than hers does. She’s always showing me or telling me about some new cultural event or some new restaurant that the people seem to be enjoying. Cities need energy, and it is heartening to see all the new energy Newark is attracting and generating. And just as it was important for me to write about my Newark, we need the young people there now to write about theirs. That’s the only way the facts and the feeling of our time in our cities get remembered—which is something you can’t fully appreciate until your city changes and the people and places of your past become the ghosts and rubble of the present.

What are you currently reading?

Blud, by Rachel McKibbens

Bestiary by Donika Kelly

Wild Hundreds by Nate Marshall

Stamped from the Beginning: The Definitive History of Racist Ideas in America by Ibram x. Kendi

Race, Class and Politics in the Cappuccino City by Derek Hyra

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