Ask a Poet: Robert Hylton

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 Robert Hylton. 

Born in Kingston, Jamaica, Robert Hylton has been performing poetry since 1996. He has been an English teacher in Newark NJ for over 17 years as well as a poetry club curator in many public schools, universities, community centers, and churches in the tri-state area. He has performed at renowned venues, such as, the former Serengeti Plains, The Poet’s Corner (Bogies), Euphoria Café and NYC’s The Nuyorican Poet’s Café. Respected by his peers and younger poets alike, Hylton prides himself in mentorship and introducing writing and the art of slam poetry to young people across the tri-state area.

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Robert Hylton cropped photoWhat was your experience with poetry in high school? If you wrote poetry as a teenager, who were your influences then and what did you write about?

I discovered poetry in high school. I remember well, grade 10. My teacher, Ms. Banks noticed that I took an interest in poetry. I was influenced by Edgar Allan Poe as well as the Beatnik poets like LeRoi Jones (Amiri Baraka), Gwendolyn Brooks, Sonia Sanchez, and many Renaissance poets.

What is a misconception about poetry that bothers you? Why?

People always think a poem is about the author. People think a poem should sound a certain way. A poem can sound like whatever you want it to sound like, or look like what you want it to look like.

What is something you have recently discovered about poetry?

I’ve recently discovered that writing poetry is truly God’s gift to me, and that I’ve been selling God and myself short all this time.

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

My favorite spots in Newark are the poetry venues. I pop in from to time to time and catch up with old friends, fellow poets, and students alike. Halsey Street has many.

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

For any teacher trying to engage students with poetry:

  • invite live poets to the classroom
  • find interesting, cool, real-life poems that teenagers might like
  • have a poetry reading in class (with snacks, dimmed lights, couches/comfortable chairs, a mic… make it feel special)

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