Ask a Poet: Kurtis Lamkin

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 Kurtis Lamkin.

Kurtis Lamkin is a poet from Philadelphia who plays the Kora, a beautiful West African instrument. He has produced several cds, the latest of which is called Kora Poems, as well as a book of poems entitled Golden Season. Recently he was selected as a 2013-2014 Poetry Fellow by the Jubilation Foundation; and he is a 2014 grantee of the New Music Foundation for a new project, Big Fun. He is lives in Charleston, South Carolina.

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Dodge Poetry Festival 2012 113..Dodge Poetry Festival 2012.Newark, NJ 10/11-14/12.Photograph © T Charles Erickson.

Dodge Poetry Festival Newark, NJ 10/11-14/12. Photograph © T Charles Erickson

What 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?

My high school experience with poetry became massive when my tenth grade teacher took my class to the First International Haiku Festival which was held at the University of Pennsylvania. We were immersed in Japanese culture for the whole day and I loved the feel of the poems because they reminded my of the blues, way out in the fields blues with their clean elegance that invited my imagination into the words. Matsuo Basho and Langston Hughes influenced me. And from looking at my early journals it seems that I wrote a lot about loneliness

Have you ever written anything you were afraid to share?

It’s hard to recall anything. I wasn’t afraid to share because so many things can happen to a poem when you let it go into the wild wild world.

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

Whatever exercise for a poem you give to a student, write your own with them.

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

The last time I saw Amiri Baraka perform there; he was already a master but even after 50 years he was still getting better, surging forward just as young poets do.

What are you currently reading?

A non-fiction book called The Color Of Law by Richard Rothstein.


You can watch Kurtis Lamkin play the Kora and recite his poem “jump mama” below:




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