20th Anniversary of the H. MacKnight Black Poetry Reading
Photo by Qi Yu ’17
During the 20th H. MacKnight Black Poetry Reading, winner Jasmine Jay ‘14 read her poem, “Two Dimensional Jesus” with rhythmic passion and poise.
Jay based her winning piece on a conversation with a friend from home in the summer of 2013. The conversation was about how from the fall of the Roman Empire to the Renaissance all artists portrayed Jesus as two-dimensional.
“I was trying to draw a parallel between art and relationships, using the whole notion of perception versus reality,” Jay said.
Jay has been writing since childhood and has had her sight set on the prize since her first year at Lafayette.
“I’d known since freshman year that I wanted to major in English and I knew that poetry interested me,” Jay, who is currently working on an honors thesis in poetry, said. “I guess I had been waiting for the chance to enter [the competition] from the get-go.”
In addition to Jay, there were two honorable mentions. Henna Cho ‘14 penned “Twin” and April Barry ‘14 wrote “Penguin Figurine.” Cho’s piece is visceral, speaking to the deep bond of twin siblings and two identities growing in two different directions with age. “Penguin Figurine,” portrays a schoolgirl heartbreak that is not at all lighthearted. “Figurine” draws parallels to the life long partnership of penguins.
“I was inspired by an experience my roommate had while here at Lafayette,” Barry said.
“Her experience really made me think about the dating culture among college students and how it is sometimes so different from the mating processes of animals.”
Jay, Cho, and Barry all have an comparable apt for the written word and a long running connection to poetry.
“Growing up I was really shy and introverted and self-conscious,” Jay said. “Poetry – reading it – especially as a teenager helped me make sense of a world that seemed kind of characterized by cruelty and loss.”
The three seniors’ poetry readings opened for Paul Muldoon, the judge, featured reader, and Pulitzer Prize winner.
Jay said she shared some moments of insight with Muldoon, who was the first outsourced judge for the MacKnight Black Poetry Prize in 1994 and returned to the position last Wednesday, April 16.
“It was really everyday things that we talked about,” Jay said. “We talked about playing solitaire. Paul Muldoon is a really nice, sweet, warm, witty guy.”
During his reading, Muldoon appeared to make eye contact with each and every person in the audience at some point in order to create an intimate atmosphere. His readings varied in content, from poems about his children, to poems about the Cuban Missile Crisis, to a nonsensical poem made out of jumbled clichés, and even song lyrics for his band.
The H. MacKnight Poetry Prize is awarded to an exemplary poem by a member of the senior class and was first endowed in 1949 in memorium of the student poet, MacKnight Black, from the class of 1916 whose life was cut short in 1931.
Click here to check out for the featured works of MacKnight Black Award winner, Jasmine Jay, and honorable mentions, Henna Cho and April Barry, “Two Dimensional Jesus,” “Twin,” and “Penguin Figurine.”