NC Poet Laureate Jaki Shelton Green discusses poetry, leads workshop at Durham Tech event

jaki shelton green standing in front of durham tech podium speakingDurham Tech students and employees and community members gathered together on Feb. 28 to listen and learn about documentary poetry from North Carolina’s recently inducted poet laureate, Jaki Shelton Green.

The presentation occurred in the Multi-Purpose Room of the Phail Wynn, Jr. Student Services Center on Main Campus.

Green has served as the state’s first African-American and third female poet laureate since last summer and was inducted by N.C. Gov. Roy Cooper on Feb. 18.

Documentary poetry is a main focus of her literary work.

“As a cultural activist and a social activist, it just seemed to be the best vehicle for my writing, and … a lot of (what I’ve published) falls into the genre of documentary poetry, writing about historical and current events or documenting family lure, family stories,” Green said. “It was just a natural fit for me. It’s the researcher inside of me.”

During the event, Green explained the meaning of documentary poetry, and according to her, the type of writing isn’t as foreign as a concept to us as we may think.

“We are doing documentary poetry all the time,” she said. “We just don’t call it documentary poetry all the time. How many of you have been requested in classes to write a story about a current event, an historical event, to write a report, write a book report? … We’ve all done this, right? We’ve all become documentarians at some time in our lives.”

Green presented Alexa Meade’s “Color of Reality,” featuring a paint-clad Jon Boogz and Lil Buck. Once the video finished, she had the audience write a literary response to it.

“I want to write, and I have a hard time with it actually coming out,” said Christine Link, a student at Durham Tech. “It’s a huge, intimidating idea, sometimes, to write something, especially for myself, so she did a great job of breaking it down into pieces to work on it a little bit more simply.”

Link said she attended the event because she wanted to work on her writing skills. She hadn’t heard of Green prior to the event.

“She’s a character really,” Link said. “You can tell she has a lot of passion.”

The explanation of documentary poetry made Link realize that she already had the materials she needed to generate her words.

“A lot of what I want to write are stories of my own travel experiences, so I have documents that I need to go back to,” she said. “Just that idea of use your own resources. Sometimes, it’s the simple things that we need to remember to go back to stop making things so complex.”

The workshop was sponsored by the Viva the Arts committee at Durham Tech and was co-presented with the North Carolina Arts Council.

Green presented and spoke for other Durham Tech events and occasions years ago.

“I’ve been here several times, so it always feels good,” she said. “I’m always happy and humble to be invited.”

Green is an Orange County native whose literary and teaching careers have lasted more than 40 years. She’s written eight poetry books and one play, co-edited two poetry anthologies, was inducted into the North Carolina Literary Hall of Fame, and received the North Carolina Award for Literature.

The acclaimed poet teaches documentary poetry at the Duke University Center for Documentary Studies.

“Anytime I’m with the community college system anywhere in North Carolina, I’m always happy, and I’m always honored, because I know that the learners that are here, many of them make big sacrifices to be here,” Green said. “It’s a different culture for me. ... I love the sense of community that the community college system has always afforded, I think, to its learners and to its campus community at large and how that impacts the greater community itself.”