Watch: Utahns perform original poems during National Poetry Month

The Utah Poetry Festival, organized by state poet laureate Paisley Rekdal, celebrates the “human art.”

“Poetry is really for everyone,” says Paisley Rekdal, Utah’s poet laureate. So if you think you don’t like poetry, maybe it’s because you haven’t found the right poem yet.

“Not every poem is for everyone,” she adds. “But there are so many different types and kinds of poetry out there in the world, so you’re bound to find something that you like that speaks to you.”

And a good time to discover your next favorite poem is during National Poetry Month. As part of the Utah Poetry Festival, two videos of Utahns performing their original poems will be posted on social media daily throughout April. All of the videos, past and upcoming, are featured on the Utah Humanities YouTube channel and in the festival’s public Facebook group.

Rekdal, who organized the event and curated the submissions, says the videos have allowed more people to participate in the festival. And the poets who sent in their work range from middle school students to retirees.

One of the poems posted so far is “Facing the Mirror” by environmental advocate and poet Katherine Indermaur. In the piece, she describes the experience of looking in a mirror.

“There is no objective mirror,” she reads. “A looking glass. See? The glass is looking.”

As Michaëlle Martial performs “I Am Woman,” which she describes as her “anthem for women’s empowerment,” she emphasizes these words with conviction: “I know my worth. I know my worth.”

A piece of cowboy poetry, “DeepTracks” by Marleen Bussma, talks about the work of a rancher.

“The picturesque and prosperous, only seen on greeting cards, are not what ranching life is like,” she reads.

Rekdal says one man wrote a note with his submission that said he had only six years of formal schooling, but has always loved poetry.

“[Poetry] is something that all of us do. It is a human art that we are all engaged in,” she says.

To see a complete schedule of the readings, panels, Q&A’s and roundtable discussions happening during the Utah Poetry Festival, which begins April 16 and ends April 18, visit UtahPoetryFestival.com.

(Rick Egan | The Salt Lake Tribune) Utah's poet laureate Paisley Rekdal, Thursday, April 9, 2020

Poetry project explores impact of transcontinental railroad

Rekdal says poetry should tell us something about our lives and the feelings we are having right now.

And as a Chinese American woman, Rekdal is often influenced by race in her work.

On Thursday, she will be participating in “Women Warriors,” a virtual poetry reading by female Asian American writers standing in “solidarity” with the six Asian women who were shot and killed in Atlanta in March. The free “marathon reading” starts at 5 p.m. and will be streamed on the Asian American Writers’ Workshop’s YouTube channel.

For the event, participants across the country submitted short videos of themselves reading poems. Rekdal’s piece is about the history of Chinese prostitution in the West, which is part of a project she is doing on the history of the transcontinental railroad and anti-Asian policies in the United States.

In her online project “West: A Translation,” Rekdal uses video and original poetry to detail the impact of the transcontinental railroad, which Chinese laborers helped build and was completed at Promontory Summit, Utah, in 1869. And she connects that history with the Chinese Exclusion Act, enacted 13 years later.

Carved into the walls of the Angel Island Immigration Station in California is an “elegy” written by an anonymous immigrant who was detained under the federal law, which prohibited Chinese workers from entering the United States. Through her own writings, Rekdal “translates” this work in commemoration of the railroad’s 150th anniversary.

Viewers can click on each Chinese character in that poem to open a piece of writing by Rekdal. For more information, visit WestTrain.org.