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Charlene Spearen Recap!

PS Intern Alex Barrett describes the poet's visit

Indigo Bridge Books hosted the third installment of Prairie Schooner's Visiting Writer Series on Thursday, November 15. Guest poet Charlene Spearen read selections from her first poetry collection, A Book of Exquisite Disasters, as well as some new work. Introducing Spearen’s reading was Kwame Dawes, once her mentor, who called her poetry "at once moving if even at times disturbing."

Spearen’s witness of the illness and eventual death of her brother, Charlie, was the inspiration for the first segment from her book. Charlie coined the title that became the first poem she read, “Magic Inside a Hell Box.” Helplessness and pain wove through all her “Charlie poems.”

Spearen highlighted her difficult transition from writing about Charlie to other subjects. “The Pot Stirrer,” based on a piece of art, was one of several poems that marked her poetic transition. When she read new poems from her South Carolina abolitionist set, she expressed concern about her right to write about the suffering of slaves. “How would it come across?” she remembered asking herself. The three poems she shared resounded powerfully.

Spearen’s final poem, "When we cannot wash shame like soiled sheets," was inspired by a Japanese myth. A line in it captured the main idea of her poetry: “Most of our dark world remains a secret.”

During the question-and-answer session that followed her reading, Spearen described the power of poetry this way: “Poetry itself is exquisite. It becomes the vehicle to couch [pain].” In response to comments questioning her work’s dark nature, she simply responded, “These are the things that I’m drawn to.” Finally, she encouraged all poets to be confident: “It’s a beautiful thing and a wonderful thing to be able to raise your hand and say 'I'm a poet.'”