Post Marlanda Dekine read her poetry May 31 during this year's Sundown Poetry Series | photo provided

With a powerful yet vulnerable presence Willie Lee Kinard III opened Piccolo Spoleto’s Sundown Poetry Series on May 30, guiding listeners through the complex journey of growing up Black in the religious South. 

The series features multiple poets reading their work in the warm sunsets at Washington Square Park. With each poet vulnerably reciting art made from their own experiences, the Sundown Poetry Series is a must-see for anyone eager to learn what it’s like to walk a mile in someone else’s shoes. 

In coming days, festival-goers can enjoy these poets as the sun sets in the part at 80 Broad St.  Signings and receptions will follow at nearby Buxton Books, 160 King St.:

  • 6 p.m., June 2:  Angelo Geter, poet laureate of Rock Hill, S.C.
  • 6 p.m., June 6:  John Milkereit, a Charleston native who now lives in Houston.
  • 6 p.m., June 7: Kurtis Lamkin, a poet known for also playing the Kora.
  • 6 p.m. June 8: Elizabeth Robin, a poet from Hilton Head Island.
  • 6 p.m., June 9: Richard Garcia with the Long Table Poets, who have studied poetry together for two decades.

Kinard shared work across the years

Sharing an hour of his life through prose, Kinard read from work from across the years, some published in poetry journals, such as Poetry Foundation and Poetry Daily, while others came from his self-published book “Chroma.”

Every carefully dictated word dripped with emotion and determination, syllables neatly flowing into each other in lines such as “Yes, shaken does the body good” from “The Choir, or Chatteracks” — a reminiscing of his time in a gospel choir.

Ending each poem with a thank you, Kinard followed with a short retelling of what the work meant to him, maybe a joke about his grandmother or their upbringing in Newberry, S.C.

In the sonnet “Catfish,” Kinard combined Southern fish fry and the social media term for when someone pretends to be someone else, blending together tradition and the contemporary.

“I fed thousands of egos, served my body hot off the skillet and expected to still have feeling in it,” Kinard said.

In these words, Kinard described the struggles of hiding or changing themselves entirely in hopes of getting love in return, only to lose themselves in the end.

With an easily embraced and in-your-face style of poetry, Kinard set the ideal stage for the rest of the Sundown Poetry Sessions.

Dekine’s stories reflect personal experiences

With a copy of her debut poetry collection “Thresh and Hold” in hand, Marlanda Dekine’s session of Piccolo Spoleto’s Sundown Poetry shared a look at the world through the lenses of sunflower-yellow glasses. 

Starting in a world of chartreuse blades of grass with “Origin,” Dekine’s poems drew not only from the lived experience of an entire life, but from those which came before as well. 

“I couldn’t escape the stories,” Dekine said, remarking on how the collection was never intended be as seemingly auto-biographical as it became. In “My Black, Rural, Queer Childhood,” the auto-biographical nature of the collection was apparent in more than just themes as Dekine seemed to touch on feelings of dysphoria and presentation with the feeling of wanting a body that isn’t referred to as such.

Bound together in the collection by recurring images of nightingales and shades of “collard-colored greens” and purples, tinted photographs of the mind intermingled with those more material vignettes, stories that her family had shared were seemingly exposed over a very different kind of life in Dekine’s words. 

With no small amount to draw upon, the ways in which Dekine spoke about religion showed a deeper connection to it than many other queer poets, something used to incredible effect in “When The Preacher Was God.” Remarking on both her grandma’s violet church hat and her grandfather’s booming voice in the church, the imagery used was almost close to Genesis, even as Dekine invoked the more contemporary Sega version.

With a captivating use of language that Dekine remarked was fed to them “like grits,” Piccolo Spoleto’s Sundown Poetry has brought in works that are not only well-told and unique, but manage to push the boundaries more than written words can do alone. 

IF YOU PLAN TO GO: 6 p.m. at Washington Square Park, 80 Broad St. on June 2, 6, 7, 8 and 9. Free admission. Receptions follow at Buxton Books, 160 King Street.

Timia Cobb and C.M. McCambridge are arts journalism graduate students at Syracuse University.

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