I had no idea what to expect when going in to see Grace C. Ocasio perform her poetry. I honestly didn’t know a lot about poetry to begin with.
In my experience, poetry was something that you learned about in school. It was used as a learning tool by English teachers, something we meticulously interpreted and dissected to “expand our writing skills.”
Now, after having witnessed Ocasio in action, I know that there is so much more to poetry than my teachers were letting on.
Before a small crowd at the Gibbes Museum of Art Thursday night, Ocasio showcased her brand of intensely expressive poetry. A two-time Pushcart Prize nominee, Ocasio is an adjunct professor of creative writing at the University of North Carolina at Charlotte. At last night’s reading, she performed pieces from Robert Frost and Langston Hughes while also sharing original poetry from her latest book, Family Reunion.
What really impressed me most about Ocasio was her energy. Her voice fluctuated in volume, at times startling her audience. She didn’t just read her poetry. She sang her poetry, she danced with her poetry, and she made sure that every line of her work was delivered to emphasize the emotions behind her words.
Another aspect of Ocasio’s style that I enjoyed was her musical phrasing. When I see poets portrayed in other media outlets, they are usually shown to be very expressive in their delivery, but never to the point of actually singing. Ocasio’s voice mimicked that of a trained opera singer, her voice rising and falling in pitch and steadying to a rhythm that had the audience hanging on every word.
I enjoyed Ocasio’s musings on Janis Joplin and the tragedy of how people with so much talent seem to fall to drug addiction and other life-threatening vices. But the one passage that really stuck with me was “Little Girlfriend,” an excerpt from Family Reunion. To me, the passage highlighted how searching through family albums can help new generations understand the personalities of who came before and how they can influence the character of current members of a family.
Viewing Ocasio’s performance helped stir a new appreciation of poetry for me. Her liveliness and clear passion for her work demonstrates that poetry is something to be experienced rather than flatly studied in a classroom.
Patrick Henkels is a graduate student in the Goldring Arts Journalism and Communications program at Syracuse University.