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Laureate speaks out for poetic truth

Al Young presented the honors lecture, “Can Poetry Save the World?” on Tuesday. He read from his book, “Something About the Blues,” about politics and other topics. / photo by Hunter Cole

Al Young presented the honors lecture, “Can Poetry Save the World?” on Tuesday. He read from his book, “Something About the Blues,” about politics and other topics. / photo by Hunter Cole

Clo Hidalgo
Staff Writer

California Poet Laureate Al Young gave a lecture titled “Can Poetry Save our Planet?” in the Campus Center Ballroom Tuesday.

Noelle Cozbar, president of the Honor’s Club, introduced the 2013 honor’s lecture before Young went on stage.

The first poem Young read was called “Sundays in Democracies” where he stated his political opinion and how he views the United States.

“The only thing we have to fear are Republicans,” Young said as he read the poem. “They boogie with you on the streets and later bring you down.”

In the poem, he also criticized Democrats because he felt that both parties are not serving the country the way they should.

Young said jokingly that he knew taking a stab at both major political parties was an odd way to start the lecture.

He talked about author George Orwell’s essay “Politics and the English Language” and how it tied together with the lecture because they both have similar views. He encouraged the audience to read the essay when the lecture was over.

Young answered his own question “Can poetry save our planet?” by saying yes because poetry is the most powerful language because of the artistic way it conveys important messages in today’s society.

He compared the relationship between music and poetry because they both have a rhythm, which the human body reacts to.

“We feel the rhythm of poetry,” Young said. “Listen to a song you don’t understand but there will be something that attracts you to it.”

He explained how poetry means something different to each person. He gave the example that if there were six people in the audience who were asked to read Emily Dickinson’s poems, they would each read them as six different poems because each person would interpret the poem differently.

“Poetry can be intellectual,” Young said. “You can say different things and reach people at different levels.”

Young highlighted the importance of his topic and said if people spoke the truth, the world could be altered into a better tomorrow.

In India, he said, the people would create songs to make the sick feel better.

He explained that storytelling has been an important factor in human culture because it has been the way that different cultures have learned things in life.

“Storytelling is the way humans process things,” Young said. “Fables and folktales made us understand that this was the way elders spoke to the young people to get them out of trouble.”

He said what made poetry less popular amongst people was modernism because poetry became more difficult to understand. At first, it was easy to comprehend but as years went by poetry started to change and people went back to reading novels.

In the 19th century, poetry was popular because Americans loved to read poems in their free time.

“People would sit around parlors and recite poems,” Young said. “Poets used to make money by writing poems.”

The last poem he read was called “Love Offline” from his upcoming book “Offline Love.”

Liam Machado a freshman art history major, saw a new approach to poetry.

“Mr. Young had interesting ideas especially on his take on poetry,” Machado said. “There is more truth in that than what people would recognize.”

Karen Beavers, librarian at Wilson Library, learned something new from the lecture.

“Poetry can tell the truth,” she said referring to Young’s topic on truth. “It’s a very interesting way of presenting people with ideas.”

One thing Young wanted his audience to take from his lecture was the strength poetry had within humans.

“Poetry has the power to transform not only minds but spirits,” he said. “When things get hard, people go to poetry.”

Clo Hidalgo can be reached at

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