By Shayna Innocenti
It is a special moment when alumni of the College get the chance to return to campus and share their wisdom and success with students. Zany poet and 2006 graduate Sarah Blake gave an intimate poetry reading in the Library Auditorium on Thursday, March 10, as part of INK’s Visiting Writing Series.
Blake’s poetic success began with her debut book, “Mr. West,” an “unauthorized lyric biography” of hip-hop artist Kanye West. The book not only features defining moments in West’s career, but also weaves in Blake’s own experiences throughout her pregnancy. The book was published in March 2015 by Wesleyan University Press.
At the event, Blake read several poems including the anatomy-based “Kanye’s Digestive System” and poems that featured defining career moments for West, such as “God Created Night and it was Night.” Many of the poems were accompanied by photos from the Pinterest board that Blake created for readers to use as reference.
Blake admitted that the first question she usually gets about the book is, “Why Kanye?” This question is especially prompted by interviewers, she said, as she has never met West.
Despite how the media often portrays the hip-hop artist, Blake explained that she connected with West differently than most.
“Kanye lost his mother, Donda West, around the same time when I lost my grandfather,” Blake said.
Two years after her grandfather’s passing, Blake became interested in writing poetry about hip-hop. She thought back to West’s loss and his 2008 album, “808s & Heartbreak,” as she wrote what would be the first poem of her book, “Kayne’s Circulatory System.”
“The book kind of morphed into this whole other project,” Blake said. “Kayne fascinates me and the media’s fascination with him fascinates me. The book ended up being a lot about (the) media’s portrayal of people and the falsehood we often forget.”
The oddity of a poetry book featuring the life of West drew in both avid poetry readers and curious bystanders. Sophomore special education and English double major Alexa Anderson admitted that while West’s music wasn’t her genre, she was interested in learning about this work written by the recent alumna.
“I think that the poetry is really interesting,” Anderson said. “It was an odd take on her personal life — mixing it into Kayne’s non-personal life that is very media based. I thought that was cool.”
While the piqued interest of the audience was stemmed around this fantastical Kanye-poetry, it was hard to ignore just how hard Blake is striving to revolutionize the way poetry is presented to the general public.
Her poem “A Day in the Mall Reminds Me of America” was adapted into a Motionpoems film by director Ayse Altinok and hauntingly portrays the mischiefs of two adolescent sisters.
Similarly, Blake published the book-length sci-fi poem “The Starship” in illustrated installments online. She read aloud a handful of poems from this newer work, along with some pieces from “In A Wood, With Clearings, It’s Spring,” a narrative told via 60 prose poems.
This summer, Blake will also be releasing an activity book that will be a compilation of poetry, writing prompts and creative puzzles.
Blake explained that she had written a chapbook, or half of a book of poetry, about the death of her grandfather, but wanted to present it in a fresh way that would be appealing to a wider audience.
“At the time, I was really jealous. My son is four and he has these incredible workbooks that he can spend hours doing,” Blake said. “I thought it looked fun.”
So much like the current trend of coloring books for adults, Blake replicated these timeless activities to accompany every other poem in the book and is currently having them redrawn by a commissioned artist. The rest of the poems were sided by prompts that can be geared for both the poetic audience and the general public.
“So instead of reading a sad poetry chapbook, you can spend a few hours having a weird poetry experience. That was my goal,” Blake said.
Moving forward, Blake explained that she wants to extend this idea of transforming poetry.
“I am always thinking about different ways for people to interact with books,” Blake said. “A book of poetry is not going to be the experience of a novel and it never will be. But that shouldn’t be upsetting or discouraging — that should be really exciting. So what could it be? It could be anything.”