Nineteen years ago on April 1 sitting President Bill Clinton signed a declaration with the full support of the Academy of American Poets to establish April as National Poetry Month. President Clinton's connect to poetry preceded the events of that day as arguably the most stirring moment of his 1993 inauguration was Maya Angelou's reading of her On the Pulse of Morning. Angelou was not the first poet to speak to and possibility for the country at an inaugural ceremony. Robert Frost presented The Gift Outright at the inauguration of John F. Kennedy in 1961. Having poetry featured at one of the nation's most important ceremonies is a tremendous honor but one of the emphases behind National Poetry Month is to bring awareness and appreciation to the everyday applications of the art form. Current day celebrations of have taken on many forms, such as Twitter haiku challenges, a poem a day post from a wide swath of artist and laypeople, and poetry slams.
Ezra K. Richards, Trinidadian-born, Brooklyn, NY-raised took an unconventional route to becoming a published and performing poet. Richards' Will Love and Love Will collection published by 2 Pens and Lint blends spoken word and literal poetry; taking the reader through the familiar yet personalize journey of falling in love. Growing up in what Richards describes as a typical immigrant household where aunts, uncles and cousins all lived under one roof. The middle child of three and the only son, Ezra assumed the man of the house role as his parents split prior to his mother bringing him and his older sister to the states. Very much a neighborhood kid who enjoyed staying out until the streetlights came on and block parties, Ezra gravitated to dance at a young age.
A middle school tryout turned into an opportunity to be a backup dancer at Nickelodeon Kid's Choice Award show in 1995. That led to the chance to travel the country as dancer for several recording artists. However, as high school approached Richards decided to switch gears from dance to athletics. Ezra tried out for his high school track team and found his stride as middle distance runner. His success was instant and before long Richards has his pick of top track programs in the country. Ezra picked Georgetown.
At Georgetown Richards would meet and become friends with upper classman Omekongo Dibinga, who at the time was organizer of campus poetry readings and contest. After a particularly rough week of trying to balance the pressures of studies, practice, and a social life Ezra wrote his first poem, Fast Task. The experience was cathartic and after work shopping the piece a few times he felt it was ready for presentation. This cycle of feeling intense emotions and working them into verse has become Richards craft process. Fast Task took second place at on campus poetry contest. Poetry offered Ezra a place to both decompress from the squeeze of college life and channel his creative impulses he had since his dancing days. Richards became a fixture of Georgetown poetry scene.
But whatever, whatever that's just me/
Letting free parts that people aren't ready to see that early/
But then again that's just it/
That's the overt test/
Are you like me, so openly blessed?/
Or am I just crazy to feel this way?/
Am I alone in a symphony that only my heart plays?/
Like many collegiate passions the rigors of the real world subordinated Richards's poetry under a mountain of new adult responsibilities. However, back in New York, and determined to reignite the flame Ezra took a poetry workshop with famed writer, actor and singer Daniel Beaty. Despite working together for a short time Beaty remarked that Richards was following in a similar trajectory that he was once on and encouraged him to keep pressing forward. Refreshed by the experience, Ezra soon wrote what would be the opening poem to Will Love and Love Will collection, Exhale; A Locked Sister's First Breath.
I catch her in my arms/
Lay her on the comfort of Daisies in a/
But still we believe/
In that power/
That pixie dust/
We refuse to breath./
-- I Told Her
Over the course of the next year Richards would write and workshop an entire catalogue of new poems. Taking a step back from writing to organize his work Richards realized he had a significant portion of work that focused on the trials of love romantic and familial. Ezra's goal with Will Love and Love Will was to, "show people how to mend a broken heart." While acknowledging that the source of our hurt hearts can come from a variety of experiences past and present. Richards dedicated his first collection to his older sister Ayesha Richards as a gift for her strength and encouragement to keep moving forward in love.
A weathered storm becomes the norm/
A steady rock as her branches sway to and fro/
How lovely she sways/
As a weeping willow at lazy-lit sunset in a Savannah fall/
Together we are the perfect pendulum and/
I trust you with my treasure.
-- You May Hold These
Now living in Houston after completing his Masters in Public Health, Richards is pursuing his dual passions of fitness training and poetry. The Will Love and Love Will collection showcases layered language that captures the sometime tense other times tender feelings of giving way to love. Pieces like Infatuation speak to the different wavelengths that often beset the getting to know you phase of many relationships. While, I Told Her takes an unconventional look at the resolve of lovers to respect the power of the bond without becoming slaves to its sometimes overwhelming force. You May Hold These ends the collection in a space of total and complete acceptance. The author rattles off a list of their most sacred experiences and possessions; offering them up not as a sign of surrender, but a down payment of trust. Richards's next project will focus on self-reflection and spirituality. The poet still battles summoning the time and strength to battle the page for his art form. This monthlong celebration of verse was a great time to read his latest dispatch from the frontlines.