Slam poet and fiction writer Jeff Kass read selections of his works last Friday night in the Freeman Room of the OWHL.
Kass practically danced in place as he delivered his first poem, “Roseland,” from memory. Although the poem was about going to a club in Harlem during the 1980s, any student who has ever been afraid to dance could relate to the poem’s message.
“No one knows what cool is supposed to look like/ so you might as well just look like you,” Kass said.
Kass came to campus thanks to the organization of Lewis Robinson, Writer-in-Residence and Instructor in English, and Andover Literary, Poetry and Creative Alliance (ALPACA).
In addition to writing poetry, Kass teaches creative writing at a high school in Ann Arbor, Michigan. His educator’s experience became clear as he delivered writing advice to students in between readings.
“Subject matter for poetry can really be anything,” said Kass.
He proceeded to prove this with poems about a bumper sticker and “two dudes standing outside the Grease Monkey waving.”
Several of the poems were taken from Kass’s “Dude Series,” a collection about his everyday encounters with other males.
Kass got the audience laughing as he recited “Dude We Encounter as We Flow Down the Lazy River,” his poem about the strange sensation of being touched by the toe of a man in a neighboring tube while at a water park.
During a poem about learning to surf in Hawaii, David Myers ’12 provided ukulele accompaniment.
An unexpectedly large turnout forced audience members to sit on tables and drag in chairs from neighboring rooms.
Even Kass seemed surprised by the large crowd. “Friday night and coming to a reading?” he said, leaning against a table at the front of the room.
Kass kept the audience captivated when he transitioned to serious themes, such as a childhood friend whose father was dying of multiple sclerosis.
Although he attempted to tone down the profanity in his writing, he left most of the language in because it was “integral to the poem.”
“He performed his poetry in such a way that made it seem like he was just one your friends telling a really funny story,” said Karen Morales ’12.
Kass demonstrated his talent for fiction writing when he read a short story from his book “Knuckle Heads” about kids getting caught pool hopping.
Kass explained his perception of the difference between the poetry and fiction. Poetry makes you more acutely aware of the world around you, while fiction is meant to momentarily transport you to a different world.
At several times throughout the evening, Kass emphasized the potential of high school students. He pointed out that our generation has advanced in everything from improving race relations to having more courage to get out on the dance floor.
Kass said, “I hope [the students here] become the next generation of leaders for this country and save it from all the screw-ups my generation left you.”
Those who enjoyed Kass’s readings can look forward to future visits by poets later in the school year. Robinson is putting together an event in February called “Night of the Living Poets,” which will include readings by several young poets as well as a moderated discussion about poetry.