Tyehimba Jess Shares His Poetry

Tyehimba Jess shares one of his poems.

Hailey Velong

Tyehimba Jess shares one of his poems.

Madison Elia, Co-Editor

Tyehimba Jess won the Pulitzer Prize for poetry in 2017. Students were given a pass to attend Jess’s assembly to better understand his work and how he has impacted a creative style of writing.

A little background on Jess: he is 54 years old with a series of achievements in poetry. He is the author of two books; Leadbelly and Olio. In 2005, his first book Leadbelly got a nomination to be included in the National Poetry Series. His style of writing, way of speaking and flow of the poetry he projects has brought him to have a successful career as not only a poet but also a writer.

Jess’s career had begun taking off and as he was capturing the eyes and ears of many he managed to write his second book titled Olio, published in 2016.

Tyehimba Jess shares a poem which allows the reader to read the poem in several different ways.

Yes, the title sounds and means oil in a different language but it truly means as Jess had mentioned a “hodgepodge of things”, almost like a mixture or collection.  The title can be read from any direction, the way Jess decided to place the letters allowed for a foreshadow to what he would soon discuss as a vital part of his writing style.

For a full definition see here: Olio

As Jess was presenting, we learned how he uses his unique style of writing called a contrapuntal stylehe specifically used this for the few series of poems included in the book Olio. Jess discussed these girls who were born conjoined at the hips. Their names were Millie and Christine. He re-told the way they would try to unify their sentences when they would speak and the struggles the girls faced being different. He elaborated on how their struggles were very difficult to overcome, they were abused, used and betrayed. They constructed sentences in a way where on paper it looks like two paragraphs side by side finishing each other’s sentences.

Tyehimba Jess shares his master poem, which shows several connecting poems.

This lead into Jess showing and reading to us the written form of how they would speak in order for us to better understand. He read to us line by line, deciphering what they meant and how they were feeling at the time.

He began reading multiple stories he wrote of them. The first one pictured to the right being Millie and Christine’s struggles, then Millie and Christine kidnapped and soon ending with Millie and Christine’s love story.  Each one of these unraveled into one big surprise that Jess had set up to be read in any direction. This was called the star of syncopated signs.

Jess mashed these poems to form the star making it readable from each direction. This interesting technique caught the attention of many of the students in the audience. This was followed by another attention grabber with Tyehimba Jess standing center stage, he ripped out the stories. “It is perforated on purpose” he stated. He designed the book to have these pages ripped out because he wanted to enhance the whole idea that his writing can be read from any direction. Up, down, left and right. Horizontal, vertical, lateral etc. Whichever way you read it, it will always form to one another.

Whether you were just now putting a face to the name or already entering the auditorium knowing an abundance of information on Tyehimba you left with a more knowledgeable and intrigued mindset about his life, poetry and the creative takes on writing itself.