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Pulitzer Prize winner Gregory Pardlo recites poetry inspired by American culture at LSC

The LSC ballroom became a personal stage for Pulitzer Prize winning poet Gregory Pardlo as he shared works from his books “Digest” and “Totem” Thursday evening. He also included readings from a work of essays he’s finishing up regarding the air strikes of 1981.

“Digest” was awarded the 2015 Pulitzer Prize for Poetry as well as an honorable mention from the NAACP Image Award and was a finalist for the Hurston-Wright Legacy Award.

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Camille Dungy, a professor of creative writing and poetry here at CSU and director of the creative writing/reading series, started the introduction to Pardlo. She had taught Pardlo’s work in her classrooms and was excited that he made the trip to Fort Collins.

“Greg Pardlo’s insights into American culture, family and self are compassionate and clear eyed,” Dungy said. “His careful attention to the details of our lives is by turns humorous and irrefutably accurate.”

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Photo credit: Sarah Ehrlich

Cedar Brant was next to introduce Pardlo. Being a poet herself, she called Pardlo’s work “intensely expressive, lyrical, historical, pop cultural, with the voices of fathers, daughters and neighbors.”

Pardlo is a creative writing faculty member at Rutgers University-Camden and lives with his family in Brooklyn. Most of his readings focus on the realism of family and the struggles they endure. A lot of the struggles he wrote about were from his own personal life.

Pardlo explained his father was an air traffic controller during Reagan’s presidency, which inspired a lot of his works from Totem.

“Rather than negotiate with the unions, Reagan fired 13,000 federal employees,” Pardlo said. “The book kind of ruminates on unions in their various forms. Not only labor unions, but also unions of marriages, unions of communities, unions of identity.”

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Greg Pardlo laughs with an audience member after signing a copy of Digest. Photo credit: Sarah Ehrlich

He started off his readings with a poem called “The Winter After the Strike,” which described his father’s work environment and his role in the strikes and its effect on Pardlo in a dreamlike and visually enticing narrative. It described the shadow the strikes casted over this middle class working family.

Pardlo’s interest in family not only is shown in his poetry but in his personal life. Being the father of two girls, his wife and him wanted to make sure their children were submersed in their own culture.

“Then, I realized neither of us were steeped in our cultural backgrounds, so we took a trip to El Salvador,” Pardlo said. “Then, we took a civil rights tour and followed freedom marches throughout the south.”

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Gregory Pardlo Photo credit: Sarah Ehrlich

After this remark, Pardlo went on to read a poem called “For Which it Stands,” where he stated, “pledge to birth a nation of belonging and to teach that nation of the fire shut up in our bones.”

After reading numerous poems, the poet answered questions from the audience. One question was about how Pardlo finishes and puts closure on a poem.

“I just keep pushing a poem until I have an idea of where the poem is going,” Pardlo said. “I keep pushing it and pushing it until it does something I didn’t expect it to do. When it has taken over for itself, then I know it’s ready to go out into the world.”

Gregory Pardlo’s warm and humorous demeanor made this reading quite enjoyable as well as very insightful to racial politics and family values through a creative and intelligent lens.

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