Aaron Coleman uses poetry to turn memories into reflections and epiphanies | St. Louis Public Radio

Aaron Coleman uses poetry to turn memories into reflections and epiphanies

Jun 25, 2018

Fulbright scholar and Cave Canem fellow Aaron Coleman writes, teaches and translates poetry. Fascinated with what words can do, he cites hip-hop as his “first love” that formed his passion for poetry.

“[Rap] was a great way to get invested in rhythm and sound and improvisation,” he said. “But it was really just the first step, I think, in starting to get more serious about the potential of poetry and letting it be something that lives fully on the page and then also fully in sound.”

Coleman read some poetry and talked about his craft and his book “Threat Come Close” on Monday’s program with St. Louis Public Radio contributor John Larson. Coleman, who is pursuing his Doctor of Philosophy degree in comparative literature at Washington University, said poems tell stories, but “also transform stories and memories into reflections, perhaps even epiphanies.”

The Detroit native “stumbled into poetry” at a young age, but wasn’t sure if it was the right fit due to his dedication to playing sports. At first, he would keep the poems to himself because he didn’t think he could do both, but later embraced both crafts.

“If you can weather the storm of that early moment when everything is trying to tell you ‘be a man this way, be a man that way,’ and just be your own person … what you come out with at the other end will be your own unique mosaic of you,” Coleman said.

Once he realized his written talent, Coleman began teaching poetry in the United States and abroad to help people learn how to express themselves. It was during his time teaching in Spain and South Africa that Coleman became interested in translating his work.

“I wanted to find a way for those communities to be able to speak to each other,” he said. Coleman added that social media platforms, such as Twitter, show the “flexibility and evolution” of what poetry can be.

“As ancient as poetry is, it’s always finding new ways and places to show up,” he said. “I’m glad that poetry is finding new spaces and new people and new minds to connect with.”

Overcoming writer’s block

Many writers often come across a mental block when ideas do not come as easy. Coleman’s tip for overcoming the mental block is free writing. He said journaling often helps declutter his mind.

“My advice … is to not worry about perfection, not worry about getting it right and just begin to write things on the page and try to focus on images,” he advised. “We get bogged down when we try to stick to [just] how we’re feeling … show the image and let the image speak.”

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