Poetry Review: Hafizah Geter is Immensely Moving at Medgar Evers College

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Walt Whitman, Maya Angelou, Robert Frost, Edna St. Vincent Millay, Langston Hughes, Gertrude Stein, E.A. Poe, Alejandra Pizarnik, H. L. Longfellow, W.H. Auden — so many great poets from multiple genders, all races.

A traveler – a poet – and a bit of a millennial-beat, Hafizah Geter read at Medgar Evers College on Wednesday night in an event that attracted scores of finger-snapping students from the Crown Heights institution.  Her spoken-word readings with an emphasis on equating the political with the personal led to her final poem of the evening, “Testimony”, an unreleased tribute to Ditmas Park-native Anita Neal, the mother of Kyam Livingston.

Hafizah Geter, 32, at Medgar Evers College. Credit: José Negroni

Ms. Livingston, at 37 years old, died in her jail cell in 2013 after guards allegedly denied her requests for medical help for several hours. The following year, Ms. Geter, new to Brooklyn, met Ms. Neal when she refused to overlook her day-in-&-day-out crying on her sidewalk as she mourned the loss of her daughter.

“Kyam, your name is country,” Ms. Geter read with simplicity and directness. “Of a jail cell where, once, fifteen women held you / through convulsions, diarrhea, / guards threatening to lose / their paperwork. Kyam, it is betrayal / to speak of you in anything other than first person.”

Students from the school followed Ms. Geter and picked up where she left off in terms of intensity-building poems. Undergrad Jazzenai Sampson’s discursive poetry style regarding a traumatic event she underwent in high school showed vessels of Amiri Baraka. Her fellow students snapped their fingers in a show of support.

All in all, Ms. Geter, a top-level poet with a forthcoming poem called “The Break In” that will appear in The New Yorker, is truly literary in a European way. When she reads, it is “best minds of my generation destroyed by madness” for real and not in a pretentious Williamsburg way.  She is not looking to pander to anyone, but just trying to give a realistic portrayal of life that resonates with the honest, hard-working, non-bullying side of America.

“It was a pleasure to read with the students of Medgar Evers,” said Ms. Geter of her performance. “Though I believe poetry belongs to everyone, I think it has a special place in the minds, hearts, and lives of young people–that it can speak and connect to their experiences in unique ways.”