The official student newspaper of Vanderbilt University

The Vanderbilt Hustler

The official student newspaper of Vanderbilt University.
Since 1888
The official student newspaper of Vanderbilt University

The Vanderbilt Hustler

The official student newspaper of Vanderbilt University.
The official student newspaper of Vanderbilt University

The Vanderbilt Hustler

The official student newspaper of Vanderbilt University.

“Bridges, Not Walls” Poetry Symposium

This Monday and Tuesday, visiting poets Laurie Ann Guerrero, Rigoberto González and Natalie Diaz joined forces to represent the “Bridges, Not Walls” poetry symposium.  All three poets performed readings and answered questions in a panel discussion broaching issues of race and personal identity in America as well as fostering meaningful connections with others. 

Each of the poets were asked to reflect on what the title of the symposium meant to them.  Diaz stated that “Bridges, Not Walls” is about “starting conversations, expressing something and connecting with someone.  There is a power in knowing that you can even say these things and have this conversation with others without having to find a solution.”  

Guerrero posed the question of how to take the discussions that took place in the symposium and carry them to the people in our society who really need to hear them.  González said that he prefers to focus on making connections and building bridges with those who are genuine and willing to reciprocate.  He strives to be optimistic, focusing on the meaningful connections that he is able to make today, working towards what will be mutually beneficial and rewarding.    

The poets discussed the importance of the danger of the single story, wanting to promote and express a depth to their cultures that is often misunderstood.  They each remarked that their poems of joy and love are perhaps the most political of all, highlighting the triumph that accompanies and at times overpowers experiences of pain and adversity.  

“Our stories are not all tragedy and violence,” stated González.  On a similar note, Diaz explained her frustration when she is asked year after to year by publications or institutions during November to write a poem for Native American Month, stating that she is not a special feature to be acknowledged momentarily, once a year.  These poets, while facing adversity and struggling through many experiences of the past that still give them pain, cannot be reduced to a single stereotype.  

When someone asked the poets how they handle the pressure of being representative of a minority, the three poets expressed similar remarks of frustration, at times exhaustion, but ultimately focused on the positive.  

Diaz offered a story about a university uninviting her from a latino poetry festival because she was not “latina enough”; she was shocked and offended that people made a decision of who she was allowed to be and who she wasn’t allowed to be in terms of how she identifies herself, as if she is not allowed to be native, latina, and queer all at the same time.  In the end, González stated that, in times where he is offended and disappointed, he has learned to shake things off: “I’ve learned to let things go.  It’s not worth it.”  

All three poets delivered incredibly inspiring and captivating readings of their poetry, and the room was electric with the urgency of listening to every word.  The symposium was a triumphant two days of asking and discussing provocative questions, understanding the inner workings of these immensely talented writers, and hearing powerful recitations of the poems that give life to their creative minds.  

When asked why the writers choose poetry as their preferred medium, González said “I wanted the key to that kingdom.”  It is evident that these poets have the key to the kingdom of poetry, and it was nothing short of magical to have them present, unapologetically themselves, able to offer us just a fraction of their patient wisdom through spoken word.   


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