Circle of Friends Book Club meeting summary for November 2018
November 14, 2018
Our discussion last month was about the poetry of Robert Hayden, an American Baha’i who was the first African-American Consultant in Poetry to the Library of Congress (a role now known as poet laureate of the United States). Mr. Hayden was a resident of Ann Arbor, a professor at the University of Michigan, and longtime Ann Arbor Baha’i whose daughter is still a member of our community.
We began the discussion by exploring Robert Hayden’s biography, including his approach to poetry, the variety of themes his poetry explored, and how his style developed and changed with time. We then read several poems selected by book club members, and finally explored some personal reflections by those who knew him or had familiarity with his family and friends.
Several of the poems selected had historical references, such as “The Middle Passage” (referencing slave ships crossing the Atlantic) and “In the Mourning Time” (about the Viet Nam War). There were also poems with Baha’i perspectives, including “The Dawn Breaker” and “The Nine-Pointed Star”. Mr. Hayden always asked that he be known simply as a poet, rather than as a Black poet or Baha’i poet, as he felt these perspectives to be his own and a part of his poetry. Book members saw the complexity in his poems, the high level vocabulary and specific references requiring both research into new information and continued reflection and thought. Mr. Hayden described this often as a sort of algebraic endeavor, as “solving for’x’ “ to understand a poem. He was described as a serious man, one of integrity and dignity, and this comes through in his poetry as well. Several book club members were already familiar with the poems of Robert Hayden, and the rest acquired a new acquaintanceship with his poetry, as well as an interest in pursuing further reading.