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Legacy of Poetry with Arthur Sze

By Sarah Martinez

The past few weeks at CommUniverCity has been filled with poetry workshops taught by undergraduate and graduate SJSU students at various elementary schools. During these Legacy of Poetry workshops, children are taught a poetry lesson then challenged to create a poem themselves. For our very last workshop, we invited poet laureate Arthur Sze to lead one himself.

Arthur is a second-generation Chinese American born and raised in New York City. He grew up in a science and math focused environment, but during his first semester at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (M.I.T.) he experienced a shift.

“[I was] sitting in class and I opened my notebook and I just started writing,” Arthur said. “I wrote my first poem and a few days later I wrote my second.”

For Arthur, language and poetry soon became his passion. During his third semester, Arthur left M.I.T. and hitchhiked to UC Berkeley where he earned his Bachelor of Arts degree.

“One thing led to another and it changed my life,” Arthur said.

During Arthur’s visit at Selma Olinder elementary school, he guided two fifth-grade classes in becoming poets themselves. He challenged them to get inspired by one of the many postcards he collected throughout his travels and write beyond what they saw. These postcards ranged from Vincent Van Gogh’s “A Starry Night” to Hokusai’s “The Great Wave off Kanagawa”.

You could see the students excitement as they grabbed their pencils and began writing immediately. Everyone’s poems got read aloud and each time their faces lit with pride as theirs was shared. They didn’t want to stop even as the bell rang for recess.

Arthur has been awarded many literary accolades such as the American Book Award, Guggenheim Fellowship for Creative Arts, US & Canada, and more. His book “Compass Rose” was recognized as 2015’s Pulitzer Prize for Poetry finalist.

Arthur said, “I pursued my own path. I just started to play with language and I knew that’s where my passion was.”

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