Author and poet Derrick Harriell lead a poetry event at Samford University on Monday Sept. 24. Harriell visited Samford as part of this semester’s Birmingham Area Consortium for Higher Education Visiting Writer Series.
Born and raised in Milwaukee, Harriell currently lives in Oxford, Mississippi, with his wife and son. He teaches English and African American Studies at the University of Mississippi.
During the poetry reading, Harriell shared pieces from his books titled “Cotton” and “Stripper in Wonderland.” To conclude the night, Harriell entertained several questions from curious students and faculty in the audience pertaining to his writing process, inspiration and purpose.
Harriell explores a wide range of themes within his poetry, from parenthood and relationships to loss and objectification. Harriell’s grandfather, a Tuscaloosa native, inspired his first poetry book, “Cotton.” This collection includes poems reflecting on the distant yet significant legacy that Harriell’s grandfather offered to his family.
Throughout the evening, Harriell’s deliberate pauses, crescendos and gestures drew the audience into the world of his poems. In a reading from “Stripper in Wonderland” titled “The Cowardly Obstetrician Delivers a Baby,”the Monday night crowd could envision an all-too-quiet hospital room in which Harriell’s wife delivered their son on a September night six years ago.
Harriell described each intention behind his poetry books.
“I’m very much entrenched in the conceptual function of my books,” Harriell said.
The titles themselves and Harriell’s incorporation of personified inanimate objects hold clues to grasp overarching themes within his poetry books. Harriell hopes his readers might enjoy these books as interwoven and conceptualized pieces instead of non-related poetry collections.
Harriell also revealed his writing purpose.
“I’m thinking about world building and how … I create a world and experience for the reader. The goal is for the reader to feel completely immersed in that experience,” he said.
The opportunity of self-expression within poetry attracted Harriell from a young age. At age eight, Harriell began writing poems; it was not until his sophomore year in college that Harriell was introduced to the slam poetry movement of the late ‘90s and began a serious pursuit of poetry. Harriell thus began to approach the binaries of life and society and to explore the complexities of the self through creative writing.
A predominant inspiration for Harriell’s work involves life’s subtle moments.
“That’s how life normally works — it’s normally the intersections that create our lives,” he said.
Harriell’s poetry reading was not the only chance on campus this year to hear from a nationally-acclaimed writer. The next BACHE Visiting Writers’ Series is on March 4, 2019 and will be led by author Jean Guerrero.
Carol Graffeo, Staff Writer