Tour to document graves of black Southern poets
FREEPORT, Maine — A former teacher who travels the country to document the final resting places of poets is looking forward to calling attention to African-American poets on a tour of the South and elsewhere.
Black poets have been writing about injustice and hardship since the days of slavery, and the theme rings true today, given the unrest surrounding police killings of black men, Walter Skold said.
“African-American poets have been going through the same turmoil. They’ve been right there. They’ve chronicled the great sorrows and successes that African-Americans have had,” he said.
Skold, who is the founder of the Dead Poets Society of America, intends to reach a milestone of the 500th grave during the 16-state, 10-week pilgrimage, which kicks off Saturday in Baltimore at the grave of Edgar Allan Poe before moving into the South. He’s visiting 90 graves, including those of 47 state poets laureate.
Fifteen African-American poets include Albery Whitman, who was born a slave, spoke out against the treatment of the Seminoles in Florida and was dubbed the “poet laureate of the Negro race.” He’s buried in Atlanta.
Jericho Brown, who leads poetry workshops at Emory University in Atlanta, said there’s a diversity of viewpoints and experiences among black poets that defies any single narrative. But there are cultural influences, like Missouri-born Langston Hughes’ use of the rhythms of jazz and blues in his poetry, he said.
“Being black affords you the opportunity to see things that others might be able to see, to give you experiences that others may not have,” Brown said.
Skold, 54, of Freeport is a poet. He travels in a souped-up box van dubbed “Dedgar the Poemobile,” with a whimsical portrait of Poe on the side, solar panels on the roof and a single bed inside. When he’s done with this trip, he plans to finish a documentary, “Finding Frost: Poets and The Graves.”
He sometimes sleeps in graveyards to get the best light for photographs and video that he uses to document the graves. But he says he has never communed with the ghosts or spirits of bards.