‘Poetry can save lives’

By Drew Hunt

Senior cultural studies major Olivia Cole received first place in the Barbara Mandigo Kelly Peace Poetry Awards. The contest is sponsored by the Nuclear Age Peace Foundation, an organization dedicated to abolishing nuclear weapons and increasing international law concerning nuclear arms.

The poetry award is given to a writer the foundation thinks best exhibits this ethos and illuminates positive visions of peace.

Cole, who was awarded $1,000 for her first-place poem, “Earth, 1945,” said she was excited to have her work recognized by a foundation that shares some of her own personal viewpoints.

She said she prefers having her work showcased by a more philanthropic organization opposed to one that showcases poetry without social comment—something most poets tend to gravitate toward.

“Sure, anybody can get published, it’s easy,” Cole said. “But to be published in certain places with a certain message behind the publication, I think that’s more important.”

Cole said pairing her poetry with social activism is the crux of her work, and majoring in cultural studies has made her more aware of national and global issues. She said these ideas find their way into her work.

“Almost everywhere you look, where our students are competing, they are garnering national awards for their creative work,” said Mark Kelly, vice president of Student Affairs. “We want our students to be driven by ideas. [The content] of their work has to be about the world and how they see it and how they want to change it.”

Outside of school, Cole is a junior youth media coordinator at Young Chicago Authors, a group of educators, writers and philanthropists who believe young Chicagoans should have more exposure to the art of creative writing.

At YCA, Cole works to educate youth about media and how it relates to their lives, which she considers vital in cultivating them as budding writers and artists.

“She’s a great writer in her own right, [but] she’s also a model to others,” said Carron Little, youth media coordinator for YCA. “She’s very committed to people and developing things for the better.”

Cole said her time spent at YCA has opened her eyes to issues surrounding young people and led her to help organize a youth conference titled “Whose Body Is This?”, a look at the media’s representation of the human body.

“It’s so cliché, but no matter how many times you say it, it’s always so true—the youth are the future,” Cole said. “Kids are just emulating what they see on TV and hear on the radio, so my desire is to mold that and focus on what’s important.”

Little said Cole is inspirational to the children at YCA. When Cole recited a poem at a recent YCA assembly, many students approached her afterward to express how much they enjoyed her piece, Little said.

Given the continuously shifting landscape of media consumption, Cole said her work at YCA has kept her aware of how her poetry relates to 21st century forms of communication. Rather than choose between traditional poetry and burgeoning forms of new media, Cole said she hopes to integrate the two.

“Poetry and media are inevitably going to merge—they already are, in huge ways,” Cole said.

Anticipating this, Cole collaborated with Columbia alumnus Lou Von to create what she described as a poetry music video, in which she recited one of her poems. The video containing Von’s footage of the city will be accompanied by a hip-hop soundtrack. It will be produced by junior audio arts and acoustics major

Sean Carter.

“I’m predicting that poetry music videos are going to explode. Spoken word is on the rise,” Cole said. “BET needs to give me a show on poetry.”

For the time being, Cole will continue to work at YCA while awaiting her graduation in the spring. After college, Cole said she hopes to continue working with youth in some capacity, either as a mentor or byreciting poetry to ailing children in hospitals.

“Poetry can save lives, I firmly believe that,” Cole said.