Chase Auditorium was packed last Friday no doubt due to the fact that the afternoon’s speaker was not only a Cave Canem-winning poet, but also a fellow Ford. Iain Haley Pollock ’00, now a middle school English teacher at Springside Chestnut Hill Academy and a poet whose work has appeared in American Poetry Review, Boston Review, Callaloo and others, returned to his alma mater to read from Spit Back a Boy, his first book (and the winner of the aforementioned 2010 Cave Canem Prize).
Introduced by his former English professor, Rajeswari Mohan, who described his work as having “the signs of an English major all over [it],” Pollack was clearly moved. “It’s an honor I couldn’t have imagined when I was a student,” he said. Then he launched into readings of several poems from Boy, many of which deal with his racial identity as the son of a white, British father and an African American mother or the detailed intimacies of everyday life (including one about the untimely death of one of his Haverford classmates five years ago).
Hearing the poems read out loud, instead of just absorbing their internal rhythms in your own mind, really opened them up. Pollock performs them with a clipped, staccato patter that makes his poems percussive, bringing out the meter in his free verse. In one, “Rattla Cain’t Hold Me,” he even sings the poem’s title in performance (an allusion to the fact that it comes from an old Southern convict song). And even when they aren’t musical in the strictest meaning of the word, music (especially jazz) pervades Pollock’s poems, which make reference to John Coltrane albums (“Blue Note 95326″) and to Nina Simone.
Pollock seemed as thrilled to be back on campus as the students were to have him. During a question-and-answer period, when asked about his time at school, he said, “Haverford and I were a perfect fit. I can’t imagine being educated at any other institution.”
For more on Iain Haley Pollock, check out the Spring/Summer 2011 issue of Haverford magazine.