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Queens poet laureate performs reading for St. John’s students

Queens Poet Laureate Julio Marzan and three award−winning poets from St. John’s University read their works about everything from being a Puerto Rican in the borough to Queensbridge Houses at an event celebrating National Poetry Month last week.

Marzan, a Little Neck resident, and St. John’s students Todd Craig, Jessica Barros, and Miguel Alejandro Valerio attended the poetry reading at the Dr. M.T. Geoffrey Yeh Art Gallery at St. John’s April 15 to honor National Poetry Month and celebrate the school’s Academy of American Poets Prize. The school handed out the prize to Craig, Barros, and Valerio last year.

“This is the first time we’ve had a reading in the art gallery,” said St. John’s poetry professor Lee Ann Brown, who organized the reading. “We wanted to acknowledge poetry as an art. We want to get the culture of writing happening.”

Much of the poetry Marzan read to the students had to do with feeling like an outsider in mainstream America. Marzan is a native of Puerto Rico who grew up in the Bronx.

To be the Queens poet laureate, Marzan had to submit poems about Queens, one of which was entitled “Utopia Parkway.”

“I didn’t think that I had written a lot about Queens, but when I was applying for the laureate, I realized I had written a lot about it,” said Marzan, who has also lived in Jamaica Estates. “When I wrote ‘Utopia Parkway,’ I was thinking about the location of Utopia. I wrote another poem when I went to court on jury duty at the Queens court house, and I wrote a poem while I watched kids sitting there with their mothers.”

Craig’s poetry touched on growing up in a housing project in Queens.

“We all had Ph.D.’s in criminology, minors in real life and occasionally double−majored in the philosophy of death,” Craig said, reading from his poem “The Comfort of Shape Shifting.”.

This is the third year St. John’s has sponsored a poetry prize in conjunction with the Academy of American Poets. Two poets will be awarded the prize this year, and all St. John’s undergraduate and graduate students are eligible to enter the contest.

Last year’s recipients are already an accomplished group. Craig, a graduate of Williams College and Harvard University, is a doctoral student at St. John’s, and he recently published a novel, “Tor’cha,” a coming of age story about three brothers growing up in the inner city.

Barros, who holds a MFA in creative writing from Emerson, is also a doctoral student at St. John’s who has published several short stories. Valerio graduated from St. John’s in 2008 with a degree in philosophy and is now pursuing a master’s in Spanish at the university.

Reach reporter Anna Gustafson by e−mail at agustafson@cnglocal.com or by phone at 718−229−0300, Ext. 174.

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