It’s every writer’s dream to have their words immortalized.
Some get published in magazines or online; the luckiest might author a book. Very, very few get to see what poet Frank X Walker did on Tuesday: an excerpt of his poem “Seedtime in the Commonwealth” literally built into the walls of the new University of Kentucky Student Center.
“To have this come up again is really unexpected and exciting,” Walker said Wednesday.
He wrote the poem in 2015 at the request of President Eli Capilouto to commemorate UK’s 150th anniversary; the video of Walker’s live reading has become standard fare at graduation ceremonies, as it both celebrates UK’s history and exhorts it to do better in the future.
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The excerpt, which is embedded into a staircase wall, says:
“There is no vaccination against ignorance, but there is us.
There is this university. And we still have heavy doors
to open, unmet obligations to the land and its people.
There are still leadership opportunities to advance
the Commonwealth, this nation, and our world towards
fulfilling its potential, towards meeting its lofty promises.”
“I’m really fond of the poem,” said Walker, the former poet laureate of Kentucky who teaches at UK. “The poem in its entirety really challenges UK to live up to some really high ideals that consider all the ugliness of Kentucky and America’s past … trying to connect those things and move forward to a more promising future that includes everybody.”
Student Center Director John Herbst said the idea started several years ago with the steering committee of the $200 million student center renovation project. The southern entrance to the visitors’ center needed something that branded it for people’s first encounter with UK.
“I don’t remember whose idea it was, but the committee loved the idea of Frank’s poem because it is all about the values of the university,” Herbst said.
The excerpt is inscribed in glass and is back-lit at night so “it becomes a beacon to the university,” Herbst said. The glass was installed last week.
“I’ve known Frank for many, many years and he has been so greatly involved in the student center and the programs and the MLK center,” Herbst said. “I just think it’s great that there will be this lasting tribute to him.”
The student center has been under construction for several years and will be completely open by summer. One portion, Champions Kitchen, is already open for dining, and the next phase of the new construction will open April 23.
Capilouto calls the new student center the “living room” of campus.
“Frank’s poem … captures the essence of who we are as Kentucky’s university and who we aspire to be collectively as a community,” he said. “The words enshrined on a pathway into our campus living room will remind us every day of our obligations and responsibilities to each other and to the commonwealth we serve.”
Meanwhile, Walker, who co-founded the Affrilachian Poets, is promoting a new book of poetry, “Ink Stains and Watermarks.” One of his books will also be part of Lexington’s Book Benches public art program, a collection of book-shaped benches that will be on display throughout the city from June to October. He’s also trying to finish a novel.
An even more important project is due Monday, when his wife, Howard University professor Shauna Morgan, is supposed to deliver their baby.
“It’s already been a good year,” he said. “New book, new baby, new bench, new building.”