Poet Laura Apol shares stories of hardship, hope, and healing

Georgia Lodewyk– Staff Writer

They say poetry is like painting on a page; it is an art where words come to life, take hold of hearts, and convey wonder, meaning, or imagination.

For Dordt alumna Laura Apol, poetry is a way to ask life’s biggest questions. When the Michigan State University professor visited Dordt’s campus April 6, she asked those in her audience to do just that while she read aloud poetry from two of her most famous poetry collections, Crossing the Ladder of the Sun and Requiem, Rwanda.

“For me, poems come from the places that have edges,” Apol said to her audience in 1606, “The moments that bring me to poetry are the questions that I just can’t figure out… it’s what continues to bring me back.”

Dordt students and community members entered the lecture hall to hear Apol read some of her poems, many of which were drawn from her own life experiences. Requiem, Rwanda was inspired by her trips to Rwanda around ten years after the 1994 genocide. Apol saw a glimpse at the rich culture and deep wounds left by civil war and racial slaughter.

While in Rwanda, Apol met with survivors of the genocide to use poetry writing as a process for healing. Working with health experts and psychiatrists, Apol developed a model of poetry for those dealing with grief and trauma. Each person would focus on three different times of their life: before the genocide, during, and after. Apol and her colleagues saw the importance of writing as a form of therapy, the power of written word. It gave the opportunity for victims of the genocide to write their experiences and emotions down on paper. When they revised their writing, Apol said the goal was to “communicate to an audience beyond themselves” and step out of their own story to process trauma.

“PTSD is so troubling because it is out of their control,” Apol said. 

The workshop connected genocide survivors to their own individual stories and journeys. In the meantime, Apol found her life forever changed by the people and stories she encountered, and they became the inspiration for many of her poems.

“Twenty Years On” was written for Apol’s friend Louise, a member of the Tutsi tribe who escaped death by hiding in banana groves. Her entire family was killed, leaving a young Louise to carry on their legacy.

“She alone carried the future,” Apol read to Dordt’s audience. “Her great-grandmother’s voice/ her twin-brothers’ smiles/ through bloodied days through panic nights/ there is nothing she says nothing that can touch me now.”

In addition to Rwanda, Apol wrote about her experiences as a mother, Christian, friend, twin sister, and daughter. No poem was without a story and purpose. Each had a definite meaning that brought complexity and reminded the audience no part of life is insignificant or meaningless—even through the most challenging of trials.

Apol also shared some of her poems that bring joy, including one titled, “Weeding the Garden with John Calvin,” in which she covers the principles of reformed Christianity. Her admiration and attention to the beauties and finite details of nature were present in many of her works, as well as her zest for life.

While introducing Apol at the event, Professor Howard Schaap said one of his students mentioned “When you meet her, you can tell she has a love for life.” 

Apol also visited several English classes, sharing more of her work and discussing how poetry can point to something greater by fixating on details

One poem Apol read aloud to the audience was called “The Lives of Others” and communicated her perspective on poetry. “Each story holds a question/ that is more than itself./ And each story is its answer./ What, then, can I do but listen?”

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