OPRF poetry anthology set to release this February

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Spoken Word sponsor Peter Kahn is preparing to release his group’s anthology “Respect The Mic.” The book is a collection of 76 poems written in the past 20 years by present and former OPRF students.

Kahn collaborated with editors Hanif Abdurraqib, Dan Sullivan, and Franny Choi. Abdurraqib is a poet, music critic, and essayist, who has been published in

Vinyl, Pitchfork, and The New York Times. Sullivan has a MFA and MA from Indiana and has had poems featured in HBO’s Def Poetry Jam and is an original OPRF Spoken Word Club member. Choi is a poet, essayist and is a recipient of Princeton’s Holmes National Poetry Prize.

The anthology is broken down into five themes: notes from here; coming of age; monsters at home; welcomes, farewells, and odes; and survival tactics.

Three years ago Kahn decided it was time to get to work. “Together (Sullivan and I) were able to get an agent, who was then able to get us in contact with Penguin Workshop (a subset of Penguin Random House),” Kahn said.

Kahn said writing and editing is a difficult process. “Having to go through all the edits and reaching out to 76 people to make sure they are OK with the edits, all that kind of nit-picky stuff I don’t enjoy,” Kahn said.

“Some of them wrote them when they were 35 years old, others when they were 14 years old,” Kahn said. Senior RC Davis was 14 when he wrote his poem that is included in “Respect the Mic.” Davis was also chosen as a National Student Poet representing the Midwest in 2021. “It’s mixed feelings. On one hand I’m so proud of my freshman self. This will be my most widely published poem but it is my least favorite because I wrote it when I was 14,” Davis said.

Kahn reached out to 2011 alum Noelle Aiisa Berry over email to have a poem featured in the anthology. “I was very nervous because at that time I hadn’t really written anything and I was very self conscious of my writing,” Berry said. “When I found out one of my pieces was going to be included, I was elated.” Berry’s piece covers her experience with being introduced to poetry and performance.

Along with teaching, Berry runs a technology-based financial firm that’s based from coast to coast with her family. Berry currently works with Kahn in succession to Christian Robinson. Berry was Robinson’s captain in OPRF Spoken Word. “It’s a very special transitional period, to do so in this way is very special,” said Berry.

“Respect The Mic” does not represent Kahn’s first stint as anthology editor, however. In 2017 Kahn released “The Golden Shovel Anthology,” a collection celebrating Gwendolyn Brooks’ work in the civil rights movement. The anthology contains 300 poems by various writers.

There will be a virtual launch Feb. 1 for “Respect The Mic.” There will also be an in-person launch at the Oak Park Public Library. All OPRF students will receive a free copy.

“I hope the book becomes a global sensation that gets teachers, students and the general public more into poetry,” said Kahn.

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