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How UNC’s “Pit Poet” wants to preach a different message

Ben Goldman, a former UNC student, reads poetry in the Pit on Monday, Jan. 18, 2021. Goldman is pictured here reading works by Billy Collins.

On Jan. 18, Ben Goldman dedicated a poem to “the girl with the blue hair” walking past, while he was reading works by Billy Collins on UNC’s campus. 

When the blue-haired girl accepted his offer, he proceeded to read Collins' “Candle Hat," a poem describing Francisco de Goya’s titular headpiece.

Goldman is a former UNC student known as the “Pit Poet” who has been reading poetry to strangers for about a year. He began in the spring of 2020 when he took a poetry class in Greenlaw Hall.

Greenlaw Hall is adjacent to the Pit on UNC's campus, where Goldman said he saw men preaching “very hateful things.” It was then he had the idea to turn that hate into love by “preaching” poems.

“I just stood there and started — a little aggressively, I’ll admit — yelling at people and sharing poetry,” Goldman said, “making a scene of myself.”

Goldman said most people simply continued walking past him while he was reading, but his goal was not to be heard. Rather, he wanted to offer something different from the typical negativity heard in the Pit. 

“I think people move too fast and don’t spend time looking at simple things,” Goldman said. “I’d like to be a simple thing and be loud enough to hopefully grab people's attention for a second.”

However, Goldman said his poetry isn’t for purely philanthropic reasons. He has gained confidence through poetry readings. Despite winning the superlative for “Most Talkative” in high school, Goldman said he still has the same social anxieties as many people. 

Goldman said having less control over his situation gives him less opportunity to worry about making mistakes.

“I don’t have time to let myself be concerned about every person that’s walking by,” he said.

Isabelle Trew, a sophomore at Appalachian State University, has supported Goldman through his poetic pursuits. 

Trew and Goldman first met in a poetry class last spring. Trew recalls sitting in UNC’s Student Union when she received a text from Goldman inviting her to watch him read poetry at the Pit. From there, the two became close friends, and Trew attended several of Goldman’s poetry readings. They eventually started dating.

Trew has since transferred from UNC to ASU, where she still supports Goldman from afar.

“That’s something I really admire about Ben, is his ability to connect with total strangers," Trew said. "He can make a friend out of anyone and bring so much positivity into people’s lives."

Trew herself has even taken the spotlight to read poems by Ada Limón in the Pit.

“Instead of condemning people, we’re welcoming people in and inviting them to join in a communal activity,” Trew said. 

Trew also noted the importance of spreading awareness and appreciation for poetry, as many people can find it to be daunting and unfamiliar.

Overall, Trew aims to combat the feeling of disconnect that many are feeling during the pandemic.

Several audience members agree that Trew and Goldman have achieved success in their goals, such as sophomore English and women’s and gender studies major X. Ramos-Lara. 

“Hearing them speak on the different poems that were read aloud definitely spread that inclusivity,” Ramos-Lara said. “He tried to, not necessarily erase, but build on a platform of negativity that has been there with the Pit Preacher and create hope for something else.”

Instead of feeling concerned at first seeing Goldman “preaching” in the Pit, Ramos-Lara said they felt warm and welcomed.

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Ramos-Lara recounts feeling inspired because of the radiating confidence from Goldman and Trew.

Goldman and Trew don’t have a set schedule for when they’ll return to campus, as Goldman said it depends on what books he has available and whether or not it’s raining. However, both agree they would like to continue reading.

Goldman said he has no sort of monopoly on poetry preaching and encourages anyone who wants to read to do so. 

“I really just want people to be more fearless in what they enjoy,” Goldman said. “I want people to not be afraid to paint their face.”