Friday, March 20, 2009

Seeing Marilyn Nelson

Last night my Poetry students and I went to see Marilyn Nelson at Broward College. She was amazing. Some of my students were absolutely enthralled, and I was pleased to notice that not one of them pulled out a cell phone, or otherwise seemed distracted.

She read from several different books, and finished with her heroic crown of sonnets, "A Wreath for Emmett Till." She read all 15 of the poems straight through. It was incredibly effective.

She said when she was writing that work that she got to the point where she was following the poem, rather than directing it. It reminded me of fiction writers who say their characters got out of control. I've had that experience more frequently in fiction writing than in any other kind. Occasionally I feel like a receive a poem whole and complete, but it never feels like something outside of my control.

One of her poems took a line from Thich Nhat Hanh, who said that the most comforting thing to say to a hospice patient is "You are not this body. You are more than this body."

Other lines of hers that struck me enough for me to write them down:

"Some white folks have blind souls."

slaves were "sold to the new world as fuel."

"mute geometry" describing the night sky, the cosmos

It was a wonderful night. My students took notes, even though I didn't require it. They stood in line to get her autograph. A few of them bought books. I did too. I'll blog about the books at some later point.

The only thing that gives me some sadness is knowing that the funding for programs that bring poets and artists to schools is drying up. Barbra Nightingale, the woman who put the program together, is having Molly Peacock come in April (April 20, I think), and then she said that the money had run out, and she wasn't having much luck finding alternate sources.

I know, I know, in a time period when people are losing jobs and industries and nest eggs and college funds, it's absurd to shed a few tears over a poetry program that has to take a hiatus. So, I'll just be an inclusive weeper, and shed tears over the whole sorry state of things right now.

And then, I'll turn my attention back to wonderful poetry, which thankfully, I can still read and find on the Internet and create!


Serena said...

No need for you too feel back about this poetry program being on hiatus and you missing it...all schools should be missing these programs and eager to find the funds to get them started or continue running them because they are sorely needed to help students and adults learn to keep those critical thinking skills sharp!

Molly Peacock is great! I saw her at the national book festival in d.c. in 2008. She was great!

Kristin Berkey-Abbott said...

Ah what a vision--that the economic downturn inspires us to value poetry! May it be so.