Friday, August 18, 2006


The comments from yesterday were so good and thoughtful. In my continued mulling I have decided to keep a good sturdy wall between fiction and autobiography but just knock some height off of it so I can peep over from time to time. Today though I am reminded of something litlove said in her recent interview with John Baker. She commented that she "believe[s] that literature can have revolutionary power." This is something I believe too. I must admit though I didn't always think that. Not until I took my senior seminar in college on the poetry of Adrienne Rich did the possibility even enter into my mind. She believes that poetry is an action that can bring about change. I was not immediately convinced, after all the only reason I was in that class was because the seminar I really wanted to take was full. The class turned out to be an eye-opening experience and I finished it a different person. Maybe because I came to the idea that literature can be revolutionary through poetry, I don't often look for it in fiction. I do, however, look for it in poetry. I don't require it, but I get more enjoyment when it is there. By revolutionary I mean a lot of things and I am not sure that I can say what they all are. It's sort of a "I know it when I see it" thing. It's a quality of style, tone, and voice, and sometime subject matter. To give you an example. I started reading a new book of poetry last night called Teahouse of the Almighty by Patricia Smith. Right away her voice grabbed me and drew me in. Her rhythms are beautiful and I was not surprised to find out she is a four-time national poetry slam champion. The first poem in the book, "Building Nicole's Mama" blew me away. The poem is about the author teaching poetry to a class of 6th graders at Lillie C Evans School in Miami. It's a longish poem so I can't quote all of it, but here's a good chunk:

Can poetry hurt us? they as me before snuggling inside my words to sleep. I love you, Nicole says, Nicole wearing my face, pimples peppering her nose, and she is as black as angels are. Nicole's braids clipped, their ends kissed with match flame to seal them, and can you teach me to write a poem about my mother? I mean, you write about your daddy and he dead, can you teach me to remember my mama? A teacher tells me this is the first time Nicole has admitted that her mother is gone, murdered by slim silver needles and a stranger rifling through her blood, the virus pushing her skeleton through for Nicole to see. And now this child with rusty knees and mismatched shoes sees poetry as he scream and asks me for the words to build her mother again. Replacing the voice. Stitching on the lost flesh. So poets, as we pick up our pens, as we flirt and sin and rejoice behind microphones-- remember Nicole. She knows that we are here now, and she is an empty vessel waiting to be filled. And she is waiting. And she is waiting. And she waits.
My apologies for that being so long but I couldn't see how to cut it shorter without ruining the effect. I've read about six poems so far and enjoyed them all. This book is going to be a treat. Not only are the poems well written, but they have that revolutionary something that adds a perfect spice, making the poems seem somehow more.