Do Not Leave the Arena to the Fools

Poetry V. Candy Crush (Day After Election Day)

Last night I attended a poetry reading by Elizabeth Alexander and Nikky Finney. I had recently found some notes I made after Finney won the 2011 National Book Award for her poetry collection, Head Off & Split. In my notes I reflected on the way she accepted the award:

Finney began by reciting from the 1739 Slave Codes: a fine of $100 and six months in prison will be imposed for anyone found teaching a slave to read or write.

Then she said: “If my name is ever called out, I promised my girl poet self, so too I would call out theirs.”

*

Describing her process of thinking as she composed her acceptance speech, and wondered how it would go over, Finney said: ”  . . . . I thought, I don’t really care. I know that this is the right thing to say, and I want to speak not to the $1,000-plate dinner or to the dressed-to-the-nines people but to all of our hearts about this history that is so infrequently talked about.”

Wow. When I read that again, and when I listen to her voice, I want to work harder, be a force for good, pay attention to what she has to teach me. What she has to teach all of us. These are not new thoughts, but they are sustained by poets and thinkers who share my vision of a more fair, just and decent society. Can poetry really contribute to that? I know it can. It begins with paying attention.

*

Last night was a chance to see Finney read from new work, including a “radical libretto” written to commemorate the sesquicentennial of the end of the U.S. Civil War.

In front of me: hundreds of young writers, readers, academics, townspeople and students from Smith College.

[from my notebook, November 4, 2014]

The red haired girl

at the poetry reading

of two black luminaries

just achieved a new level

on Candy Crush.

That is her right.

*

Honestly, sometimes I really don’t understand where I am in the world. I had to look up Candy Crush on Wikipedia just now to see what I’m missing. Apparently there are over 46 million monthly users of this game.

*

Back to poetry for a palette cleanser:

“If we don’t watch, if we don’t pay attention, many, many, many stories, many many, many names, many, many, many truths will not make it to air. That’s always been the case, and it always will be the case. Toni Cade Bambara wrote this on the back of a postcard: “Do not leave the arena to the fools.” I think about that—it’s the second thing I think about when I wake up in the morning. If you don’t pay attention, so much valuable information will be wiped away.” Nikky Finney, in an interview at The Poetry Foundation’s webpage.

Poet Nikky Finney

Leave a Comment

poetry matters. join the conversation.

join my community

SUBSCRIBE

poetry matters. join the conversation.

join my community

SUBSCRIBE