James Baldwin, Nicky Finney, and Yusef Komunyakaa, NPM Days 26, 27 & 28

So this weekend, I had the pleasure of attending some Live Arts events in NYC to kick off the year of James Baldwin.  I attended a reading and discussion of James Baldwin’s poetry (based out of a book of poems just rereleased), which included 5 renowned poets on the panel.  So this Monday, the Poetry Month posting will be inspired by those poets currently at the top of their field. 🙂

Amen by James Baldwin

No, I don’t feel death coming.
I feel death going:
having thrown up his hands,
for the moment.

I feel like I know him
better than I did.
Those arms held me,
for a while,
and, when we meet again,
there will be that secret knowledge
between us.

I had the pleasure of meeting Yusef Komunyakaa, who was a gracious and incredibly sweet man.

From YouTube, his advice to young writers:

“To not be afraid of surprising oneself”

And one of my favorites:

Facing it by Yusef Komunyakaa

My black face fades,
hiding inside the black granite.
I said I wouldn’t,
dammit: No tears.
I’m stone. I’m flesh.
My clouded reflection eyes me
like a bird of prey, the profile of night
slanted against morning. I turn
this way–the stone lets me go.
I turn that way–I’m inside the Vietnam Veterans Memorial
again, depending on the light
to make a difference.
I go down the 58,022 names,
half-expecting to find my own in letters like smoke.
I touch the name Andrew Johnson;
I see the booby trap’s white flash.
Names shimmer on a woman’s blouse
but when she walks away the names stay on the wall.
Brushstrokes flash, a red bird’s
wings cutting across my stare.
The sky. A plane in the sky.
A white vet’s image floats
closer to me, then his pale eyes
look through mine. I’m a window.
He’s lost his right arm
inside the stone. In the black mirror
a woman’s trying to erase names:
No, she’s brushing a boy’s hair.

In addition, I met Nicky Finney, a 2011 National Book Award Winner in Poetry.

Here is her acceptance speech for that award (video includes introductions, speech begins around 4:45)

and a poem:

Heirloom by Nicky Finney

Sundown, the day nearly eaten away,

the Boxcar Willies peep. Their
inside-eyes push black and plump

against walls of pumpkin skin. I step
into dying backyard light. Both hands

steal into the swollen summer air,
a blind reach into a blaze of acid,

ghost bloom of nacre & breast.
One Atlantan Cherokee Purple,

two piddling Radiator Charlies
are Lena-Horne lured into the fingers

of my right hand. But I really do love you,
enters my ear like a nest of yellow jackets,

well wedged beneath a two-by-four.

But I really didn’t think I would (ever leave),
stings before the ladder hits the ground.

I swat the familiar buzz away.
My good arm arcs and aims.

My elbow cranks a high, hard cradle
and draws a fire. The end of the day’s

sweaty air stirs fast in a bowl, the coming
shadows, the very diamond match I need.

One by one, each Blind Willie
takes his turn Pollocking the back

fence, heart pine explodes gold-leafed in
red and brown-eyed ochre. There is practice

for everything in this life. This is how
you throw something perfectly good away.

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