Wednesday, April 18, 2007

Poet Nikki Giovanni offers Virginia Tech an embrace

I haven’t read a lot of poet Nikki Giovanni’s work. But yesterday, she read a monologue at the memorial service at Virginia Tech.

I listened as she moved through her lines with typically strong delivery—lines that addressed, in a way, tragedy as a democracy for all species. Baby elephants, African children who die of AIDS, Mexican children who lack clean water, Appalachian children who die in their cribs. Her message, basically: no one deserves tragedy.

She ended her presentation with declaratives—the final “We are Virginia Tech” eliciting chants from the crowd.

This reminded me of Billy Collins’s poem, The Names, honoring those who died on September 11:
Names written in the pale sky.
Names rising in the updraft amid buildings.
Names silent in stone
Or cried out behind a door.

You will rarely find poetry in a newspaper. You will almost never find poetry in the media that so loved verse in the 1950s, women’s magazines. If you see poetry on television, it is usually personal poetry, all feeling and very little craft.

I don’t think Giovanni’s work yesterday was so much poetry as poetic rhetoric. Ironically, that seemed to help the people as they began the grieving process. Media talked about healing. You can’t heal until you grieve. But in this instance as in thousands of others, America turned to a poet for comfort of sorts.

Why so little attention is given to poetry by the media is a puzzle I cannot solve. I just wish media covered it on joyous occasions and even routine occasions, rather than solely in times of great tragedy.

````For text and video of Giovanni's presentation, visit the blog Wilderside.
Because of a challenging schedule and travel, it’ll be hit or miss for my posts for the next 10 days. I’ll be back up to speed with blogging by May 1.

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