Friday, October 31, 2008

Tenacity and Grace

Snow, wind, icicles and a today's 20 degree morning have not deterred these flowers. They still bloom, either through tenacity or grace. Maybe both. This message must be for me. If these flowers can hang on, I can keep writing, even when I don't feel like it, even though my rejection file overpowers my acceptance file.

Last night our visiting writer, poet Marilyn Nelson, gave a reading. Marilyn wowed the audience. She read from three works. Carver, A Life in Poems, is a young adult biography of George Washington Carver written in verse. It's very well done. The poems present Carver at different stages of his life and capture his thirst for knowledge and passion for science.

Marilyn was commissioned to write Fortune's Bones when she was poet laureate of Connecticut. The Mattatuck Museum found a skeleton tucked away in its basement and hired forensic scientists to discover its provenance. The skeleton was identified as that of a slave named Fortune who belonged to a doctor. When Fortune died, the doctor secretly dissected the body (illegal in the 19th century)and saved the bones for teaching anatomy. Nelson masterfully commemorates Fortune by imagining his skeleton from different points of view. The reader hears the voice of Fortune's wife, a slave in the same house, who dusts around her husband's bones, the doctor's voice as he begins to perform the illegal dissection, and others.

And then she read A Wreath for Emmett Till. This book is a heroic crown of sonnets reflecting on the 1955 murder of Emmett Till, a 14 year-old black boy from the North who visits his southern relatives and is lynched. The use of the strict form is masterful, conveying the brutality and horror of the event so skillfully and sensitively that it eulogizes Emmett and points the reader toward hope: "In my house, there is still something called grace, / which melts ice shards of hate and makes hearts whole."

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