Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Lessons Reading Poets

Reading volumes of poetry by Elizabeth Alexander, Allison Joseph, Lucille Clifton, Rita Dove, HonorĂ©e Jeffers, Tara Betts, and Nikki Giovanni has allowed me to immerse myself in verse which at once echoes my own experience while also exposing me to the unknown, to a stranger’s life which is wonderfully both similar and different to mine own. As I connect with these poets as a woman, or at a most basic level—as a human being, I find myself nodding in agreement, sighing with understanding, and feeling a strong sense of community with writers who I may never meet but who are my sisters, my colleagues, my fellow travelers.

As these poets write about life, whether with humor, regret, or anger, I too remember similar experiences. Their verse brings about past feelings which have been dulled with time but which linger on even as their words also bring about comfort that indeed we are not alone; rather, we have all experienced the pain of love lost, the frustration of adolescence, and a sense of hope that things can only get better.

These poets have also revealed a life unknown and unfamiliar to me, such as the unique experience of African American women in America. Their verse then works to speak their own truth, their own reality, and through it I can gain an understanding that would otherwise be cast in shadow for me. Thus, Joseph, Clifton, Dove, and Giovanni are able to pull me in by saying “See, I have felt this too” but also “This is my experience, which is different from your own, but no less deserving of voice.” Reading these poets has enriched my life beyond expression, and I look forward to delving more deeply into their other works.

[By Emily Phillips]

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