Friday, November 18, 2011

Nikky Finney's Poetry-Prose Voice

On twitter a couple of nights ago, people were initially reporting that the National Book Award for Poetry winner Nikky Finney had read a poem for her acceptance speech. Those initial eye-witness accounts were incorrect. Many of the early observers perhaps did not know that when Finney reads prose it sounds like poetry.

"Was it a poem, your speech?" a reporter for the Wall Street Journal asked the poet after the awards ceremony.

"It’s my first voice, poetry, but I wouldn’t call it a poem. Just passages," said Finney. "I have to think about the history that brought me to this moment, and I have to thank the people who surrounded me my entire life. Those thoughts and that energy went into that."

When Finney reads essays, her voice has a sense of urgency, rhythm, and intensity that could easily be mistaken for the approach that poets take when they are reading poems. Of course, Finney too identified her mode of delivery as "my first voice, poetry."

For decades now, Finney has been called on to inspire audiences, to deliver words of wisdom, to reflect on difficult times and not only read poetry. Perhaps, she has been inclined then to squeeze her poetry voice into those many moments where she was called on to offer prose.

Related content: A Notebook on the work of Nikky Finney

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