Thursday, December 29, 2011
Head off & Split: Part 2-The review
There are divisions of poets. There are the Mahogany Muses:Nikki Giovanni, Maya Angelou, Rita Dove, Alice Walker, Mari Evans, Gwendolyn Brooks, and etc. There are spoken word artists who are featured on Def Jam and at local poetry slams. There are instructors and professors who teach and write poems from life experiences. There are also those who think they can write a poem at the drop of a proverbial dime and swear it is good. All are poets.
Then, there are wordsmiths who go into their rooms like welders with hot pokers and mold, maneuver, turn, and let the steel stay in the fire until the thing takes place. Nikky Finney is a wordsmith. Her poems take shape around themes that are not talked about enough. In subtlety, sarcasm, sexuality and sizzle, the poet brings fire in Head Off & Split. Some of the thematic offerings include Rosa Parks, Hurricane Katrina, George Bush' health, Condoleezza Rice, love and sexual awakening, sexual preference, Strom Thurmond, and life in South Carolina.
Her poetics take their own shapes; one metaphoric narrative about President George W. Bush is entitled Plunder. The poet writes, The panting shepherd war hero being honored gets a professional wave. A high, lonesome, over-the-top gesture, a cowboy-come-professional athlete offering his last night under the lights. He imagines himself back in his boyhood chaps. The imagery in another poem, Alice Butler, is reminiscent of southern funerals with outside siblings, color caste systems and miscegenation, where people are expected to say, She looked real good. Nikky Finney can present a stanza where she writes privately, More private than a modest woman lifting her dress to a lover, for the first time. More delicate than the lace around this old woman's favorite sitting chair. Finney's tone is different as it relates to injustice. In Help, a poem about those left behind during Katrina where, The roof is surrounded by broken-levee water. The people are dark but not broken. Starving, abandoned, dehydrated, brown & cumulous, but not broken. My personal favorite is Dancing with Strom; Finney quizzically renders a report of a family wedding where king segregationist, himself, Strom Thurmond is dancing with the Black women. As if considering coming off the porch and joining the post racial frolicking, the poet has an ancestral epiphany that ends with four words, Us giving us away. In the book's acknowledgments Poet Finney wrote, "Every book I've ever written has found its way to its paper surface by way of breath of the dead and the hands of the living." Head off &Split reminds us that everything is everything and that we dare not separate who we are with who we where.