Many of us are looking for a religious experience or a heightened sense of spirituality. Our hearts lighten when anything makes us gape in wonder. We yearn for any thing that speaks to us, touches us and brings us unto the realm of the sacred. It could be looking at a newborn baby, the sun on the mountains, or the California surf – the very same water that if you were to fly west would wash ashore on the beaches of the Far East.
For me, the written word can be a religious experience. How is it that a writer can share a core experience using mere words? How can his experience flow directly to my heart and become mine? I am touched, humbled and inspired.
Yesterday, listening to NPR’s “Morning Edition,” I had a transcendental moment – a moment that has stayed with me all day. I refer you to a four-minute audio summary followed by the entire transcript relating to the 2011 National Book Award Winners. http://www.npr.org/2011/11/17/142437698/2011-national-book-award-winners-announced.
In particular, I was lifted up by Mikky Finney who was awarded the poetry prize, based in part on her poem “Hurricane Katrina.” During her acceptance speech, she invoked the spirit of slaves for whom learning to read was forbidden:
Those forbidden to move around the room as they please, they sit at whatever table they want, wear camel colored field hats and tomato red kerchiefs. They are bold in their Sunday-go-to-meeting best, their cotton croaker sack shirts are black wash pot clean and irreverently not tucked in. Some have come in Victorian collars and bustiers. Some have just climbed out of the cold wet Atlantic just to be here. We shiver together.
Listen to the NPR piece… listen to a fragment of “Hurricane Katrina.” Prior to her award, Finney, was interviewed by the Lexington Herald-Leader. Raised in South Carolina by parents who were active in the Civil Rights movement, Finney said, “I know the sound of the ’60s and ’70s. There was a lot of standing with signs. There was a lot of shouting. I wanted to be a poet who didn’t shout [… ] to find the path where the beautifully said thing meets the really difficult-to-say-thing.”
I shiver at Mikky Finney’s talent.