Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Forever young, an evening to remember

Cave Canem headquarters in DUMBO is a lovely, inviting space for a poetry, especially with Rachel Eliza Griffith's photos of Black poets splashed across the walls. Mama Lucille and Nikkey Finney, holding hands and laughing. Dear Rita, on her ballroom floor, about to take flight.

The audience consisted mostly of the middle school aged poets there to present, along with their supportive parents. Tonight was a reading celebration of young writers, who have been working hard all year on their writings with the help of Ms. Raspberry, a woman who does her job, does it well, and damn, damn, it showed, shined through each their works. Any one can tell that a whole lot of nurturing went into them in order for their pens to shine so like gems.

Thankfully, I have been privy to many talented poets and writers of the next generation, a generation said to be lost. When I first started doing this work, I often found myself surprised by the sheer intellect and imagination that springs from youthful pens. Sometimes when youth shine we adults tend to watch them in equal parts awe and surprise--underestimating them all this while. But I have learned that once a young person is handed a pen, a violin, the opportunity, guidance, encouragement, they flourish, as all flowers should, once they are given permission to tap into that magical space inside of them. The only reason it is a surprise to us is because we do not see it enough. So we gotta do what we can about that.

As I listened to the young people tonight, the 12 year old girl contemplating the purpose of socialization, the 12 year old boy who wrote a litany to jazz that made my mouth almost break under the weight of my grin. After intermission a woman sang operas to poems about the F train & Brooklyn, all written by Brooklyn youth.

I closed out the evening with a 25 minute set. My day had been long. It started with a early morning faculty meeting at Juilliard, one that lasted 3 1/2 hours as we discussed each first year student in depth. From there I rushed to the Bronx, sailing into my journalism classroom seconds after the bell rang. Fifty minutes later, I make the trek from Bronx to Brooklyn. and got there just in time to hear the first set of poets. And when I stepped on stage, my stomach was growling, awakened by the pulverized banana I had just scarfed down seconds before they called my name.

But you know, I went up there, all 5 of the youth poets watching me expectantly from the front row, and suddenly I had all the energy in the world for them. All tiredness evaporated from my shoulders, tense from hiking up the subway stairs with my books on my back. I performed a Lucille Clifton, 3 odes, and read from my chapter book as well as the first chapter of my YA novel, set in Trinidad. Vulnerable an experience as any, it was my first time reading this chapter aloud to anyone, more less and audience of kids and their parents--it felt like an anointing, a blessing. This particular chapter of Seventeen Seasons addresses the leatherback turtles that are born in Trinidad only to venture out into the wide blue world and return to their birthplace to lay their eggs.

Afterwards, I was vibing with the striking young boy that wrote the jazz litany. I noticed his eyes had been fiercely attentive as I shared my work, fixed on me 95% of the time. He's a math and science kid, who recently picked up the pen and now adores the practice. He said he enjoyed the bursts of Trinidadian culture in my novel. I revealed to him that I've had to return to Trinidad in more ways than one in order to achieve what he sensed.

And he responded: so you're the turtle.

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