2012 was all about migration. Most of the year was spent (literally) in the air winging my words to so many poetry-loving audiences. I travelled to more places last year than I had in the last five years combined. It’s impossible to be warned about the profound and delicate alterations to your mostly quiet and routine life after winning a major literary award. The surprise of it all is like a new and sensuous fabric that is suddenly wrapped around you after the weighty medallion is draped around your neck. As you fall asleep hugging that fabric, on some late night, early morning, red eye flight, you realize your fingers are rubbing the pretty fabric whispering, this fabric is so nice.
Last year was incredible. My aim was to stay close close to those who knew me before the new fabric and the immodest jewelry, to drink my carrot and beet juice, eat my greens (and tofu), and be sure to step away from the fireworks of the public eye as often as possible, to head straight into the quietest part of the forest as often as I could, to fold myself, yes, fall on my knees there on the dark cool moss, in order to keep my always grounding conversations with my ancestors going strong and to never leave the sacred woods before emptying my pockets of the birdseed I’d brought with me, remembering what my grandmother first taught me about keeping my long feet tethered to the good earth and to always look around and think of others.
Thank you so much to all who sent messages and blessings throughout the year. Messages that I dreamed I would, but did not get the chance to respond to in ink and by longhand. Thank you for all your sweet cards that I have over these last 365 days pinned one by one into the walls of my studio for daily inspiration. Thank you for the hugs you shared each and every time I have been blessed to be in your live and loving presence. I have needed each one - terribly. Your generosity and affection made the year fly by. I will embrace the magic of 2012 as long as I live.
One of my favorite poetic subjects, history, is so much about migration. One hundred and fifty years ago today, a decree, of plain as day, not so poetic writing was signed on the dotted line, January 1, 1863. The Emancipation Proclamation. Its courageous birth slowly changed the world. The clear stoic words, sifted from the head and heart of one tall presiding man from Illinois, gangly in his dark suit and high hat, did not immediately free any enslaved human being in any slave-holding state. As with all bold, truthful, courageous words, that have never been uttered before, first there is a thawing out that hits the air from the old way of thinking, then there is the slow burning fire that arrives to clear out the brush for what must be built for going forward. The Emancipation Proclamation slowly burned back the sticks, the dead grass, the old brush, all the acceptable thorns of our slave-holding society, so that this young country might begin to see the next level of its necessity. This first piece of not so poetic writing, that first and mainly proclaimed, lead to the second piece of not so poetic writing that did far more than proclaim; the 13th amendment to the Constitution of the United States, passed by a smaller, feistier, and then, working Congress, outlawed slavery in the country that had been built on slavery’s bloody back. In a free and democratic society there are some things that must be outlawed before that society eventually accepts them as a right and a privilege. Inequality, was then and is now, one of those tenets.
The great American writer Toni Cade Bambara sent me a postcard in 1995. It was the most important postcard of my life. What she wrote to me then is still good and powerful enough to bring forward into 2013: Nikky, do not leave the arena to the fools. I offer this great and empowering sentiment to you and to all those you love.
In 2013 may we keep taking our giant out-of-step steps. May we keep raising our hands and arms high in order to pose our fire-breathing courageous questions. May we keep writing in order to un-freeze this world from the twin grips of fear and more fear. May we keep remembering those who went to sleep one night enslaved and rose the next day “forever free” even if they didn’t know it quite yet, those determined ones “darker than blue” who had names, who had dreams, who held on tight to each other, who never gave up on us, their future family, that they would never get to meet, never gave up on the world being far better to others than it had ever been to them.
The travel calendar for 2013 will be going up tomorrow at www.nikkyfinney.net. I just confirmed with the fabulous musician and musical director, Toshi Reagon, an exciting night of poetry and song with that amazing vocalist, whose reach of voice makes me close my eyes and speak in several tongues, the incomparable Liz Wright, on March 25th, 2013, at the Schomburg Center’s Woman and Jazz concert series in New York City. There are some other exciting future collaborative projects that I will be posting on the website in the coming months just as soon as they are confirmed. Please keep an eye out for RICE (1995) and THE WORLD IS ROUND (2003) which are being reissued by Northwestern University Press in the summer of 2013. I also hope to take a little time off in 2013 in hopes of remembering how to write a poem again.
I will keep my ear close to the ground in hopes of hearing from you in all the ways there are to speak across and through the distance.
Grateful and grateful, and grateful some more,
Read more Notes on Migration >