Monday, November 03, 2008

If you missed Marilyn Nelson's reading...

Marilyn Nelson's reading at the Vermont Studio Center last week was more than worth the drive (105 miles round trip for Kingdom Books). A poet laureate for Connecticut for five years, she said the state and its history seem to have taken over her work during that period and continuing. So she first gave the well-bundled-up audience a taste of a few poems from her picturebook CARVER, a delicious series of narratives from some of the faces and hearts in the life of scientist and humanitarian George Washington Carver )he left home at age 10, alone, to find a school with more to teach him). Then she slipped into some work that celebrates the recently identified remains of a Connecticut slave named Fortune, who died in 1740 -- the work is being set to music by Isaiah Barnwell of "Sweet Honey in the Rock" (watch for a symphony performance next year). And she dipped into yet another historical persona as she offered "The Keeper of the Keys" from her newly released collection THE FREEDOM BUSINESS (yes, we have a signed copy here at Kingdom Books).

The highlight of the evening unfolded as she announced she'd conclude with a "long poem" that would take 12 to 15 minutes to read -- the entire text of her 2005 book A WREATH FOR EMMETT TILL, a children's book that grapples with the horrible lynching of a black child by five white men -- five white monsters, as the poem proclaims. The book is made up of 15 interlocked Petrarchan sonnets, forming a heroic crown sonnet. Nelson explained that the publisher had already asked her to plunge into the work of exploring the lynching, and "I knew if I was going to write it, I'd need some way to insulate myself and the readers from the pain. And I chose form."

Fortunately, if you weren't there -- or even if you were -- you can still hear Nelson read the work at this NPR web site. Then you may also want to purchase copies of the book, for the hearts and minds around you.

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