Excerpt from Nikky Finny’s “Resurrection of the Errand Girl: An Introduction”
“Not a girl any longer, she is capable of her own knife-work now. She understands sharpness & duty. She knows what a blade can reveal & destroy. She has come to use life’s points and edges to uncover life’s treasures. She would rather be the one deciding what she keeps and what she throws away.”
After attending late April’s Massachusetts Poetry Festival in Salem, I’ve felt deeply inspired by poet Nikky Finney’s reading. Winner of the National Book Award for her collection titled Head Off & Split, Finney took the podium and spoke into a mic addressing the Peabody Essex Museum’s atrium filled with exhausted poets and poetry lovers.
But once she began to speak, I no longer felt I was in a large hall with hundreds. She read her poems as if sitting at home on her couch, cross-legged, reading a new poem to her lover late at night.
She read as if by candlelight, as if telling something she’d never told anyone about herself.
She read as if for the first time, or the last.
After the last words of her first poem, my wife and I locked eyes for an instant, acknowledging without a single word between us that her words were what we’d come for—though we’d not known until we heard Finney’s wise, velvet voice.
Finney’s reading was indeed the surprise manna that made our journey from almost three hours and a state away worth it. I’d been happy to spend the day sitting at readings and panels—even reading my own work with the Naugatuck River Review. Yet, Finney’s words instantly grounded and reminded me why I write. Why I read. Her poems, intelligence, voice, humanity, intensity, humor, and profoundly gentle yet powerful presence reminded me what poetry can be: essential.
I’d like to share a link to Nikky Finney’s website where there’s a page of her videos and photos: http://nikkyfinney.net/photos.html. I recommend listening to her reading of “Left” at the National Book Awards last year. While this particular video does not reflect the astonishing intimacy of the reading my wife and I witnessed, it offers viewers an excellent reading that resonates—even on a computer screen.
Instead of providing you with a writing prompt, as I usually do here, I’d like to suggest that you invest five minutes of your time in listening to Finney read “Left.” Then, choose a few pages of your own work and ask someone close to you if you can read for her or him. Set a time. Choose the place. Light candles or dim the lights. Sit close and read your words as if you’re ten again and in a tent at midnight with your best friend, or under the covers with a flashlight, reading the last pages of a book that changed your life.