Your letter came just when I needed it. I’m glad that you feel you get something useful from my letters, but I have to tell you that the hope I get from yours is vital.
The work you are doing with the teen parents and the writing workshops you are holding at the prison sound inspired. It is true that these, too, are voices that rarely come into the light; yet we’re incomplete without them.
I saw a comic strip many years ago. It was a one panel drawing of a white man smelling roses. The words underneath it were “Poet at Work.” I clipped that and kept it for a long time because it rang true and made me laugh. I have been known to linger in fragrant flowers, give hugs to hearty trees, stare at stars and get loud about the gorgeousness of a crescent moon. Being suspended in the moment, present and available to the beauty that surrounds us, is something I see as being the job of the poet. I kept that comic strip for years, because it spoke to that part of the poet’s reality. And yet, if I could draw, I’d create another comic strip to go alongside that other one. There would be many panels. There would be a brown woman in them. In the first panel she’d be planting flowers on a block where there is nothing green, and she would have a child with her. In the next panel she would be standing in a room of 30 students writing the words: their, there, and they’re on the chalkboard (or maybe its and it’s). In the third panel she might be in a soup kitchen, at a rally, or folding laundry. She might be cooking dinner or helping a child with homework in the fourth panel. In the last one, she’d be looking into her beloved’s eyes. The caption underneath these panels would also read “Poet at Work.”
Ntozake Shange writes, “poetry is unavoidable connection.” Audre Lorde says, “Poetry is not a luxury.” Ruth Foreman writes, “Poetry should ride the bus.” In your case and mine, our poetry and the way we live are entwined.
When I was younger, I believed in the idea of a distant and mysterious muse. But now my muse is my mother and my daughters. My muse is my father and my grandparents. My muse is the earth and the homeless man pushing 20 pounds of stuff around in a shopping cart in the snow. My muse is music and love and the dances my husband and I do when the children are asleep. My muse is in my blood. It’s in everyone I encounter. I don’t disengage to write, for me writing is one of the ultimate forms of engagement.
Mariahadessa Ekere Tallie is Poetry Editor of African Voices. She has taught literature and composition at York College and Medgar Evers College, and been published in North American Review, Black Renaissance Noire, and elsewhere.