Walter Mosely on Nikki Finney
I was very happy when I was called by the Poetry Society and asked if I would like to present a poet that I admired. Happy for a few reasons: 1) was that I could possibly help to bring the Poetry Society closer to my poetry love Cave Canem; 2) was so I could become better acquainted with a poet that I've admired from afar for a few years now—Nikky Finney; and 3) so I could cast the net of the Poetry Society beyond the seemingly endless borders of New York City.
I'll tell you a little bit about myself so that you might understand my choice of poets.
I studied poetry for years under the tutelage first of Molly Peacock and then William Matthews—both past presidents of the PSA. I'm a really rotten poet, but I learned a great deal from these two generous souls. I found that understanding the rules and goals of poetry brings one very close to knowing all there is to know about writing fiction. I also realized a few things that have nothing to do with my chosen profession.
One thing I discovered was that poetry is telling someone something they know and in doing so you also tell them something they don't know, often by using surprising realization. You might even tell someone something that they once knew but forgot and, doing that, you connect with the unconscious or what someone forgot that they forgot.
Poetry contains the magic of language, the ache of truth, and the possibility of entering a world where the rules play hide and seek with your sense of being.
A poem, when it works, is a rolling realization of ideas and emotions that bring you somewhere you've never been with a sense of familiarity that opens up a whole new world right there in your mind.
Nikky Finney has done all of these things for me. In backyards and back roads, in a redneck's reality, or in me, the only child, now crowded in a small bed with three siblings. She has flung me into an afterbirth of stars and made my stiff bones as loose as jelly.
Molly and Bill also taught me that poetry is not an intelligence test. It isn't bound only by verbal smarts or the mathematical mastering of meter. Poetry, they always said, is a gift. Some have the knack of making lines work like colors and notes and shadows and words that fold in on themselves becoming something else as they transform. Some people, like me, and you here tonight, receive that gift
Nikky Finney taught me that my suspicions about who I am might be true. She brought me back home to the South and said welcome. She became my guide and my protector and my joy on the dangerous back roads of America's hidden passions.
But for all that I don't really know Nikky. Every now and then I find myself in a room and there's a stage and there she is reading poems, pulling me out of myself and bringing me home. Poetry can be many things, maybe it can be anything, but one thing I know is that it can bring you home.
That's why when I was asked who would I like to present Nikky Finney was my only choice. She opens all of my doors and windows and airs me out with a cold and truthful wind.
(On September 18th, 2002, Walter Mosley introduced Nikky Finney at The Bowery Poetry Club. Originally published in Crossroads, Fall 2002.)