Last night Nikky Finney was awarded the 2011 National Book Award for her collection, Head Off & Split. Inside the crisp white cover is the first of three sections: The Hard-Headed. And this morning my fingers found their way through the first pages, past fish scales and seamstress pins and truth, to the poem, “Left.” I read and felt as though I'd been punched in the stomach. The kind of punch that brings you out of your chair to stand, still and breathless. To pause and then to realize that you're still alive while they're not. The three on that New Orleans rooftop. Another three for the 1,836. The kind of punch that leaves you winded and brought, once more, to your senses.
Pleas Help Pleas
Three words for the three stranded, the e already gone in the high waters.
Nikky Finney’s power rises and slaps. The shore I tumbled on as a child, strolled along as a young woman, the low levee of Lake Pontchartrain, has a different meaning. All changed by the uncompromising cameras, the way the nearly two thousand were left to their own. The poetry calls it up again, and the water lines are clear again.
Awarded the National Book Award for Poetry, for the book that gives voice to the many who have been silenced. Strong stuff. This poet has words in her pockets and her pockets are deep. We are not done hearing from Nikky Finney. It is a sure thing that she has plenty more to say and I for one am waiting for her next exclamation, her next whisper.
Her acceptance speech, a poem unto itself, a slew of incredible gratitude and veritas, is a hint of what is to come. What a woman of words. Again, I am reeling.
Video of 2011 NBA acceptance speeches: