By Doug Stern
Nikky Finney refers to herself and other poets as “keepers.”
In her talk at Friday afternoon’s IdeaFestival, the award-winning poet and professor at the University of Kentucky explained and demonstrated how she has used her craft to save and keep words and ways. Save them, as she described the theme of her talk, from extinction.
Ms. Finney, who won the coveted National Book Award for Poetry in November 2011, also proved the absolute correctness of featuring a poet and her work at a festival of ideas.
It’s easier to understand what makes the creative mind tick when we consider poetry’s affect on its readers and listeners.
The poet’s mind is a nimble thing, often able to see connections before others see them – connections between words and people and places and things – and able to foster this kind of seeing in others. Ms. Finney might say that it’s these connections where ideas and the seeds of ideas are conceived, live, and grow.
She’s part of a long and noble tradition. The poets of ancient Greece and Scandinavia and elsewhere were the pioneers of great ideas, and their circles were the incubators of language.
It’s also important to remember the practicality of the poet’s mind, remembering, for instance, that lawyer-turned-poet Archibald MacLeish was part of FDR’s Brain Trust and helped create the Office of Strategic Services, forerunner to the Central Intelligence Agency.
Ms. Finney dazzled the IF crowd, reading several pieces of her work.
She wove the theme of extinction through these four vignettes – four of the thousands of scenes she’s been saving and building for the past 40 years, ever since she started writing at age 14 in the little coastal South Carolina town of her birth.
She spoke, for example, of a recent drive back home to visit her family, barreling along through the Southern day and night, propelled by “blacktop desire.”
Afterward, Ms. Finney had a conversation with her audience, discussing topics that ranged from the process of writing poetry to the similarities between poetry and her childhood love of paleontology – begun when her mother bought her 9-year-old daughter a small book about dinosaurs, off a rack at the local Piggly Wiggly.
A book she carried with her to the IdeaFestival.
A book Ms. Finney calls the “map to her heart.”
About Doug Stern: Doug Stern is a Louisville-based freelance business writer-strategist. Contact Doug at doug(Replace this parenthesis with the @ sign)doug-stern.com or 502-459-2966.