Tuesday, November 8, 2011

A Poet's Heart

James Baldwin was inducted into the Poets Corner this week, only the 44th writer so honored in the space at Cathedral of Saint John the Divine (NYC).  Fitting as this was also the site of his memorial service which spilled out into the streets of the Upper West Side of Manhattan in 1987.

I remember standing outside with hundreds of others, milling around straining to hear any small thing, watching the notables who entered and being furious at the welcome accorded those who'd been so rude to Baldwin because he was gay and therefor 'unworthy' of carrying the torch for Black civil rights.  But nevertheless it was thrilling to know that Baldwin was so memorialized in that place...much as Black lesbian poet laureate Audre Lorde was less than a decade later.

Although Baldwin wrote only one book of poetry, JIMMY'S BLUES, the truth is that most of his work was poetry.  His heart was infused with the metaphor and magic of poetry; his view of humankind was similarly imbued with a confidence that only a poet can have...that is a belief in the power of what is not there.  What is not on the page is part of what makes poetry brilliant.  Baldwin believed in the things that human being had not yet achieved.  

Baldwin had belief, despite his unblinking eye, and complex understanding of human frailty and our capacity for evil.  The spaces between the words that define who we are were quite clear to him and are what kept him from bitterness and what kept him writing.

His poet's heart made life worth living...for all of us.