by Mel Wells
The morning after her phenomenal lecture at the Arlene Schnitzer Concert Hall, Nikky Finney came with us to Roosevelt High School and visited with students who had read her work. Roosevelt’s librarian, Betsy Tighe, gave an enthusiastic introduction and then Finney held the students in rapt attention as she explained how she became a poet and why she was glad to be with them on a beautiful Wednesday in Portland. “I write to save things,” she said. “What would you save?”
Students raised their hands and told of long walks with grandparents. One spoke of seeing his great-grandfather walk on the beach with a cane. Finney would move her hands as they spoke, physically pulling for more details as though they were made of invisible rope. One student giggled nervously and continued to explain the texture and color of the sand. “The universal is in the details,” Finney explained, noting that we have all had similar experiences and will feel our own memories through someone else’s description of theirs.
“Tell the truth,” she admonished. “Write some hard things–that moves us closer to where we need to be as human beings.”