You mention several times in your recent book--Overcoming Speechlessness—growing up in Georgia, in the Jim Crow South, and how that memory bonds you to this universal struggle for freedom of all people. What do you think of younger Americans who don't have a memory of Jim Crow and are cut off from what that American period was like?
It's all happening in our time. All you need to do is open your eyes. Someone right now is living my life 50 or 60 years ago in this country, today. If you are thinking you are separate in any way, just wander onto any reservation. Wander to any part of the ghetto or any streets on the back roads of Georgia. It's still there. And so I think we have to remind ourselves of this so we don't get caught in that path that we have to have had the exact experience of someone else. But frankly what poetry does is it shows us, it's a teacher that allows us to connect, emotionally, with people so profoundly that we don't have to have had their exact experience, we can just connect with them wherever they are and live today.
So there's really no need ever to feel that you can't understand something or other people. That you can't feel for other people just because you didn't grow up that way. You can and we must really keep our faith strong that we can empathize.
You can read the whole interview on The Atlantic website here.
What are your thoughts on the interview? Were you at the Split This Rock poetry festival? According to the lineup of featured poets, it was quite an event, and I'd love to hear from you about what it was like to be there.
Don’t you hear this hammer ring?
I’m gonna split this rock
And split it wide!
When I split this rock,
Stand by my side.
-from "Big Buddy," by Langston Hughes