Report by Engram Wilkinson:
At approximately 7:03 pm Thursday night, as a crowd prepared themselves for Professor Peter Cooley’s introductory remarks for Tulane’s Fall 2011 Poet Laureate Series visiting poet Naomi Shibab Nye, the Lavin-Bernick Center’s fire alarms begin to sound. “Please evacuate the building,” an automated voice said over the Kendall Cram Ballroom’s speakers. The confused audience filed out, Ms. Nye laughing and commenting to a group of students: “It’s going to be an exciting evening.”
After the crowd stood outside the building for roughly twenty minutes waiting for the deactivation of what was later revealed to be a false alarm, Professors Cooley and Zachary Lazar escorted everyone back inside and to their seats. “Now we can begin,” said Professor Cooley, taking the stage.
He continued: “It’s a cliché in our time to say the personal is political, but in the work of Naomi Nye, author of more than thirty books, the personal is political is incarnational. Her poetry is a needed poetry.”
Nye thanked Professor Cooley before saying it was a “precious time” to be in the city of New Orleans. “It’s everyone’s favorite city!” she said, evoking head-nods from everyone in the audience. Before reading her poem “Every Window,” Nye read W.S. Merwin’s “Native Trees,” commenting also that she was glad “the building didn’t burn down.”
From here she read poems about her father, poems about lost pets, and a poem she was requested to write by prisoners she once taught in a workshop in an upstate New York prison. Entitled “Maximum Security,” Nye read: “There are one hundred ways we could go wrong/ and they are very close by.”
During the Question and Answer session, an audience member asked Nye about her poem “Kindness,” about Nye’s experiences in South America after being robbed in Colombia. Begins the poem “Before you know what kindness is/ you must lose things…” Nye continued to talk about her personal travels, saying that “when you write—or, when you experience kindness or grief—you’re learning how to carry a body of voices. We may lose things, but more continues to be given to us.”