by NONA BLYTH CLOUD
I’ve read a lot of statements by writers about writing, and they are all true, but many of them are only true for that one writer and their particular ‘process.’
I like this comment by Nikki Giovanni (1943 – ), because I think it’s about the writers you keep coming back to, the ones who can still give you something at 50 that you never saw when you first read them at 18:
“I want to be clear about this. If you wrote from experience, you’d get maybe one book, maybe three poems. Writers write from empathy.”
It’s rare to find a young writer who writes from empathy. Most people, including writers, start out pretty self-obsessed, and English teachers have been reinforcing that for decades by telling their students to “write what you know.” It’s as good place as any to start, but most of us don’t know all that much in our teens and twenties, so many promising writers quickly run out of material, and go dry.
Nikki Giovanni was a kid in the 1950s, and “came of age” in the 1960s, which shifted from the uptight clothing and button-down minds of the 1950s to the idealism worn like a mantle by the Kennedys’ Best and Brightest, to voter registration and civil rights, the anti-war protests and the women’s movement. Ideas and emotions exploded.
In this poem, she looks back at the happy little girl she was, exploring the worlds in the books she eagerly checks out from the library:
My First Memory (of Librarians)
This is my first memory:
A big room with heavy wooden tables that sat on a creaky
A line of green shades—bankers’ lights—down the center
Heavy oak chairs that were too low or maybe I was simply
For me to sit in and read
So my first book was always big
In the foyer up four steps a semi-circle desk presided
To the left side the card catalogue
On the right newspapers draped over what looked like
a quilt rack
Magazines face out from the wall
The welcoming smile of my librarian
The anticipation in my heart
All those books—another world—just waiting
At my fingertips.