Uchechi Kalu

Today a friend reminded me that one of my poems  should be out there, listened to and heard.  And, I agree with him! With all the talk going on about the recently crowned Miss America, Nina Davuluri, I am reminded of just how powerful art can be in the face of fear.  He recommended the audio recording of  my poem, Hyphen-American, be listened to as part of the dialogue on racism. Listen, enjoy and share!

Sep 17
Art is powerful in the face of fear. Listen to Hyphen American, for Nina Davuluri and for all of us.

Today I got some really good news. It was the kind of news that every poet hopes for, but it was also the kind of news that leaves you lying on the cold floor and unable to blink because you have just realized that your life is unfolding before you in a most humble gesture of grace.
My second book of poetry is not yet published, but it will be soon. In the meantime, I have been sending it out for review and today I got one that moved me so much.  As I lay there on the bare concrete floor, I thought about my fellow poet and friend whose words will soon be on the back of my book. 

What he wrote was powerful because I believe he understood what I was saying in all of my poems, but they were even more meaningful to me because although he knows I’ve read his work, he does not know that he saved me with a line break.

If you are reading this and chuckling to yourself or nodding your head at this very moment, you know what I mean so clearly that you can probably remember where you were and what you were reading when this happened to you.

I was 18 years old, freshly deposited on my college campus after escaping a place where things did not grow, which was my parent’s home. That first year, I found my way to June Jordan’s Poetry for the People program, and I was immediately struck by the language of the poets jumping off the page and into my head. Growing up, I was surrounded by books and that’s where I found solace when everything around me was falling apart. I read a few of my mother’s poetry books and what I could not find in her library, I searched for in the public library. I did not know it then, but my life would be saved by a line break.

During those days when I prayed my way out of my father’s hands, my older brother’s rage and my mother’s inability to face any of it, I clasped my hands in prayer and read poetry as my Bible.

And once I found myself engrossed in books of poetry from around the world and people who were devoted to changing the world with words, I found writers who were so intentional and compelling with their language. How could I not want to write like that? And today, I received a book review from one of the very writers who shaped me early on.  Who, without knowing it, saved my life with a line break. 

That first year of college, I was telling stories about my past for the very first time. I was surrounded by people who wanted to hear about my journey and about what I’d seen. It was like sitting around a campfire and baring it all while also bearing witness to what was true for others.  It was in those first few years of adulthood that I learned just how poetry could reconstruct a life, and piece it back together. It was then that I understood what it meant to really be alive.

As poets, we have an incredible opportunity to share our stories in a way that forces us to examine our words for the sake of maximal impact and minimal words. We don’t have 300 pages to say what we need to say. Usually, we have a page, maybe two and sometimes five if this is what we must do to be true to what must be expressed and the honesty of our work.

I think this opportunity is also a responsibility, for which I will always be grateful.  After all, I believe in sharing what I know and where I’ve been not because my words matter more than those of others. It is simply because if I do not find a way to say it, then no one will be able to tell my own particular story in the way I tell it, which means someone else whose life could have been saved by intentional and lyrical placement of words may not have that chance. So, today was a day I will never forget. 

Actually, it made me think of people who  survive organ transplants and one day get to meet the person who donated that organ and gave them life, once again.  And, to all the poets who are doubting if they should share their stories with this craft called poetry, I do believe that there are other people out there waiting to read what you have written just for them. And the funny thing is, you don’t even know it. When moments of doubt come, remember that putting down that first line will change you and also have the ability to change someone else. Now, if that’s not a powerful life calling to have, I don’t know what is!

I can imagine that many of you have had this moment.  Can you remember where you were and who you were reading when you did? Did a line break or a stanza save your life?  I’d love to hear your thoughts!

Sep 16
Has anyone ever saved your life with a line break?
Words that inspire me everyday. From my late brother Emmanuel.  I think the the last piece of advice is my favorite. It says, “Don’t back down from any opportunity.”
Jun 23

Words that inspire me everyday. From my late brother Emmanuel.  I think the the last piece of advice is my favorite. It says, “Don’t back down from any opportunity.”