Who comforts you now?

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Poet Rita Dove: Photo © by Fred Viebahn. Copied, with permission, from Rita Dove’s homepage at http://www.people.virginia.edu/~rfd4b/

Who comforts you now that the wheel has broken

the bodies of its makers? Beyond the smoke and
ashes, what you hear rising is nothing but the wind.
Who comforts you? Now that the wheel has broken,

grief is the constant. Hope: the last word spoken.

Rita Dove (from Testimony: 1968)

It’s been a minute. Or, many minutes over several days, minutes made long and weighty—even by coronavirus standards—by the turmoil raging across the U.S., in cities as close as Washington, D.C., and as close to my heart as Richmond, Virginia, and Cleveland. Racial turmoil that’s been roiling since, well, always in America, has erupted in protests.

And so the world grieves, again, more. But then, for many Black Americans grieving over human and civil rights injustices and violence is a constant. We writers like to tout our empathy, but while I’ve known grief, I’ve never known a grief that never subsides. So, what do I know?

As a reader and writer my instinct is to do just that: read and write. I read to know what I don’t know. I write to figure out what I do know and to raise new questions. And repeat. But between the reading and writing, we’re engaging—not just with text in an academic lit-crit way, but with the human being behind the words.

To engage with the community of readers and writers in the American Rust Belt and beyond is why I started this blog more than four years ago. I hope to keep this up, because I love connecting readers with the writers behind some of the literature I love most—poets (like Akron, Ohio, native Rita Dove, above), novelists, essayists, and memoirists—from a place I left behind but am still drawn to.

This blog is not a big platform, and my voice is small, but we bloggers do have the power to amplify the voices of Black writers and poets. There are many ways to do this. First, read Black authors. Thank you to novelist Courtney Maum for making me aware of a couple helpful hashtags to hone in on books for all ages by Black authors: #BlackBookReleases and #ReadingBlack.

If you’re looking to make taller your TBR, here’s a list of highly-anticipated 2020 releases by Black authors. If you’re a regular follower of this blog, you might expect that the 2020 release I’m most excited about this year is Ross Gay’s Be Holding: A Poem. Put a new book on your TBR today. Buy books, and buy them from Black-owned bookstores, if you can. Review these books. Share the work of Black authors whose work you love. I’ve been doing that over at my FB page. Maybe join me there?

Most of the poets and writers I’ve interviewed for Rust Belt Girl I met at literary festivals and readings, oftentimes fairly homogeneous events, if I’m honest. For my part, I aim to seek out more Black voices from my native Rust Belt to feature here. If you consider yourself among this group, I hope you’ll reach out when you can.

Keep safe and sane, everybody, and keep the stories coming.

With hope,

Rebecca

My interview with award-winning poet Teri Ellen Cross Davis

I’ve developed a love affair with poetry this year. So, I found Teri Ellen Cross Davis’ poetry collection, HAINT, at just the right time. I met the author at a recent literary conference and was delighted to discover that she too grew up in Northeast Ohio. Names and images of our home set the stage in her poems of childhood, such as “East 149th Street (Symphony for a Black Girl)” and “Akron at Night,” but many more of her poems present a powerful universal ode to girlhood, adolescence, and adulthood as a woman seeking love. Poet Ross Gay, another Northeast Ohio native, said of HAINT, “Although heartbreak is the origin of so many of these poems, it’s love that makes them go. Love to which they plead and aspire and pray.”

Teri was kind and generous enough to tell me more about what makes her poetry–and life–“go.”

Read more