April is National Poetry Month. I’ve mentioned before that I haven’t always understood poetry, and that it has taken some very special poets to win me over to the medium. Last week I heard an interview on NPR’s Radio Times of Nnamdi Chukwuocha and Al Mills, the new poets laureate of Delaware, and I knew immediately that I had found two more poets to add to that list. There were several things that stood out to me from that interview that I wanted to share.
Firstly, their work is wonderfully written, and very easily transcends the genre of poetry and spoken word performance; even if you aren’t that into poetry per se, listening to Chukwuocha and Mills is an almost musical experience. In the interview linked above, they recite the poem “Why I Write” together (among others), and they way they use rhythm, timing, and speaking in unison takes you so immediately into the world they describe while also speaking to grander ideals. It is powerful, haunting, and deeply moving. Their recitation starts at about 3:20 minutes into the Radio Times interview.
Secondly, their collaborative spirit is interesting and inspiring. The pair are twin brothers, and they learned to write as a way of understanding each other. They say in the interview with Marty Moss-Coane that when they fought, their mother would have them write to each other to resolve their differences, and from there, they grew into problem-solving poets, continuing to use their poetry not just to communicate, but also to think and process. I am particularly taken with Mills’ description of how he uses writing to process his own thoughts; as reported on the twins’ official laureate website, Mills keeps a small journal of his negative thoughts, and counters it with a larger notebook full of positive reflections:
He carries, at all times, two journals. One, a pocket-size notepad, bears the burden of Al’s negative musings. Such thoughts, he has found, gather speed quickly; suddenly, he’ll notice, he has filled a page with angry thoughts.
And so, to provide himself balance, Al carries another, slightly larger, journal. It is reserved for positive reflections.
“That’s my struggle,” he says. “That’s what I do throughout the day — Look at that lady smiling! Look at her picking up her kid! — I’ll remember that, and I’ll jot that down. Look at the way this lady’s walking her dog! Those happy moments. Somebody in the car next to me at a stoplight, dancing.”
Thirdly, they live what they perform. As social workers, they don’t just use their work to inform their poetry, but they also use poetry in their social work. It speaks to an incredibly cohesive world view where the personal, the political, and the poetic come together. They use poetry to communicate, to help others communicate, and to express that which may not be easily captured without the imagery and transcendence of poetry.
For more of their work, check out their book Our Work, Our Words..: Taking the Guns from our Sons’ Hands.