If the ground could speak what would the ground say?
It was while walking on the New Haven Green that poet Elizabeth Alexander began wondering about the Amistad captives who had been jailed there so many years ago. A wondering that she eventually turned into an epic poem. A poem that helps us consider emotionally and intellectually something of that event, of its remarkable people.
Yesterday Elizabeth spent the day at my school. And yes, it was glorious.
She began with our 4th graders — focusing on the Amistad section in America Sublime. Since the story of the Amistad (through the eyes of one of the children — Sarah Margru Kinson) has been the focus of my writing and teaching for many years, listening to Elizabeth speak about this epic poem and reading selections from it was just incredibly wonderful. I loved the way she assumed the children could handle challenging language and ideas while also appreciating that they were children. She talked about the resilience of human beings and how she contemplated what it must have been like for the children on the journey to be in the presence of so much death — especially the death of those adults who had been caring for them. She spoke about filling the gaps in history, wondering how we will know what people were unable to tell us, and how empathy can help us.
Later she spoke to our 7th and 8th graders about the creative process, had lunch with faculty, and ended the day at our biweekly 4th-6th grade assembly, focusing on her YA collaboration with Marilyn Nelson, Miss Crandall’s School for Young Ladies & Little Misses of Color.
A chapbook of her inaugural poem was published yesterday and I was able to get the 4th grade team copies which Elizabeth graciously signed. She would have been wonderful for us even if she had not done the poem, but she did and somehow she represented for us yesterday all the hope we are feeling these days with the Obama presidency. Wondrous indeed.
My lovely 4th grade colleague Lesley Younge, Elizabeth and me.
Miss Crandall’s School for Young Ladies and Little Misses of Color