Behind the Scenes: Picking Poems
Nancy Rosenbaum, associate producer
This week’s show, “Black and Universal” with poet E. Ethelbert Miller, features a rich smattering of readings — from The Autobiography of Malcolm X to the poetry of Lucille Clifton, and some poems by Miller himself.
We spent a lot of time deliberating about these selections: which ones to include, how long they should be, who should voice them (Krista? Our managing producer Kate? An outside reader?).
Lucille Clifton’s “won’t you celebrate with me” is one of the poems that made the final cut. The poem is short, easy for a listener to grasp, and flows nicely out of Miller’s musings about blackness, beauty, and Michelle Obama. Here’s the clincher that sealed the deal: audio of Clifton reading the poem in her own voice. The power of her delivery took those words on the page to a whole new level.
We also considered Elizabeth Alexander’s poem “John Col” for this same slot in the show. Alexander explores the wrought beauty of John Coltrane’s music — music that has influenced Miller personally and poetically. Kate was particularly enamored with this poem, and it’s one of my all-time favorites. I especially like these lines and how they read like Coltrane’s music sounds:
a terrible beau-
ty a terrible
beauty a terrible
beauty a horn