Weapons of Article 2

By  the Blue ridge mountains of Virginia and surrounded by  Pine Virginia Tech is a peaceful university town.   It wakes in mist and sleeps with moonshine resting on Brush Mountain. The sun throws off its winter coat and spring brings blossom towards bloom.  It was the same beautiful weather   on 16th April 2007 when a student, an English Major, armed himself then  walked  into  his university   and in cold blood  killed students and teachers and then himself.  It was a sustained  attack.  Not one person died, nor two, nor ten,  but  thirty two.  It became known as  The Virginia Tech  Massacre. It is that English  department who have invited me here as visiting writer. They are strong.

In the midst of their  grief helicopters and film crews descended like vultures sensing  blood.  The town was besieged by hungry journalists. They’d  do anything to get a quote from the grief stricken.  “They  even dressed like  students.”  A young woman tells me  “A journalist  from NBC asked for an interview.   I refused and she looked at me and said spitefully   “You my dear have just lost your fifteen minutes of fame.”.   Up until then the student  was studying journalism.  That comment changed her life.

Tonight I’m at the Steger Poetry Prize. In its third year the prize  is open to any student on campus. It is headed by university distinguished professor and acclaimed author Nikki Giovanni . It is the same Nikki Giovanni who articulated the grief and pride of every Virginia Tech student past and present.    Here she is reading in front of George Bush and the world at The Virginia tech memorial on Tuesday April 17th 2007.    Poetry rises it’s fiersome head when all else  fails. Poetry bridges the gap between the spiritual and physical.  We read it at funerals because amongst death  it is the essence of ife.

This same evening in a different time zone actor  and friend Lisa Dwan  is reading  two new poems of mine on stage at Southbank centre,  London,  England.   Death In Custody and  Weapons of Article 2.  Various authors such as Jeanette Winterson and  Ali Smith  had their work read too.  Each of us  wrote on   an Article from    The Human Rights Act which we used as the inspiration for our  pieces.  Mine was Article Two,  The Right To Life.  

Bu here thousands of miles away from London at Virginia Tech  was my final engagement and the highlight of a week of highlights.   And it was my turn to be audience,  my turn to listen,  my turn to be moved.  The university president came.  Like the president of America he too lvoes poetry and sees its relevance to students and institution alike.

Both students and professors read  poems.  Shots of light coiled through the windows  and   finally  Nikki Giovanni   stood to read her poem. This woman, this incredibly powerful woman as contemporary as any poet a third of her age, who has more energy than those a third her age, whosse latest book of poetry is a New York Times Bestseller said “Lemn this poem is for you”.  I wasn’t expecting it.   And I wept.  The poem is called The Artist.

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