Author finds potent poetry in the blues

By Amalia Beckner

In honor of National Poetry Month, author Ronne Hartfield (A.M. ’82) spoke to a Swift Hall audience Wednesday about poetry’s healing capacity and the recurrence of this theme in blues music.

In her talk, entitled “The Words to Say It: Poetry, Perplexity, and the Blues,” Hartfield illustrated her theme by telling the story of a man who lost his memory to a brain tumor but maintained the ability to quote lengthy sections of poetry he had read throughout his life.

Hartfield also discussed the music composed by Etta James as she tried to overcome a drug addiction as well as works by W.S. Murwin and Marie Cardinal, all of which use poetry to highlight the expression of deep internal confusion. Poetry offers people a means of internal study and acceptance without having to look outside themselves, Hartfield said.

She also discussed people’s thoughts and conversations about poetry, addressing the idea that poetry exists in the interruption of a natural flow of movement. Blues music is one such interruption, she said. Nor is it simply the written word that makes poetry, but also the rhythm and the silences, as illustrated in the music of Joni Mitchell, Hartfield said. Poetry is a “collision of sound and silence,” an art perfected by a select few, she said.