There are different moments when I’m in downtown Knoxville that I’m reminded of other cities I love. Recently at the French Market sitting outside on a crisp day enjoying a crepe and watching people walk by, Urban Woman and I heard the sounds of luggage clacking on the sidewalk and we smiled, immediately in Paris. I’ve had San Francisco moments and New Orleans moments. More recently, it was a New York moment.
Some years ago my family traveled to New York City. Urban Daughter was a teenager and, as such, her desires were simple: See a celebrity. Not just any celebrity, oh no, that would be too easy. She wanted to see Carson Daly who was doing his “Total Request Live” show on MTV. Without seeing him the trip would be a failure. I tried to explain that those sorts of things only happen on situation comedies. Real people like us don’t see celebrities on vacation. We checked into the Marriott Marquis and immediately hit the streets. Thirty seconds after leaving our hotel we saw a group of young girls looking up at a building. We followed their gaze and Carson Daly waved at us from the MTV studios. A New York moment.
April was National Poetry Month in case you didn’t know. I hope you caught some of the fine poets at Union Avenue Books. They featured several sprinkled throughout the month. Of course they love it every month and have an excellent poetry selection along with readings by local, regional and national poets at a minimum every third Sunday.
I was able to squeeze in the reading by R.B. Morris, local literatus. He read from his various books of poetry, with an emphasis on his most recent volume, Keeping the Bees Employed. It’s poetry that will take you down the streets of Fort Sanders and sometimes it will break your heart. I suspect Union Avenue Books has some signed copies in stock. Do R.B. and yourself a favor and pick up a copy.
But that wasn’t my New York moment. That came a weekend or so later on the day of the Chalk Walk. It just so happened that a certain delicious wine (Robert Mondavi Pinot Noir) was being sold and I had a friend who simply needed a glass. I bought hummus at Tomato Head (can’t go wrong) and we sat on the Market Square Stage enjoying fruits of the earth on a cool, overcast spring day surrounded by art at every turn. It can’t get better than that, right?
Yes, it certainly can for two people who love literature. As we looked out over the ocean of people making art, playing pianos scattered about the square, dancing and talking with friends, we turned where we sat and watched as one of my literary heroes approached the stage. She may be diminutive in stature, but she is a giant of the literary world and a voice of conscience for America: Nikki Giovanni strode purposefully through the very large crowd gathered to hear her.
Is it the largest crowd ever assembled on Market Square to hear a poet? That’s a question for Jack Neely, but it was heartening to see hundreds of people craning their necks for a better view of such an important writer. This came on the heals of one packed-house reading she’d already given at Union Avenue Books and another followed later that afternoon.
We didn’t have to crane our necks. She stood beside us and read her beautiful poetry. A Knoxville native, she read about Knoxville, about race, about America, about us. As is always the case when Nikki starts talking, there are likely people in the audience who become uncomfortable at some of her declarations. For me, she challenges my middle-aged white-bread view of the world and often expands it. She’s been doing it to me since I was in college.
It was cool seeing her share a laugh with Black Atticus off-stage. I also ran into her outside my house later (stalking me, Nikki?) and got a chance to talk to her privately. What a great day.
So, great wine, great food, surrounded by art on a beautiful spring day in the city and an absolute luminary walks up to give a reading for my pleasure. New York? No, just a scruffy little city feeling its way toward a very bright future.