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Wednesday, August 3, 2011

A Poet on Stories

Yesterday I listened to a recording of poet Marilyn Nelson reading her poem "Lonely Eagles" on The Poetry Foundation podcast. The poem is about the Tuskegee Airmen, African-American pilots trained to fight in the Second World War.

Nelson's father was a Tuskegee Airman, but since he has already died, she has gathered the memories of others pilots. In setting up the poem, Nelson used a phrase which startled and pleased me. She said, "This story was given to me by Bert Wilson..."

"This story was given to me by...." NOT "This story was told to me by...."

How perfect is that phrasing? What we do when we tell stories to one another is give them. We give stories and the receiver can do with them what she wants: remember, forget, misremember, rewrite, give it to someone else, squelch it...... And what do we mean when we say, "Tell me a story"? Don't we mean "Give me a story, one of yours." And the giving doesn't decrease the story for the giver either, but rather strengthens it.

You can listen to Marilyn Nelson reading the poem based on the story given to her by Bert Nelson at the link above.

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