A word for me (PoemTalk #148)

Erica Hunt, 'Should You Find Me'

From left: Tyrone Williams, William J. Harris, Aldon Nielsen, Erica Hunt


Tyrone Williams, William J. (Billy Joe) Harris, Aldon Nielsen, and Erica Hunt joined Al Filreis — host, producer, and moderator — for a live presentation of a special episode of PoemTalk before an audience gathered in the Arts Café of the Kelly Writers House back in November 2019. They discussed many of Erica Hunt’s concerns, across her poetry and her work as public intellectual and activist, by way of a single poem called “Should You Find Me.” It is the final poem, and — the group comes to agree — the coda to the book Time Slips Right Before Your Eyes, published by Belladonna* in 2006. The full, unedited lunchtime discussion is available as a video recording (below). Click the image of the text to view a full-sized reproduction of the poem.

Who is the you in the title and the refrain? It might be us, those who witness the speaker’s efforts to look at herself in family photographs that pre-date her. You could also be herself. That would be a developed, succeeding you, the self presenting herself in the present of the poem — an identity formed by the family and by the family’s stories as they are re-told through archived images. As we begin to locate the speaker in the meta-photographic poem, we discern her in the process of finding herself. After working through this complex second-person address, the group contemplates the power of this special kind of finding as it increases through the course of the poem. We note that insofar as such power is gained, the speaker can turn to ask herself: Where do you belong, if at all, in the socio-economic, post-design world of both “residential grids” and “tear-downs”? How might the speaker-who-relearns-her-own-name cancel the threatened “cancellations of futurity”? By posing this question, the very supposition “Should You Find Me” radicalizes self-renaming. It is generative work requiring the “long view” promised in the final stanza. It augurs not quite hope, perhaps, so much as a commitment to qualities of generational and epochal endurance and patience, and to the work of self-conscious familial and social finding.

The technical genius managing audio and video recordings and a simultaneous livestream of the event at the time, and the episodes editor as well, is Zach Carduner. Zach was assisted by Kelly Writers House staffer Madeleine Song.

A reading was given by Erica Hunt on the evening of the day (November 14, 2019) we recorded our PoemTalk discussion. Here is a video recording of that reading: