Wednesday, February 23, 2011

All history is in that skin

"The first thing you do as a Black poet is unzip the suit of your Black skin and walk away from it. The second thing you do as a poet is find that suit of yours and step right back into it. That suit paints behind your eyelids so you see it when you dream. That suit is osmotic: it lets out sweat, breathes for you and keeps out the elements. All history is in that skin. Poetry plays your skin like an instrument—listen, touch, taste, look, and sniff. Dream skin. Skin song. Human."

—Fred D'Aguiar, author of The Longest Memory and Continental Shelf


I first ran across Fred D'Aguiar's work when I was editing a collection of writing on the Black family. I fell in love with a short story he wrote about his parents' courtship in a small village in Guyana, and I wondered why I had never heard his name. British-born, he lived in Guyana then England during his formative years, then moved to America and now teaches Creative Writing at Virginia Tech. He's won numerous prestigious prizes for his novels and his poems.

But it is his beautiful face that intrigues me today, and not just because he resembles my family. I look at his picture and see a stillness in him, an acceptance of what is known and what is unknown, a surrender that is both power and peace. He trained as a psychiatric nurse before becoming a poet. This makes perfect sense to me.


  1. When I look at that picture I really can't concentrate on the words. Those eyes- I could look into them forever and nothing would ever be the same again. And I do not mean this in a sexual way at all (although of course, he is gorgeous). I mean this in a those-eyes-are-a-portal-into-the-soul-of-the-world way.

  2. He IS beautiful -- something soulful that emanates from him. Thank you for telling us about him -- I look forward to reading some of his poetry and learning more.

  3. Ms. Moon, you look at the world with such eyes, which is why you knew at once what this picture was about. Yes, he's beautiful. But it's the promise of answers that draws us deep down into those eyes. He's a fine, fine writer, too.

  4. Elizabeth, i hope you enjoy his work. I know you're a reader.

  5. You have greater confidence in photos than me. The photographer puts his or her own gloss on the scene. It's not that what you say isn't so - just that the photo doesn't prove it.

    I like the quote. Although it may be speaking something on behalf of all black people, it also speaks for each individual who is comfortable in his or her own skin; comfortable with themselves completely. In that, it is an encouragement - and enticement to 'become'.


  6. Lucy, what matters more to me is not the intent or the particular gloss of the photographer, but what I take from the image, the way the photo speaks to me. In that sense, there is no one objective truth, and therefore no need to "prove" any particular version of a truth. This idea can also be applied to your sense of the universality of the quote, a sense I happen to share, but that, too, is in the eye of the beholder!

  7. What I see in his eyes is humanity, and kindness, and a sort of pleading to be heard for much more than what is on the outside.

    And I agree, Angella. An image is less about the photographer's intent, and more about the feelings that it evokes in you. It is like any other art form. Very subjective.

    I hope that you are doing well, dear one. I think about you often.


  8. We do have twin posts today! Wow, what a wonderful photo. Now, I must find some of D'Aguiar's poetry.

  9. Debra W, thank you, dear friend, for sharing what this evokes for you. I think it is impossible not to bring ourselves to art and that may be why it compels us so. Much love.

  10. Tess, I had posted one of his book covers, but i took it down, because really it wasn't about the contents of any particular book of his. truly, it was about those eyes staring out at you.

    so, not quite twins anymore, but the same category of inspiration all the same!


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