by Katie Ford
We love the stories of flood and the few
told to prepare in advance by their god.
In that story, the saved are
always us, meaning:
whoever holds the book.
From Colosseum (Graywolf), copyright 2008 Katie Ford
Sonya Posmentier writes:
I’ve chosen this poem from Katie Ford’s Colosseum in honor of hurricane season. Ford’s book is one of a few recent poetry collections responding to Hurricane Katrina—see also, Ray McDaniel’s Saltwater Empire and Patricia Smith’s Blood Dazzler. In different ways, these books all engage the question of whose experience is this, or whose story is this to tell. Ford’s beautifully compressed poem seems to ask not only about who gets to tell the story, but who gets to read it. The poem binds the speaker-poet and the reader into an empowered “We.”
What does the conclusion of the poem suggest about the power of holding “the book”? It’s hard not to picture Prospero, here. Is this about literacy–either in a literal sense or in some broader cultural sense?
What do you think about Ford’s turn to the universal, on the one hand (“stories of flood”) and, on the other, to the particular biblical story implied by the title? What does it mean to contextualize Katrina in this way?
Sonya this is such a powerful little poem. I don’t know the collection, I’m ashamed to say, but that last line is so interesting in contrast to the “their” God of the first line. I feel like I am being scolded for my lack of knowledge of this poem and this body of poems about the flood, that the poem is telling me about my own culturally conditioned forgetting of the Katrina disaster, of all of those who were not saved because of the political hierarchies of information that prevented their saving, their timely warning, our timely understanding of the events. I am reading this poem as a contextualization not only of Katrina, but of post-Katrina awareness of the way that information about the disaster circulates and is almost already forgotten. So the answer to “who writes the book” then could be these poets you list, and we are (I am) being saved by turning toward a certain kind of remembrance rather than turning away from it. Thank you for this.