Poet Sharan Strange: 'Unforgettable'

Poet Sharan Strange reads her poem Unforgettable. She is a professor of English at Spelman College in Atlanta, Ga., and author of Ash, a collection of poems.

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FARAI CHIDEYA, host:

From time to time, we bring you our Poet's Moment.

Professor SHARON STRANGE (Spelman College): My name is Sharon Strange, and this is my poem, "Unforgettable."

(Soundbite of "Unforgettable")

Ms. DINAH WASHINGTON: (Singing) Unforgettable. Ooh, that's what you are.

Prof. STRANGE: `Through that tinny corridor of 1950s orchestral arrangements, she sings full-throated, edgy honesty to some man unconcerned, skeptical, or too much fool to recognize what's elemental; beyond emotion, his vaunted inspiration, the music's lilting enclosure. Her sinewy solo barely insinuates him as addressee, its sax-blown wails soaring clear past the beloved through some god's grace, husky by Alabama clay dust, mellowed by booze, seeking perfection. Dinah, who dignified that name of archetypal kitchen slave, grounds the backup's warblings, her words enunciating feeling in valences of plaint and celebration. Husbands no more reliable than diets, blues lingered at the bottom of every glass. So while the music swoons, she fingers old aches, then plucks the ripened pain that needs release, the watery melody shimmering as the lyrics plunge through. From love's changes she's made alchemy of hurt and hype, ambition and regret.'

(Soundbite of "Unforgettable")

Ms. WASHINGTON: (Singing) That's why, darling, it's incredible that someone so unforgettable...

Prof. STRANGE: `Though he's likely to forget, already has, her voice distills the signature sharpness of a deeper longing, but not for romance. What good is a memory dulled by sweetness?'

(Soundbite of "Unforgettable")

Ms. WASHINGTON: (Singing) Please, won't you think that I am unforgettable, too.

Prof. STRANGE: I wrote the poem "Unforgettable" after listening to the recording by Dinah Washington, and in that recording I was struck by how there was a kind of tension between the music and the lyrics as she sang them. To me, her voice sounded hard and sort of haughty against the sweet cooing of the music. From what I know about her life, her life also kind of had a tension to it. It had a kind of double-edge quality. Although she was a successful and legendary artist, her personal life was full of struggle. And for me, Dinah Washington's style was one of dramatic presentation of the lyrics, and the beauty of that style was that no matter what the music did, she made the lyrics memorable. She didn't dissolve into sweetness. And for me, her sound was incredibly knowing and incredibly alive--and unforgettable.

(Soundbite of "Unforgettable")

Ms. WASHINGTON: (Singing) Unforgettable...

CHIDEYA: Writer Sharon Strange reading her poem "Unforgettable." Strange is a professor of English at Spelman College in Atlanta, Georgia. Her collection of poems is titled "Ash."

(Soundbite of "Unforgettable")

Ms. WASHINGTON: (Singing) Like a song of love that clings to me...

(Credits)

CHIDEYA: To listen to the show, visit npr.org. NEWS & NOTES was created by NPR News and the African-American Public Radio Consortium.

(Soundbite of "Unforgettable")

Ms. WASHINGTON: (Singing) ...ooh, in every way...

CHIDEYA: I'm Farai Chideya. Ed Gordon will back on Monday.

This is NEWS & NOTES.

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