Portrait of Author, Annie Finch with her hands folded
Wikimedia Commons

Many people believe the veil between the worlds is most thin around this time of year. Even if I did not already hold that view, I would have fully agreed with it by the time I left “Poems, Spells, Curses: A Halloween Poetry Performance with Annie Finch.” 

The event’s power came as much from the talent of the acclaimed poet herself as from the context in which it took place. LaPop Cultural Salon in Adams Morgan is a hidden jewel of a venue — but the context of which I speak is broader still. Within the handful of days leading up to the performance, Annie Finch endured the loss of her sister, Dabney Finch, and the passing of her mentor and teacher, Ntozaki Shange. The latter, a world-renowned poet and visionary, had planned to attend Annie’s poetry reading Monday night. 

It is unlikely anyone would have expected Annie to be able to perform in the wake of such recent and profound emotional devastation. Throughout the day I checked online for any sign of event cancellation. But as I entered the candlelit atmosphere of the underground cultural salon, there she stood.   

Annie Finch is described by the Dictionary of Literary Biography as “one of the central figures in Contemporary American poetry,” so as you might expect, the performance was brilliant. The self-described “poetry witch” invoked the presence of her most recent and honored ancestors and invited audience members to do the same. The five directions were acknowledged and, with ceremonial urgency, words of power emanated from the much-honored poetess. Her regal, jade-colored cape cascaded to the floor as she enchanted us all, seen and unseen. We traveled between the worlds and the words, between verse and spell and woman-protecting curse. I was reminded that even if we cannot always have the reality we want, we can, at least, imagine it.  

For all of the mystical elements of my experience that evening, the most miraculous part to me is that Annie Finch managed to be there at all. In a time when the world has so much cause to grieve, the most crucial lesson of all may be how to stand in the midst of our loss and dare to live creatively, even as we mourn. 

Annie Finch is currently leading a six-week poetry workshop on Monday nights at LaPop Cultural Salon in Adams Morgan.