Poet Russell Goings Speaks About the Importance of Griot Songs in his Poetry in Panel Discussion

Submitted by Laura McDermott '10 on March 10, 2010

Freedom from structure. Freedom from form. Freedom from the limits of time. Poet Russell Goings has no problem breaking the mold in his poetry, as was made clear when he spoke at Fairfield University on the evening of Thursday, February 18th in the library multimedia room.

NPR Russell GoingsAuthor of The Children of Children Keep Coming, an epic poem drawing upon the influences of griot songs to creatively express African American history, Russell Goings has led an incredibly full and interesting life. He was the first African American to hold a seat on the New York Stock Exchange, played professional football for the Buffalo Bills, trained pilots for the U.S. Air Force, and founded Essence Magazine.

John Dankosky of WNPR News Radio facilitated the panel discussion about Goings’ unique style. The panel also included University of North Carolina Professor and folklorist of African American literature Glen Henson, as well as Fairfield English Professor Kim Bridgford who mentored Goings during the writing of The Children of Children Keep Coming.

To introduce the audience to his book, Goings read excerpts in his slow, soothing voice. The words from The Children of Children Keep Coming held a certain lyrical beauty.russell2

After the readings, when WNPR host John Dankosky asked Goings why he chose to write like a griot, Goings explained, “It’s not a sonnet, gospel, poem, or any of that. It’s the music that comes from the soul of who we are as African Americans. It has a spirit to it. I don’t want to be enslaved anymore, freedom! I don’t want to be stuck with the structure after all those years of being enslaved. I don’t want the European form, I want the black form. Does that make sense? I need to be free!”

Like Goings, Henson appreciates the griot, pointing out that times isn’t linear with the griot. For instance, Goings created a world which collapses time to evoke the power of the ancients. In a sense, the griot gives shout-outs to those who came before by making them a part of the present. The idea of the griot can even be seen in modern day hip-hop. Hip-hop often times consists of taking different parts of songs and putting them together, like a musical collage. In the mixing and matching, something new is always being created.

This panel was the first of a 3-part series for Fairfield dedicated to fostering discussion about Goings’ poetry. There’s no doubt that those who attended will be looking forward to more on-campus experiences of the charisma, grandeur, and the epic personality of Russell Goings.

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