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Keep Up with the Essay One Paragraph at a Time

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February 23, 2024


from “Hotbed 66”

in Love Child’s Hotbed of Occasional Poetry: Poems & Artifacts

by Nikky Finney


“Hotbed:  An area of decaying organic matter, heated earth, a soil environment, enclosed in glass, fermenting, used for the germination of seeds, favoring rapid growth.”—Nikky Finney


Nikky Finney’s publisher writes: “Love Child’s Hotbed of Occasional Poetry is a twenty-first-century paean to the sterling love songs humming throughout four hundred years of black American life. National Book Award winner Nikky Finney’s fifth collection contains lighthouse poems, narrative hotbeds, and treasured artifacts—copper coins struck from a new matrix for poetry, one that testifies from the witness stand and punctuates the occasional lyric within a new language of ‘docu-poetry.’”


Finney describes the contents of her collection as “minglements.”


Our Paragraph of the Week is “Hotbed 66,”  a tribute to the woman who spotted the Mother Emanuel Church murderer and alerted police and an indictment of a society that allows such racially motivated gun tragedies happen.

The Paragraph of the Week


They tell me that she spent her days staring at the eyes of peonies, the fragile skin of day lilies, the open mouths of daffodils, the waxy and waning winks and pinks of peace lilies. I'm telling you this woman knew flowers. They say she was driving to work when she saw him, or did they say she was delivering a bouquet of fresh cut flowers to someone on their birthday, or had just come from the door of some sweet couple's fiftieth anniversary? I can't remember all of that right now. All I can think about is what she must have known about flowers before this moment began. I know she was a woman out on the road driving and paying very close attention to the world around her. She was also a woman who did not look away when she saw his soup-bowl haircut pass by one lane over. Was his upside-down empty vase of a neck the giveaway? In the car that was not going too fast and not going too slow. In the car that had a backseat. Was the backseat where he put the gun that he had just used to kill the nine praying sunflowers of Mother Emanuel? Or was the gun there in the front seat with him? By then, back in Charleston the nine passion flowers were slumped on the basement floor inside the church. The nine calla lilies had been snapped in two. She saw his funny haircut and quickly recognized him as the one who had just taken the lives of the nine human beings, in mid and full bloom, who had welcomed him, called him son, invited him to sit and be with them in the name of the Father, the Son, the Holy Ghost. Twelve fragrant gardenias had welcomed him to their circle and the flower lady was the one who recognized the long flowerless vase of his neck and made the call. What did she say on that phone? Hello. I'm calling to report a sighting. That young man you are looking for... who shot up that church... he's here on the highway with me... a black Hyundai. I know it's him, he's covered in pollen.


–Nikky Finney



Throughout the poems and hotbeds of prose that make up Love Child’s Hotbed of Occasional Poetry, Nikky Finney uses the language of a master of ceremonies to guide her readers. In “Hotbed 66” the MC introduces us to the woman who turned in the Mother Emanuel Church murderer and directs our attention to center stage. “I'm telling you this woman knew flowers.” The rest of the paragraph is pure hotbed: words planted in “decaying organic matter, heated earth, a soil environment, enclosed in glass, fermenting, used for the germination of seeds, favoring rapid growth.” I am deep in the sultry box of all the poetry that prose can muster as “waxy” evolves in a sequence of shifting vowels and consonants to become “lilies”: “waxy and waning winks and pinks of peace lilies.” I see it in the “upside-down empty vase” of the killer’s neck as he drives with apparent calm past the “flower lady.” Words from the hotbed stir me when I try to see the “gun that he had just used to kill the nine praying sunflowers of Mother Emanuel?” And because images bowed heavy on hotbed stems are unforgettable, how can I unsee “back in Charleston the nine passion flowers...slumped on the basement floor inside the church?” How do I unhear “the nine calla lilies...snapped in two.”  How do I unknow the lost “lives of the nine human beings, in mid and full bloom, who had welcomed him, called him son, invited him to sit and be with them in the name of the Father, the Son, the Holy Ghost.” How do I get the stench of gardenias out of my nose. And what, by God, do I do with all this pollen?



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and The Humble Essayist

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Click the blue button for weekly reminders.

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News from The Humble Essayist Press


Beware poets writing prose? Nah. Check out the new releases from The Humble Essayist Press! Essay collections by two award-winning poets. Learn more here.

Return to main feature here.

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The Beloved Republic Review

Thanks to Tarn Wilson for her review of The Beloved Republic at the  River Teeth website. She writes: “In his titular essay 'The Beloved Republic,' Harvey makes this heartening promise to those who feel worried and wearied, helpless in the face of 'war and tyranny,' that by devoting ourselves to lives of steady kindness, creativity, and friendship we are joining an invisible, benevolent army.” Read the full review here.

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Thanks to Brevity magazine for publishing the short prose piece “The Hermit Thrush.”

You can read the entire piece at Brevity here.

Hunger Mountain

Thanks to Hunger Mountain for publishing “Aubade,” my exploration of perception in lyric prose. It begins with this epigraph from the artist Paul Cézanne: “The landscape thinks itself in me and I am its consciousness.” 


You can read the entire brief piece here.

Zone 3 Interview on The Beloved Republic


Thanks to Amy Wright and the folks at Zone 3 for granting me an interview about my new book. Amy reads with discernment, asks great and surprising questions, and listens carefully to the answers. Check out the question she opens with in the sidebar--it goes right to the heart of the matter! See the full interview here.

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The Beloved Republic by Steven Harvey

Available at Bookstores and Online

See more at the author's website and check out our video trailers here.

Trailer One

Trailer Two

The Beloved Republic

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The Beloved Republic


I am pleased to announce that my fourth collection of personal essays  won the Wandering Aengus Press nonfiction award and has been nominated for two PushcartsThanks to the Press for this honor.

What is the Beloved Republic? E. M. Forster, who coined the phrase, called it “an aristocracy of the sensitive, the considerate, and the plucky” who “have the power to endure” and “can take a joke.” Pitted against authoritarianism, the Beloved Republic is the peaceful and fragile confederacy of kind, benevolent, and creative people in a world of tyrants, thugs, and loud-mouthed bullies. Taking Forster’s phrase for its title, my book can be read as dispatches from that besieged land.

Available online and at bookstores. Learn  more at the author's website 

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Folly Beach 

Folly Beach is a book-length personal essay about easing fears of mortality and loss through creativity. It never loses sight of the inevitable losses that life brings, but doesn't let loss have the last word.  In the face of the grim, Folly Beach holds up the human capacity to create as our sufficient joy.


In a world of loss, creativity is the best revenge.

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Follow on Goodreads

and write a review.

You can learn more about the recent work of Steven Harvey at his author's page here.

THE Mission

We at The Humble Essayist are in love with the paragraph, that lowliest of literary techniques.  A sentence stands out as a noble thing: a complete thought.  But what is a paragraph?  And what, in particular, is a good one?  You know it when you read it--that is our article of faith.  So on Friday of each week, beginning on Independence Day 2014, the very day 169 years earlier that Henry Thoreau moved to Walden Pond, we will select a single paragraph from an essay or a reflective memoir and print it here along with a paragraph of commentary.   We will choose paragraphs that are surprising, beautifully written, and, above all, thematic--illuminating the author's comment on life.  Each paragraph of the week is, in short, a concise review of the writer's work.  We hope that this page will introduce you to many exciting authors and their ideas.


The Humble Essayist thanks Clipartpal for the public domain artwork of "The Old Man Reading" that is the logo for the site.

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