The Gregory Hines Poems: Hearing The Message in Everything

During the ice storm that started Friday, I’ve been binge watching TV series and movies between meeting freelance deadlines and pushing out some short poems for my friend Jodi Barnes14 Words for Love. I don’t know that I will post these poems, but I always follow along for the continued practice of putting words on paper. It keeps me sharp.


The binge session this weekend has been a swift reminder that sometimes, you will keep getting the same message from your own life until you heed it.


Visit Phil's site:

Gregory Hines rendering by artist Phil Hansen, who paints with his feet.


I keep thinking how wonderfully strange it is that the Universe chooses to keep sending you the same message until you get it. I talked to an Atlanta-based poet friend, Teri Elam, near the end of the year, and our discussion centered around how she has decided to really commit to her craft. Teri has always been a poet, but this role has not always taken center stage in her life. We talked about a poetry manuscript I have been holding on to for more than a decade. It’s about the life (real and imagined) of Gregory Hines, who remains a major inspiration for me. I won’t get into all the irrational reasons I have not been able to let this book go and grow its own wings. I will just say that this conversation with Teri was the first nudge the Universe gave me to make time for it.


About three weeks after this conversation, another poet friend Cecilia Woloch posted a video of Gregory Hines tapping with Sammy Davis, Bunny Briggs, the Nicholas brothers and other old school hoofers. Cecilia’s intention was to give me a nudge, she said. Everyone who sat around tables with me when those poems were being created never forgot them. Cecilia did not know she was part of a continuum of voices still urging this work into publication. The voice that has probably urged the loudest comes from poet Collin Kelley. No matter how large the domesticity and blood of my own life becomes, Collin always utters the words that make me remember my work as a poet and artist. Often, in the wilderness, this is the kind of love that saves you.



As February 14 approaches, I realize Gregory Hines would have been 70 this year. I watch videos of him in action like the one I’ve added to this post, and I’m awed by his athleticism, love of craft, willingness to jump right onto a bare floor and make you follow a beat. If there was ever fear in him, the watching “we” never saw it.




Just as Mr. Hines inspired this entire manuscript that I seem to keep carrying in my heart, it appears he is pushing from the other side to get it into print (and other formats). He’s speaking through the folks who know me best.


As I was binge watching the Showtime series Nurse Jackie on Netflix, there was a scene in which the lead character peeks into a waiting room lounge and sees a clip of Shirley Temple tapping with Bill “Bojangles” Robinson. This character was trying to take mother-daughter tap classes with her daughter. For me, it was yet another nudge, the Universe now hitting me upside my head.


I pretended not to notice the strange look on my husband’s face when I said out loud “Dammit, I hear you.” I’ve put myself on an editing regimen to re-absorb at least a poem a week until I get through the whole thing (about 60 poems) … and let it go. Trust me, this is progress.



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