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Shellie Moore Guy

This is Roald Tweet on Rock Island.

Ever since Shellie Moore Guy of Rock Island began writing poetry a few years ago, she has upset me. And I'm too old to be disturbed.

Shellie comes from a distinguished Rock Island family which includes Charlie Wilson, the first Black resident of Rock Island County, and Tim Moore, the vaudeville comedian from whom Red Foxx and others learned their techniques. Poems have given Shellie her own voice within this tradition.

I made the mistake of attending one of her poetry readings. Until then, I thought I had I had finally figured out what poetry was. Like most sixth-grade boys, I sat in the back row in school and learned to burp whenever the teacher dared to read a poem about love. I changed my mind about poetry in high school and ended up teaching it for the past forty years. I finally thought I knew what poetry was. I was comfortable sitting in my study looking for deeper meanings in Robert Frost.

Until I watched Shellie Moore Guy make her words come alive with her voice and her gestures. Her words and her body gave life to each other. Watching, I realized that those marks on the poetry pages of anthologies were not the real poems, as I once thought, but simply tracks. Just as deer tracks are not the animal itself. They are the marks by which we can track the poem down. The real poem is the poet herself.

That evening was only the beginning of a series of disturbances provoked by Shellie Guy. Shellie insists that everyone around her create poems. She directs a Tribal Team Poetry group, is founder of the Moore Power Network, and the Black Arts Collage in which students throughout Rock Island perform their own poems. Poetry, Shellie says, is communal and universal. “Everyone is a poet,” she says in one of her poems. "I did not create this poem it is merely my turn to write a few words for those whose large deeds were not recorded."

"Do you mean," I ask, "that I must leave my late-night room and my study of Robert Frost, and stand up and perform my own poems?" "Of course," says Shellie Moore Guy.

I hope you can understand why I am upset.

Rock Island Lines is underwritten by the Illinois Humanities Council and Illinois Arts Council, a state agency, with additional funding from Humanities Iowa, the Iowa Arts Council, and Augustana College, Rock Island.

Beginning 1995, historian and folklorist Dr. Roald Tweet spun his stories of the Mississippi Valley to a devoted audience on WVIK. Dr. Tweet published three books as well as numerous literary articles and recorded segments of "Rock Island Lines." His inspiration was that "kidney-shaped limestone island plunked down in the middle of the Mississippi River," a logical site for a storyteller like Dr. Tweet.