Ubud encounters: Neal Hall, surgeon-poet, moves many

Just heard Neal Hall, MD read his poem 9/11, 24/7 at the Ubud Writers and Readers Festival in Bali.

The powerful work, from Hall’s Nigger for Life, states that for black Americans, it’s been 400 years of round the clock disaster on American soil. The poem knocks you down and then picks up you to knock you over again and again.

Hall says he began writing poetry in his mid-30s after he realized that “everything I’d been taught was a lie.” Even though he followed the mantra of education as a way to advance, attending Cornell and Harvard and becoming an ophthalmic surgeon, he realized, “I would always be judged by the color of my skin. Everything I did would be diminished because of that.”

But when asked about his message for white Americans, Hall cut off the moderator. “It’s not about black or white,” the surgeon-poet explained. “I can only express the feelings from my perspective, based on my black experience. But take out the black and it’s the same message. It’s about human freedom.”

Right on, doc. And write on, please.

Totally globalized native New Yorker and former broadcast news producer Muhammad Cohen is author of Hong Kong On Air, a novel set in his adopted hometown during the 1997 handover about television news, love, betrayal, high finance, and cheap lingerie. See his bio, online archive and more at www.muhammadcohen.com; follow him on Facebook and Twitter @MuhammadCohen.