I Don’t Know, Mr Bones, You Ask Too Much

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This post marks the four hundredth blog entry on Fourteen lines.

You should always be trying to write a poem you are unable to write, a poem you lack the technique, the language, the courage to achieve.  Otherwise you are merely imitating yourself, going nowhere, because that’s always easiest.

John Berryman

The Dream Songs – 177

by John Berryman

Am tame now.  You may touch me, who had thrilled
(before) your tips, twitcht from your breast your heart;
& burst your willing brain.
I am tame now.  Undead, I was not killed
by Henry’s viewers but maimed.  It is my art
to buzz the spotlight in vain,
flighting ‘at random’ while Addison wins.
I would not want war with Addison.  I love him
and Addison so loves me back
me backsides, I may perish in his grins
& grip. I would he liked me less, less grim.
but he has helpt me, slack

& sick & hopeful, anew to know what man –
scrubbing the multiverse with dazzled tonight –
still has in store for man:
a doghouse or a cave, is all we could,
according to my dreams. I stand in doubt,
surrounded by holy wood.


This post marks the four hundredth blog of fourteen lines, forty percent to my goal of one thousand blog entries.  I thank all of you who visit this space, whether a single time, once in a while or regularly.  I hope our shared experience of reading and enjoying poetry connects us in some way to a global thread of shared humanity.

I find Berryman an inspiration on persistence.  That may be an odd thing to say about a man who jumped off a bridge, but he had harbored that longing to end things on his terms for a long, long time before he finally acted on it. He did the best he could and continued his voyage as an artist for nearly 8 decades, no small accomplishment given his tendency towards self destruction.  There is nothing at all to do with this Mr. Bones and that Mr. Bones.  Or is there?

I recently attended a retreat where I was not allowed to talk, use a cell phone, computer or technology of any kind for 3.5 days.   It was a very rewarding experience, something I would eagerly do again.  It was good to reacquaint myself with the silence of my own mind, to retreat back to my childhood tech-less self. What a terrible curse we have placed on the generations that will know only screens, smart phones and blinking flashing things, all commanding our constant attention.  The curse of 24 hour news cycle and the constant barrage of information.  I promptly went out and bought a singing bowl, to make a deeper commitment to daily meditation and silence.

The experience also made me ponder the words “retreat”, “recollected”, and “reparations.” It also made think deeply about the word play of “spouse” and “espouse.” Is this what poets do?  Geek out on words bumping around in our skulls when we are told we can only use our inside voices and not our speaking voices.  When was the last time you couldn’t or didn’t speak to another human being for a whole day?  Did it invigorate you or did it test you?  Did you want to scream, tell a joke or sing or remain silent when it was over?


The Dream Songs – 223

by John Berryman

It’s wonderful the way cats bound about,
it’s wonderful how men are not found out
so far.
It’s miserable how many      miserable are
over the spread world at this tick of time.
These mysteries that I’m

rehearsing in the dark did brighter minds
much bother through them ages, whom who finds
guilty for failure?
Up all we rose with dawn, springy for pride,
trying all morning.  Dazzled, I subside
at noon, noon be my gaoler

and afternoon the deepening of the task
poor Henry set himself long since to ask:
Why? Who? When?
— I don’t know, Mr. Bones. You asks too much
of such as you & me & such
fast cats, worse men.

You Are As Good As Anybody Else

Giovanni-1973
Nikki Giovanni

We love because it’s the only true adventure.

Nikki Giovanni

BLK History Month

by Nikki Giovanni

If Black History Month is not
viable then wind does not
carry the seeds and drop them
on fertile ground
rain does not
dampen the land
and encourage the seeds
to root
sun does not
warm the earth
and kiss the seedlings
and tell them plain:
You’re As Good As Anybody Else
You’ve Got A Place Here, Too

 


As A Possible Lover

by Amiri Baraka (1934 – 2014)

Practices
silence, the way of wind
bursting
in early lull.  Cold morning
to night, we go so
slowly, without
thought
to ourselves. (Enough
to have thought
tonight, nothing
finishes it.  What
you are, will have
no certainty, or
end.  That you will
stay, where you are,
a human gentle wisp
of life.  Ah . . . . )
.                         .  practices
loneliness,
as a virtue.  A single
specious need
to keep
what you have
never really
had.

 

I Was Meant Truly To Sing

Alice Walker
Alice Walker

“Until you do right by me, everything you think about is going to crumble.”

Celie in The Color Purple

Turning Madness Into Flowers #1

By Alice Walker

If my sorrow were deeper
I’d be, along with you, under
the ocean’s floor;
but today I learn that the oil
that pools beneath the ocean floor
is essence
residue
remains
of all our
relations
all
our ancestors who have died and turned to oil
without our witness
eons ago.
We’ve always belonged to them.
Speaking for you, hanging, weeping, over the water’s edge
as well as for myself.
It is our grief
heavy, relentless,
trudging
us, however resistant,
to the decaying and rotten
bottom of things:
our grief bringing
us home.

 


There are voices in poetry that seem connected, as if arising from one spirit.  Alice Walker’s poetry strikes me as prayers that are deeply connected to a broader literary pantheon while being at the same time distinctly hers. I remember when The Color Purple came out and the book and the movie were resplendent in its story telling.  So different is the experiences depicted from my own, I was inspired moved, but was I changed? Were we changed as a society?   I believe so.  Literature and poetry have the ability to change our perspectives.  But at the same time, I realize simply seeing racism or the lasting scars of slavery, or being moved by the courage of individuals that stand up to unfairness doesn’t change the institutions that still perpetuate inequality.   Black lives matter is a movement to remind us we have not arrived at the destination, we are still on the journey and have a long way to go.

I was sitting on a plane from Tampa to Minneapolis recently next to a thoughtful experienced educator and we were discussing the achievement gap in public schools in Minnesota between students of color and their white counterparts.  Neither of us had an answer or a solution, other than let’s not be afraid of the conversation and the reality of what the data says and be open to ideas on how to do better. It’s a frustrating thing that when despite good intentions and focus, societal and educational problems get worse, not better. The human experience is a humbling one.  Thank goodness we have poets like Walker to pull us together and remind us to sing.


Before I Leave The Stage

By Alice Walker

Before I leave the stage
I will sing the only song
I was meant truly to sing.

It is the song
of I AM.
Yes: I am Me
&
You.
WE ARE.

I love Us with every drop
of our blood
every atom of our cells
our waving particles
-undaunted flags of our Being-
neither here nor there.

To Change The World Enough

alice-walker
Alice Walker  b. 1944

The most common way people give up their power is by thinking they don’t have any.

Alice Walker

A song in the front yard

by Gwendolyn Brooks

I’ve stayed in the front yard all my life.
I want a peek at the back
Where it’s rough and untended and hungry weed grows.
A girl gets sick of a rose.

I want to go in the back yard now
And maybe down the alley,
To where the charity children play.
I want a good time today.

They do some wonderful things.
They have some wonderful fun.
My mother sneers, but I say it’s fine
How they don’t have to go in at quarter to nine.
My mother, she tells me that Johnnie Mae
Will grow up to be a bad woman.
That George’ll be taken to Jail soon or late
(On account of last winter he sold our back gate).

But I say it’s fine. Honest, I do.
And I’d like to be a bad woman, too,
And wear the brave stockings of night-black lace
And strut down the streets with paint on my face.


To Change The World Enough

by Alice Walker

To change the world enough
you must cease to be afraid
of the poor.
We experience your fear as the least pardonable of
humiliations; in the past
it has sent us scurrying off
daunted and ashamed
into the shadows.
Now,
the world ending
the only one all of us have known
we seek the same
fresh light
you do:
the same high place
and ample table.
The poor always believe
there is room enough
for all of us;
the very rich never seem to have heard
of this.
In us there is wisdom of how to share
loaves and fishes
however few;
we do this everyday.
Learn from us,
we ask you.
We enter now
the dreaded location
of Earth’s reckoning;
no longer far
off
or hidden in books
that claim to disclose
revelations;
it is here.
We must walk together without fear.
There is no path without us.

 

I Hold My Honey And I Store My Bread

Brooks
Gwendolyn Brooks (1917 – 2000)

Art hurts. Art urges voyages – and it is easier to stay at home.

Gwendolyn Brooks

Hydrangeas

by Gwendolyn Brooks

Great-Mama took such care tending
the teal hydrangeas – their massive heads,
full of petals like impulse thoughts,
could fly apart in any spring breeze
and they would be left scattered, half
of themselves, and still appear full-headed.
Great-Mama nursed them with formulas,
whispered names and lullabies
under her breath, patted and cooed
the soil at the roots until her palms
were caked black. Oh, how they blossomed
and sprouted, framing the front yard
as if to say, she is ours, ours, to touch her
you must cross from flesh to flower.


Brooks combined a mastery of language and movement in her poetry with a distinct voice for the African American community.  She won the Pulitzer Prize in  1946 for her volume  of poetry titled, Annie Allen, becoming the first African American to win the award.  She built on that recognition to eventually promote smaller Black owned presses and to tirelessly advocate for education and encouragement of students and young writers.  In 1985, at the age of 68 she became the first Black woman serving as poetry consultant to the Library of Congress.  She used that position to sponsor and host literary awards and prizes.  She took her advocacy of literacy and literature to the people by visiting schools, colleges, universities, prisons, hospitals and drug rehabilitation centers. She took poetry out of the realm of elites and made it relevant in the everyday world.

A long time resident of Chicago, she used her status as poet laureate of Illinois to share her vision of human rights and promote the arts.  A woman of modest means throughout her lifetime, she worked tirelessly to use her art to inspire, amuse and educate, to create a kinder world, to create a greater understanding of our common experience as humans.


my dreams, my works, must wait till after hell

by Gwendolyn Brooks

I hold my honey and I store my bread
In little jars and cabinets of my will.
I label clearly, and each latch and lid
I bid, Be firm till I return from hell.
I am very hungry. I am incomplete.
And none can tell when I may dine again.
No man can give me any word but Wait,
The puny light. I keep eyes pointed in;
Hoping that, when the devil days of my hurt
Drag out to their last dregs and I resume
On such legs as are left me, in such heart
As I can manage, remember to go home,
My taste will not have turned insensitive
To honey and bread old purity could love.

I Will Take It As A Greate Favor

 

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Tracy K. Smith

“One of poetry’s great effects, through its emphasis upon feeling, association, music and image — things we recognize and respond to even before we understand why — is to guide us toward the part of ourselves so deeply buried that it borders upon the collective.”

― Tracy K. Smith, Staying Human:  Poetry in the Age of Technology

American Sonnet 10

by Wanda Coleman

.                after Lowell

our mothers wrung hell and hardtack from row
. .and boll.  fenced others’
gardens with bones of lovers.  embarking
. .from Africa in chains
reluctant pilgrims stolen by Jehovah’s light
. .planted here the bitter
seed of blight and here eternal torches mark
. .the shame of Moloch’s mansions
built in slavery’s name.  our hungered eyes
. .do see/refuse the dark
illuminate the blood-soaked steps of each
. .historic gain.  a yearning
yearning to avenge the raping of the womb
. .from which we spring.


 

Florence, Ala. December 7th 1866
From Wade in The Water

by Tracy K. Smith

Dear Sir  I take the pleashure of writing you
A fue lins hoping that I will not ofende you
by doing so    I was raised in your state
and was sold from their when I was 31 years olde
left wife one childe Mother Brothers and sisters
My wife died about 12 years agoe and ten years
agoe I made money And went back and bought
My olde Mother and she lives with me

Seven years agoe I Maried again and commence
to by Myself and wife for two thousande dollars and
last Christmas I Made the last pay ment and I have
made Some little Money this year and I wis
to get my Kinde All with me and I will take it
as a Greate favor if you will help me to get them

Just When Hope Withers

Rita Dove
Rita Dove

I was apprehensive. I feared every time I talked about poetry, it would be filtered through the lens of race, sex, and age.

Rita Dove

Found Sonnet: The Wig

by Rita Dove

100% human hair, natural; Yaki synthetic, Brazilian blend,
Malaysian, Kanekalon, Peruvian Virgin, Pure Indian;
iron-friendly, heat-resistant; bounce, volume, featherweight,
Short ’n’ Sassy, Swirls & Twirls, Smooth & Sleek and Sleek & Straight,

Wet and Wavy, Futura fibre, weave-a-wig or Shake-n-Go;
classic, trendy, micro-kink; frosted pixie, tight cornrow;
full, three-quarter, half, stretch cap, drawstring, ear tabs, combs;
chignon, headband, clip-in bangs; easy extensions and ponytail domes—

long or bobbed, hand-tied, layered, deep twist bulk, prestyled updo,
Remi closure, Swiss lace front, invisible L part, J part, U;
feathered, fringed, extended neck; tousled, spiky, loose cascades,
sideswept, flipped ends, corkscrews, spirals, Rasta dreads, Ghana braids;

Passion Wave, Silk Straight, Faux Mohawk, Nubian locks, Noble Curl:
Cleopatra, Vintage Vixen, Empress, Hera, Party Girl.

Published in New Yorker, 2016.


Exit

by Rita Dove

Just when hope withers, the visa is granted.
The door opens to a street like in the movies,
clean of people, of cats; except it is your street
you are leaving. A visa has been granted,
“provisionally”—a fretful word.
The windows you have closed behind
you are turning pink, doing what they do
every dawn. Here it’s gray. The door
to the taxicab waits. This suitcase,
the saddest object in the world.
Well, the world’s open. And now through
the windshield the sky begins to blush
as you did when your mother told you
what it took to be a woman in this life.