A Little Bit Of Fool In Me

James Emanuel (1921 – 2013)

For me, the promised land, always seeming just beyond my reach, is the poetic masterpiece, that perfect union of words in cadence, each beckoned and shined and breathed into place, each moving in well-tried harmony of tone and texture and meaning with its neighbors, molding an almost living being so faithful to observable truth, so expressive of the mass of humanity and so aglow with the beauty of just proportions that the reader feels a chill in his legs or a catch in his throat.

James Emanuel

A Fool For Evergreen

by James Emanuel

A little bit of fool in me
Hides behind my inmost tree
And pops into the narrow path
I walk blindfolded by my wrath
Or shrunken by some twist of pain,
Some hope that will not wind again.
He ogles with his antic eyes
and somersaults a you’re-not-wise
Until the patches in his pants
Go colorwheeling through my glance
So fast that I cannot recall
That I was mad or sad at all.
A little bit of fool in me
Keeps evergreen my inmost tree.


Writing this blog, it is hard sometimes for me to reconcile the beauty of a poem and the sadness that is part of a poets life.  Most of these poets I know nothing about their lives until I find their poem first and then do a little research about the poet.  James Emanuel was born and grew up Nebraska.   At age twenty he enlisted in the United States Army in 1941 and served as the confidential secretary to the Assistant Inspector General of the U.S. Army during WWII.  After his discharge, he  went to Harvard for his undergraduate, then Northwestern for his masters and ultimately on to Columbia for his Ph. D.  He then moved to New York City where he taught at City College of New York (CUNY) where he taught the college’s first course on African-American poetry. 

Emanuel was a poet, an educator, a scholar, an editor and mentor to many.   As the years passed Emanuel became disenfranchised with racism in America.  In 1960 he moved to Europe where he continued a brilliant career at the University of Toulouse as a Fulbright scholar.  He traveled and lectured at many Universities with extended stays at the University of Grenoble and University of Warsaw. In the late 1980’s his only child, a son, was brutally beaten by three racist cops in Los Angeles.  In the emotional aftermath his son committed suicide and Emanuel never returned to America. 

Emanuel published more than 300 poems, 13 books and was an influential editor and critic.   Emanuel created a new literary genre, jazz-and-blues haiku, which he read to musical accompaniment throughout Europe and Africa. Yet despite all that success he is largely overlooked in most literary circles after 1960, in part because he left the United States and because he wrote in mostly traditional poetic forms.   Emanuel was the last surviving writer from the Harlem Renaissance.  He died in 2013 in Paris France.  I find it interesting that both he and Ethridge Knight shared a love of haiku that went largely unnoticed in America during their lifetimes. 

I listened to the video below as I wrote this blog entry.  It brightened my day.   I found it ironic that the critics ignored him for being “traditional” and yet there is nothing traditional about his verse.  The joy in his voice, the artists he is honoring mingle with his haiku style and content and the sweet saxophone jazz.  It all combines into a stunning hypnotic literary effect.  Check out the video at about the 16:30 there are a couple of haiku on hip hop.  I particularly enjoyed the Jazz Rabbit.

 

Emmett Till

by James Emanuel

I hear a whistling
Through the water.
Little Emmett
Won’t be still.
He keeps floating
Round the darkness,
Edging through
The silent chill.
Tell me, please,
That bedtime story
Of the fairy
River Boy
Who swims forever,
Deep in treasures,
Necklaced in
A coral toy.

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A Sonnet Obsession

I am a life-long Minnesotan who resides in Minneapolis. I hope you enjoy my curated selection of sonnets, short poems and nerdy ruminations. I am pleased to offer Fourteenlines as an ad and cookie free poetry resource, to allow the poetry to be presented on its own without distractions. Fourteenlines is a testament to the power of the written word, for anyone wanting a little more poetry in their life.

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