We Weep For Him

Frederick Douglass (1818 – 1895)

We must not be frightened nor cajoled into accepting evil as deliverance from evil. We must go on struggling to be human, though monsters of abstractions police and threaten us. Reclaim now, now renew the vision of a human world where godliness is possible and man is neither gook nigger honkey wop nor kike but man permitted to be man.

Robert Hayden

Frederick Douglass (An Excerpt)

by Paul Lawrence Dunbar (1872 – 1906)

We weep for him, but we have touched his hand,
And felt the magic of his presence nigh,
The current that he sent thro’ out the land,
The kindling spirit of his battle-cry
O’er all that holds us we shall triumph yet
And place our banner where his hopes were set!

Oh, Douglass, thou hast passed beyond the shore,
But still thy voice is ringing o’er the gale!
Thou ‘st taught thy race how high her hopes may soar
And bade her seek the heights, nor faint, nor fail.
She will not fail, she heeds thy stirring cry,
She knows thy guardian spirit will be nigh,
And rising from beneath the chast’ning rod,
She stretches out her bleeding hands to God!

Leadership eventually answers to history, not the moment.   The decisions made in the face of chaos with hardly a breath between them in the most dire of circumstances will be carefully pursed from every angle for generations of historians in the coming decades.  The luxury of hindsight and time will whittle away at the facade of pride, ego and even courage and lay bare the humbling nature of war, that not even the victorious, are free of failure.  I am not a historian, but I see no path to anything other than chaos and destruction unfolding in Ukraine.  Its why the current failure of leadership around the world, failure of governments to lead at this critical time in human history, is so distressing to those that believe that collectively we can do better than we are doing on a multitude of fronts; global warming, basic human rights, democracy, health care, equity, the list is endless.  And it is why the failure of leadership in the past, is now coming back to haunt the diplomats of today.

I am going to end where I began the month with Frederick Douglass.  Douglass met with President Lincoln several times during his presidency.  We would never know what their partnership could have yielded had Lincoln not been killed.  Both men were incredibly skilled in the art of oration, of inspiration, of ethical leadership at levels that are so profoundly beyond the levels of leadership of all political stripes today, it astounds.  Each man’s best speeches read more like poetry than political discourse.  

Frederick had been one of Lincoln’s harshest critics right up until the Emancipation Proclamation on January 1, 1863, which changed everything.  The two met shortly after when the Confederacy declared that all African Americans who fought on the side of the Union would not be treated with the rights of prisoners of war, but would be executed or re-enslaved on the basis of being illegal insurgents.  Remember that all of the Confederate Generals who were to carry out this order had trained together at West Point with their Union counterparts.  The parallels to the insanity unfolding in Ukraine is only that when men scheme to control their future without a foundation of morality their failure is assured, it is only a matter of time.  Fascism never succeeds long term. The free people of Ukraine will ultimately win, but the question is at what cost? And how long will be the shadow of the scar of today remain? 

Douglass delivered his own eulogy of Lincoln several weeks after Lincoln’s death on the National Day of Mourning.  Below are several excerpts for Douglass’ eulogy that seem particularly poignant at this moment in time.  May peace yet prevail in the Ukraine, in the United States and in our own communities. 


Henceforth we have a new date, a new era for our great Republic: Henceforth a new account is opened,between the government and the people of the United States: Henceforth there is to be no north no south in American politics, but a common country of all for all: Henceforth the nation assumes a new position and a new relation to the nations of the Earth: Henceforth an American citizen may defend his country at the tribunal of the world’s judgement,without defending a glaring inconsistency and a scandalous crime:Henceforth there is an end to that compromising statesmanship—which has so deeply demoralized both the Government and the people:Henceforth we shall stand an acknowledged power among the great powers of Europe and exert a beneficent influence in the destiny of nations.Out of the vast and dreadful concatenation of evils which have environed us,brought upon us during these four years of treason rebellion and assassination, we shall yet be the recipients of immeasurable and priceless blessings: It is something that the crash has come and that the worst is known—that the storm cloud has burst and sent down its bolt and has left the blue sky above,calm and bright as when the morning stars sang together for joy!

Frederick Douglass – Lincoln Eulogy

A more tranquilizing thought comes to us on this occasion. That thought is the inevitability of the conflict. It was beyond the power of human will or wisdom—to have prevented just what has happened. We should never forget that this dreadful war with all its incidents was a part of—and sprung out of the fundamental elements of our national structure—and was in the nature of things unavoidable. We have but reaped where we had sown. Its hour had come, and there was nothing left but to make room for it, to accept it, and derive from it, whatever advantage it brought. We could no more evade it, than we could unmake our anticedents.

When slavery was first planted in the national soil, treason, rebellion and assassination were planted with it and their bloody fruit was bequeathed to the present generation. And if in the coming reconstruction, we shall encorporate any of the seeds of injustice, any of the remains of slavery, we shall repeat the mistake of our fathers, with the certainty that our children after us will reap a similar harvest of blood to that we have just experienced.

All the great nations of the Earth, no matter how isolated their location, no matter how iron like their ruler no matter how conservative their statesmen, no matter how carefully they exclude the light of new ideas—are fated to pass through what may be termed their historical periods—certain grand epochs, made up by the irrepressible tendencies of their inherent social forces, coming upon them whether they will or not.

Frederick Douglass – Lincoln Eulogy

In Memoriam –  Frederick Douglass (An Excerpt)

by Henrietta Cordelia Ray (1852 – 1916)

Yes! our great chief has fallen as might fall
Some veteran warrior, answering the call
Of duty. With the old serenity,
His heart still strung with tender sympathy,
He passed beyond our ken; he’ll come no more
To give us stately greeting as of yore.
We cannot fail to miss him. When we stand
In sudden helplessness, as through the land
Rings echo of some wrong he could not brook,
Then vainly for our leader will we look.

But courage! no great influence can die.
While he is doing grander work on high,
Shall not his deeds an inspiration be
To us left in life’s struggle? May not we
Do aught to emulate him whom we mourn?
We are a people now, no more forlorn
And hopeless. We must gather courage then,
Rememb’ring that he stood man among men.
So let us give, now he has journeyed hence,
To our great chieftain’s memory, reverence!

Do I Need To Say More

Yusef Komunyakaa

“Through the years I have seen myself as a peaceful person, but the awareness of the anger is part of that process.”

Yusef Komunyakaa


by Yusef Komunyakaa

In a country of splendor & high
Ritual, in a fat land of zeros,
Sits a man with string & bone
For stylus, hunched over his easel,

Captured by perfection.
But also afflictions live behind
Electric fences, among hedges
& a whirlwind of roses, down

To where he sits beside a gully
Pooling desires.   He squints
Till the mechanical  horizon is one
Shadowplay against bruised sky,

Till the smoky perfume limps
Into undergrowth.  He balls up
Another sheet in unblessed fingers, always
Ready to draw the thing that is all mouth.

Yusef Komunyakaa was born in Louisiana.  He served in the Vietnam war, a combat war correspondent for the Army writing for the Southern Cross.   He returned and received a BA from the University of Colorado Springs, an MA from Colorado State University, and an MFA from the University of California-Irvine. His poetry is heavily influenced by his southern experiences, his war time service, his involvement with the civil rights movement and jazz.  In short, its well rounded and interesting.  Komunyakaa has taught at many prestigious institutions and was the Chancellor of the Academy of American Poets from 1999-2005.  He has received numerous awards including the Wallace Stevens award in 2011.  

In reading a mixture of his poems, there is a directness and underlying tension that mixes well with his careful construction and word choices.   There is an autobiographical quality to most of his poems that creates an honesty in his craft that resonated with me.   In interviews, he speaks about his approach to poetry like a carpenter, in which each line is built carefully to support the next beam in the frame of the structure of the poem.

I am somewhat tired of the need to feel inspired by poetry during this long drawn out cold winter and never ending pandemic and now, more warfare in the headlines.  I am sure I will come back to syrupy sweetness again, but at this moment,  I am far more attracted to the directness and sometimes violence of Komunyakaa’s world, than the puffery of so many poets that transfers little mental nutrition.  Not that an occasional dose of inspiration isn’t needed, but I am preferring the company of poets who speak from an experience about a world in which the only thing we can do is to keep trying.  

What are you wanting from the poetry you read these days? Are you asking too much of it or even reading with the right intentions, forcing poems into places they were never intended? Of course that’s impossible, poetry can be whatever you want it to be.  What I am wrestling with is what words are bringing me the most nourishment these days, or leaving me the most famished?   How do I approach the meme-ish world of nothing-burger  land of so much of what I see on shelves of Barnes and Noble?  Does it satisfy you?  


By Yusef Komunyakaa

Beauty, I’ve seen you
pressed hard against the windowpane.
But the ugliness was unsolved
in the heart & mouth.
I’ve seen the quick-draw artist
crouch among the chrysanthemums.
Do I need to say more?

Everything isn’t ha-ha
in this valley. The striptease
on stage at the Blue Movie
is your sweet little Sara Lee.
An argument of eyes
cut through the metaphor,
& I hear someone crying
among crystal trees & confetti.

The sack of bones in the magnolia,
What’s more true than that?
Before you can see
her long pretty legs,
look into her unlit eyes.
A song of B-flat breath
staggers on death row. Real
men, voices that limp
behind the one-way glass wall.
I’ve seen the legless beggar
chopped down to his four wheels.

A Fund of Unrest

Nathaniel Mackey (b. 1947 –

“What any experimental art is trying to get you to do is move beyond your preconceptions and your expectations regarding what should be happening, what’s going to happen, what kinds of effects it should have, and enter a liminal state in which those things can be redefined in the way that the particular artist or piece of art is proposing.”

Nathaniel Mackey

    —“mu” one hundred thirty-fourth part—

An Excerpt
by Nathaniel Mackey
Let myself be leaned on though I did, linger
    though I did, I heard enough hearing he died
  when Terremoto died . . . So it was I plugged
      ears with strum. Had I listened I’d have la-
  mented my lost body. I leaned against his lean-
    ing, lent my support . . . Propped up in my
  right, I wondered what I leaned on. A shade
      he might’ve been, soul serenade the song he
    soul, it seemed, a fund
  of unrest

There is something fundamentally contradictory in trying to include Nathaniel Mackey’s long form poetry into the style of this blog – Fourteenlines.  As a master of Jazz poetry and spoken word poetry, Mackey deserves to be included in this months collection, but excerpts simply don’t do his work justice.  I would encourage you to read more of his work in its original form if these snippets strike your fancy. Mackey is known for his embrace of long form poetry to share a deeper narrative about his own and our collective journey as human beings.   
There are two words that Mackey frequently uses in his poetry; antiphon and andoumboulou.  Antiphon means; a verse or song to be chanted or sung in response, like a psalm, hymn or prayer sung in alternate parts.   Andoumboulou, from West African Dogon mythology, means “a rough draft of human being, the work-in-progress we continue to be.”
Chanting is common place as a form of shared worship in many religions of the world, but has become seen as a bit old fashioned in many Protestant congregations.  It’s a shame that chanting has faded from popularity.   Frederick Buechner,  a noted theologian, says that group chanting can reconnect words to meaning.  He wrote on a recent blog: “when a prayer or a psalm or a passage is chanted, we hear the words again.  We hear them in a new way.  We remember that they are not only meaning, but music and mystery.  The chanting italicizes them.  The prose becomes poetry.  The prosaic becomes powerful.”
If you would like to learn more, I recommend the short video below, its a great way to learn  about Nathaniel Mackey’s approach to his art and life. 

On Antiphon Island

by Nathaniel Mackey

—“mu” twenty-eighth part—

   On Antiphon Island they lowered
the bar and we bent back. It
  wasn’t limbo we were in albeit
       we limbo’d. Everywhere we
                                                   went we
  limbo’d, legs bent, shoulder
   blades grazing the dirt,
andoumboulouous birth-shirts,
    sweat salting the silence
 we broke… Limbo’d so low we
     fell and lay looking up at
   the clouds, backs embraced by
       ground and the ground a fallen
  we were ambushed by… Later we’d
      sit, sipping the fig liqueur, beckoning
 sleep, soon-come somnolence nowhere
     come as yet. Where we were, not-
withstanding, wasn’t there…
                                             Where we
  were was the hold of a ship we were
      in. Soaked wood kept us afloat… It
wasn’t limbo we were in albeit we
    limbo’d our way there. Where we
 were was what we meant by “mu.”
     we were was real, reminiscent
  arrest we resisted, bodies briefly
 held on
     “A Likkle Sonance” it said on the
record. A trickle of blood hung
    overhead I heard it spurts. An
  introvert trumpet run, trickle of
      A trickle of water lit by the sun
        I saw with an injured eye, captive
  music ran our legs and we danced…
bent, asses all but on the floor, love’s
      bittersweet largesse… I wanted
   trickle turned into flow, flood,
        two made one by music, bodied
          gone up into air, aura, atmosphere
              the garment we wore. We were on
            a ship’s deck dancing, drawn in a
    above hold… The world was ever after,
Where we were they said likkle for little, lick
     ran with trickle, weird what we took it
  for… The world was ever after, elsewhere,
  way where we were
was there

A Love Supreme

Michael S. Harper (1938 – 2016)

“Poets find their voices when they articulate the wishes of the dead, especially those slain as sacrificial talismans to a larger frame of existence.

Michael S. Harper

Jazz Station

by Michael S. Harper

Some great musicians got no place to play

Above the freeway, over the music,
we speak of the strategy of poems,
bleeding wives who ulcerate
our voices rhythming in the cut-heat
Portland stink from the Willamette River;
arteries of smog fixate this place
in each recording, music, music, on Impulse.
This little racist community has few friends;
thousands of deerslayers hum into Beaverton,
the one talk show driven out for their talk
as the liberals dig in to KGO out of San Francisco;
we troop toward the Lloyd Center for the ice-skating,
the colorette bloomered dream merchants on rented skates,
and the Sunday Chronicle near the big hotel.
The poets, man and wife, write in the dimming air,
their daughter in the toy rooms connecting them,
the typewriter tacking the nails and snaps of her gown.
This image of separation begins in adoption:
her mother adopted out in San Jose; her father
disowned, abandoned, torn out of the will; her name: Phoebe.
And the sun does shine on them for this visit
in squat pigeontoes, and this beach ball sings.

New York City is a character, not just a place in the force that is jazz poetry.   Michael S. Harper, like so many other jazz poets, was born there, in Brooklyn in 1938. He took the opportunity as a young man to experience new horizons through his education, getting his undergraduate in California and his MFA in Iowa.   He would go on to travel the globe, while being one of the most influential professors of literature at Brown University.  Harper during his tenure would influence and mentor generations of writers and poets during his career. 

Brown embraced the nuances of jazz and black identity in his writing while finding common ground by embracing global culture and folklore.   As important for his academic work as for his art, his playful poetic nature infused his unique style as a writer. 

Harper, a celebrated music observer, essayist, and just plain fan, had a life long love affair with jazz.   In reading Harper’s poems, Coltrane is a reoccurring inspiration as both a symbol and a character of affection in his writing. Harper connects with the obstacles Coltrane had to over come.  In particular Coltrane;s challenges with pain in his embouchure at the height of his career and his need to be constantly looking for ways to ease the discomfort while never wavering in his mastery of master his craft. Coltrane would die of liver failure at age 40 as the result of addictions, to music, to heroin and alcohol.   Harper connected with both Coltrane’s music and his humanity.  In his poem Dear John, Dear Coltrane, Harper writes midway through; 

Why you so black?
cause I am
why you so funky?
cause I am
why you so black?
cause I am
why you so sweet?
cause I am
why you so black?
cause I am
a love supreme, a love supreme:
To read the entire poem, check out this link and try reading it as you listen to this live version of Coltrane playing – A Love Supreme – Pt. IV – Psalm. 

Here Where Coltrane Is

by Michael S. Harper
Soul and race
are private dominions,   
memories and modal
songs, a tenor blossoming,
which would paint suffering   
a clear color but is not in   
this Victorian house
without oil in zero degree
weather and a forty-mile-an-hour wind;
it is all a well-knit family:   
a love supreme.
Oak leaves pile up on walkway
and steps, catholic as apples
in a special mist of clear white   
children who love my children.   
I play “Alabama”
on a warped record player
skipping the scratches
on your faces over the fibrous   
conical hairs of plastic
under the wooden floors.
Dreaming on a train from New York   
to Philly, you hand out six
notes which become an anthem
to our memories of you:
oak, birch, maple,
apple, cocoa, rubber.
For this reason Martin is dead;
for this reason Malcolm is dead;
for this reason Coltrane is dead;
in the eyes of my first son are the browns   
of these men and their music.

Nothing Will Keep Us Young

Sonia Sanchez

The joy of poetry is that it will wait for you. Novels don’t wait for you. Characters change. But poetry will wait. I think its the greatest art.

Sonia Sanchez

Personal Letter #3

by Sonia Sanchez

nothing will keep
us young you know
not young men or
women who spin
their youth on
cool playing sounds.
we are what we
are what we never
think we are.
no more wild geo
graphies of the
flesh. echoes. that
we move in tune
to slower smells.
it is a hard thing
to admit that 
sometimes after midnight
i am tired
of it all.

Do you think about the role of elders in shaping our current view point and helping craft the path of your future?   The concept of valuing the voice of elders in our community is a concept that never goes away completely but does rise and fall with the tides of marketing and pop culture and ageism that sometimes negates the old in favor of the young.  Right now I would say the value of elders is waning in most communities, which is unfortunate, particularly among the community of poets that are still alive, which are living bridges to the evolution of what we consider modern poetry, poets that helped shape the civil rights movement and are still helping to define social justice today.   

Sonia Sanchez is one of those living bridges, an elder of poetry, that is still publishing, still speaking, still educating and enlightening the world through her eyes as a black woman who has lived the fight, seen the journey over her life time.   When she quotes Zora Neale Hurston, she doesn’t do so out of the past, she does it out of her living presence of having known Hurston and experienced the shared racism that impacted both in America. 

Zora Neal Hurston said fear is the greatest emotion and I said, ‘No my dear sister.’ Fear will make us move to save our own skins.  Love also makes us save ourselves, but it will make us move to save others as well.

Sonia Sanchez

Sanchez was born in 1934 in Alabama.   In quick succession both her Mother and then Grandmother died and by age six she moved to Harlem with her Father who was a school teacher.  She attended New York University where she was mentored by Louis Bogan and where she would meet Amiri Baraka, Haki R Madhubuti and Etheridge Knight, whom she later married.  During the early 1960’s Sanchez was influenced by Malcom X and her work became more focused on developing Black Studies courses and particularly African American women’s literature’s courses that influenced Universities around the country to become more inclusive in their course offerings.   A playwright, poet, lecturer, educator and activist, Sanchez has had a remarkable career and influence on the growth of America through a unique lens, never straying from the distinct human concept of love. The TED talk below is definitely worth your time to hear Sonia tell it in her voice, as an elder, some things for us to consider as we chart our path to a better today and tomorrow. 


In researching this blog entry on Sonia Sanchez, I went back to look at her mentor, Louise Bogan’s work.   The title Elders, jumped out at me and I was instantly attracted to the poem below.  Of course the poem is about Elderberry bushes, or, maybe it isn’t?  Read it twice through aloud.  First time associate in your mind the word elders as a bush.  The second time through,  put yourself in Sonia Sanchez’s place on the TED stage, read it from her perspective, as an elder, from Louise Bogan’s perspective, as an elder.   How does the poem change in your mind?  Which version of the word elder delivered more of a punch? 


by Louise Bogan

At night the moon shakes the bright dice of the water;
And the elders, their flower light as broken snow upon the
          . .   bush, 

Repeat the circle of the moon. 

Within the month
Black fruit breaks from the white flower
The black wheeled berries turn
Weighing the boughs over the road,
There is no harvest.
Heavy to withering, the black wheels bend
Ripe for the mouths of chance lovers,
or birds,

       . Twigs show again in the quick cleavage of season and
      .             . season.
      .  The elder’s sag over the powdery road-bank,
      .  As though they bore, and it were too much,
     .  The seed of the year beyond the year. 



You Have NOTHING To Fear

 “I find myself filled to the beautiful brim with love, and with this shared love I continue to live my poem-life.”

Ted Joans

The Truth

by Ted Joans (1928 – 2003)
If you should see
a man
walking down a crowded street
talking aloud
to himself
don’t run
in the opposite direction
but run toward him
for he is a POET!
You have NOTHING to fear
from the poet
but the TRUTH

Ted Joans was a painter, trumpeter, and a jazz poet.  He published a number of books of poetry, all with his trademark collage creations on the cover.    He was an original jazz poet, bringing his spoken word poetry to the stage with jazz Musicians in New York City.   Like many black poets and jazz musicians of the 1950’s, 1960’s and 1970’s, he grew tired of the systemic racism in the United States and left to travel the world.   He lived in West Africa and Europe, while only sporadically returning to the U. S for the last third of his life.   He died in Toronto, Canada. 

At his height of his influence in the 1960’s he rubbed shoulders with Jack Kerouac, Malcom X, Wifredo Lam and other influential civil rights leaders and beat poets.   The most often cited quote of Joans’ is “Jazz is my religion and surrealism is my point of view.”   When Charlie Parker died in 1955, Joans is the one credited with scrawling “Bird Lives!” all over lower Manhattan.  Joans believed in the power of poetry to change people’s perspective and change the world.   He wrote poetry from the view point of a loving revolutionary, focused on the dream of Black empowerment and a better more just future.   

It is unfortunate there is a typo on his name on the video below, but it is a great watch.   Check it out if want to see him with all his beauty and swagger.


Uh Huh

by Ted Joans

There it is
yup                     uh huh
that’s it no doubt about it
uh huh
that’s it
yes sires
Man this it it
the real thing
uh huh
no shit
here uh huh
no lies now
here it is
the real bit
uh huh
a fact
yep yep
right before the eyes
a truth
uh huh
well I be damn
here uh huh now this is it  Uh Huh uh huhuh huh uh

Let It Be Tenderness

Amiri Baraka (1934 – 2014)

Art is what ever makes you proud to be a human.

Amiri Baraka

Like Rousseau

by Amiri Baraka
She stands beside me, stands away,   
the vague indifference
of her dreams. Dreaming, to go on,   
and go on there, like animals fleeing   
the rise of the earth. But standing   
intangible, my lust a worked anger
a sweating close covering, for the crudely salty soul.
Then back off, and where you go? Box of words   
and pictures. Steel balloons tied to our mouths.   
The room fills up, and the house. Street tilts.   
City slides, and buildings slide into the river.   
What is there left, to destroy? That is not close,   
or closer. Leaning away in the angle of language.   
Pumping and pumping, all our eyes criss cross
and flash. It is the lovers pulling down empty structures.   
They wait and touch and watch their dreams   
eat the morning.

Amiri Baraka writing and politics were not always controversial.  Baraka was born LeRoi Jones in Newark, New Jersey in 1934.  After several years in college, he spent three years in the Air Force during the Korean War.  When he fulfilled his military service, he returned to New York City and attended Columbia University.   It was there that his journey as a poet began.   
Baraka’s legacy as a writer, critic, playwright, novelist and publisher is complicated.  He is less remembered for his well crafted beat poetry published under LeRoi Jones early in his career, while living in Greenwich Village and more remembered as a controversial, thought provoking, Black Nationalist during the civil rights movement and beyond, published under Amiri Baraka.  Baraka would visit Cuba in 1959 and would return an unapologetic Marxist.  Following the death of Malcolm X, he would take his writing to a new level of political intensity that empowered many and angered a few.  Baraka’s intent was to move people to action through his art and both responses seemed aligned with his purpose. 
Baraka’s greatest influence as a writer came in the 1960’s, 1970’s and 1980’s, though he continued to write and perform up until his death in 2014.  Baraka was a friend of Allen Ginsberg, Frank O’Hara and other beat writers in the 1950’s.  Baraka was a jazz poet and a scholar and music critic of both jazz and blues. The video below, shot a few years before his death is a great example of his vibrant style in combining his art, love of music and politics and the power of all three to improve the human condition.

A Short Speech To My Friends (Excerpt)

by Amiri Baraka
A political art, let it be
tenderness, low strings the fingers
touch, or the width of autumn
climbing wider avenues, among the virtue
and dignity of knowing what city
you’re in, who to talk to, what clothes
—even what buttons—to wear. I address
                                                                        / the society
                                                                        the image, of
                                                                        common utopia.
                                                                        / The perversity
                                                                        of separation, isolation,
after so many years of trying to enter their kingdoms,
now they suffer in tears, these others, saxophones whining
through the wooden doors of their less than gracious homes.
The poor have become our creators. The black. The thoroughly
                  Let the combination of morality
and inhumanity

I Give You An Onion

Happy Valentines Day!

It is a curious thought but it is only when you see people looking ridiculous that you realize how much you love them.

Agatha Christie

When I too long have looked upon your face

By Edna St. Vincent Millay

When I too long have looked upon your face,
Wherein for me a brightness unobscured
Save by the mists of brightness has its place,
And terrible beauty not to be endured,
I turn away reluctant from your light,
And stand irresolute, a mind undone,
A silly, dazzled thing deprived of sight
From having looked too long upon the sun.
Then is my daily life a narrow room
In which a little while, uncertainly,
Surrounded by impenetrable gloom,
Among familiar things grown strange to me
Making my way, I pause, and feel, and hark,
Till I become accustomed to the dark.


ATTENTION – I am interrupting our normally scheduled programming for an important Poetry Service Announcement.  Tomorrow is Valentines Day!  And if Agatha is right, then it is the perfect day to get a little silly.  Don’t fall for the Hallmark trap and buy a Valentine card, get out some construction paper, paper lace doilies, stickers and glue, better yet some glitter, and get to work.  It’s not about perfection, its about expressing yourself and your love of your valentine in your best DIY valentine self.  Then, once the masterpiece is finished in whatever form it has taken, its time to profess your love in words on the back.  My suggestion, don’t screw up your masterpiece trying to do it off the cuff, write it out on white paper in a size that will fit and glue or tape it to the back, that way if you ruin the draft you can re-write it and not disturb your artwork. 

While the glitter is drying, now’s the perfect time for you to muster your courage and write a poem.  But if suddenly you have a little case of writers block, here’s a couple of tips on writing poetry for your loved one on Valentine’s Day. 

Tip #1 – Roses are Red, Violets are Blue, only works if the third line is either silly, but connects the two of you, or kind, but the fourth line HAS TO BE, “And I Love You.”  If you deploy this sure proof poem in any other way, it will likely backfire you right onto the couch. 

Tip #2 – If you are willing to go out on a limb, and write an original love poem, try going freestyle all Lorca on your Valentine.  Think  surreal love fest about the favorite place you and your lover share and make it a metaphor for your shared sensuality and free associate and see what happens.  Have it end with something about “insert a piece of anatomy here” you want to “kiss” or “caress”, that is “pure crystalline love” and you are likely setting the bar pretty high for the evenings festivities and next years Valentine’s Day poem.

Tip #3 – If you aren’t in the poem writing mood, then use the internet to find the perfect love sonnet.  Heck, you might even find one on Fourteenlines.   Between Shakespeare, Cummings and Millay, you should be able to score the perfect one.  Don’t print it out on your computer.  Hand write it (Pro-tip – remember – write small its 14 lines) and sign it and you’ll have a keeper that your Valentine will hold on to forever. 

Tip #4 – If you screw up and its last minute on Monday afternoon and you haven’t gotten anything for your lover, stop at the grocery store, buy some flowers, chocolate and an onion.  And give your lover all three and then get down on one knee and recite the poem below off your smart phone and I guarantee you will worm your way into their heart…

Happy Valentines Day!


by Carol Ann Duffy

Not a red rose or a satin heart.

I give you an onion.
It is a moon wrapped in brown paper.
It promises light
like the careful undressing of love.

It will blind you with tears
like a lover.
It will make your reflection
a wobbling photo of grief.

I am trying to be truthful.

Not a cute card or a kissogram.

I give you an onion.
Its fierce kiss will stay on your lips,
possessive and faithful
as we are,
for as long as we are.

Take it.
Its platinum loops shrink to a wedding ring,
if you like.
Its scent will cling to your fingers,
cling to your knife.

Believe In This

Bob Kaufman (1925 – 1986)

“when i die, i won’t stay dead.”

Bob Kaufman

Jail Poems (An Excerpt)

by Bob Kaufman
I am sitting in a cell with a view of evil parallels,
Waiting thunder to splinter me into a thousand me’s.
It is not enough to be in one cage with one self;
I want to sit opposite every prisoner in every hole.
Doors roll and bang, every slam a finality, bang!
The junkie disappeared into a red noise, stoning out his hell.
The odored wino congratulates himself on not smoking,
Fingerprints left lying on black inky gravestones,
Noises of pain seeping through steel walls crashing
Reach my own hurt. I become part of someone forever.
Wild accents of criminals are sweeter to me than hum of cops,
Busy battening down hatches of human souls; cargo
Destined for ports of accusations, harbors of guilt.
What do policemen eat, Socrates, still prisoner, old one?

Bob Kaufman has a unique bio, even for a beat poet.   The 10th of 13 children, he left home and joined the Merchant Marines when he was 13, a profession he would continue late into his 20’s.  In the 1940’s he moved to New York and went to the New York School, studying literature.  He became active in the beat poet’s movement, mostly performing his poems live.  It wasn’t until the late 1950’s that several books of his poetry were published by City Lights in San Francisco, where he would eventually move, with the aid of friends, like Allen Ginsburg.  His wife helped compile Kaufman compile and record his poetry, assisting with its publication.
Kaufman spent several stints in prison on Riker’s Island while still in New York, for mostly minor charges.  He was unfairly committed to a mental institution for unruly behavior and given electro-shock therapy against his will.  During this time he found Buddhism.  When John F. Kennedy was killed he took an oath of silence that lasted 10 years, a profound sacrifice for a man who was best known artistically as an oral poet.  Though he would end his silence for a time, he would return to it at the end of his life. 
If you want to hear more of Kaufman’s work, check out the video below:

Believe, Believe

By Bob Kaufman (1925 – 1986)
Believe in this. Young apple seeds,
In blue skies, radiating young breast,
Not in blue-suited insects,
Infesting society’s garments.
Believe in the swinging sounds of jazz,
Tearing the night into intricate shreds,
Putting it back together again,
In cool logical patterns,
Not in the sick controllers,
Who created only the Bomb.
Let the voices of dead poets
Ring louder in your ears
Than the screechings mouthed
In mildewed editorials.
Listen to the music of centuries,
Rising above the mushroom time.


It Seems To Me

Dudley Randall (1914 – 2000)

Booker T. and W.E.B.

By Dudley Randall
“It seems to me,” said Booker T.,
“It shows a mighty lot of cheek
To study chemistry and Greek
When Mister Charlie needs a hand
To hoe the cotton on his land,
And when Miss Ann looks for a cook,
Why stick your nose inside a book?”
“I don’t agree,” said W.E.B.,
“If I should have the drive to seek
Knowledge of chemistry or Greek,
I’ll do it. Charles and Miss can look
Another place for hand or cook.
Some men rejoice in skill of hand,
And some in cultivating land,
But there are others who maintain
The right to cultivate the brain.”
“It seems to me,” said Booker T.,
“That all you folks have missed the boat
Who shout about the right to vote,
And spend vain days and sleepless nights
In uproar over civil rights.
Just keep your mouths shut, do not grouse,
But work, and save, and buy a house.”
“I don’t agree,” said W.E.B.,
“For what can property avail
If dignity and justice fail.
Unless you help to make the laws,
They’ll steal your house with trumped-up clause.
A rope’s as tight, a fire as hot,
No matter how much cash you’ve got.
Speak soft, and try your little plan,
But as for me, I’ll be a man.”
“It seems to me,” said Booker T.—
“I don’t agree,”
Said W.E.B.

Randall Dudley is a name in poetry that you may not be familiar but from 1965 to 1977 his periodical Broadside Press, published out of Detroit, encouraged and showcased nearly every black poet that was influential in those years in North America.   Dudley was the son of a Minister, born in Washington, D. C. who moved to Detroit when he was nine. He began writing poems before he was five and published his first poem in the Detroit Free Press when he was thirteen.  He served in World War II and came back and got degrees in B. A. in English and a master’s degree in Library Science.   His poetry was published in multiple volumes over a long career, but he was more of a poet’s poet, than a main stream name.  His greater contribution to poetry was likely his thoughtful mentoring and publishing of other black authors authors work.   Poets such as Ethridge Knight, Sonia Sanchez, Gwendolyn Brooks, Haki R. Madhubuti and Nikki Giovanni have all praised Randall for his generous support of black artists and the impact that Broadside Press had during those years.   

Dudley wrote in different styles, but contributed to jazz poetry, sometimes gave readings accompanied by jazz music.  His poem Ballad of Birmingham was put to music by Jerry Moore and has been recorded by many artists over the years.  I have included a link to the song below.   Randall spoke fluent Russian, traveled extensively internationally and translated a host of poems from Russian to English.  Although a limited number of his poems are available on the internet, he is a name I will check out on the used section in Alibris, which is where I hunt down poetry that is out of print.  If you would like to read the poem, Ballad of Birmingham before you listen to it, you can check out the link below which will take you to a copy at the Poetry Foundation.



On Getting A Natural (For Gwendolyn Brooks)

by Dudley Randall

She didn’t know she was beautiful,
though her smiles were dawn,
her voice was bells,
and her skin deep velvet Night.

She didn’t know she was beautiful,
although her deeds,
kind, generous, unobtrusive,
gave hope to some,
and help to others,
and inspiration to us all. And
beauty is as beauty does,
they say.

Then one day there blossomed
a crown upon her head,
bushy, bouffant, real Afro-down,
Queen Nefertiti again.
And now her regal woolly crown
I know
I’m black