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.
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,
. 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.