I Dream A World

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Langston Hughes Testifying Before The House Un-American Activities Committee (HUAC) in 1953.

Blacklisted 

by Carl Sandburg

Why shall I keep the old name?
What is a name anywhere anyway?
A name is a cheap thing all fathers and mothers leave each child:
A job is a job and I want to live, so
Why does God Almighty or anybody else care whether I take a new name to go by?

I Dream A World

by Langston Hughes

I dream a world where man
No other man will scorn,
Where love will bless the earth
And peace its paths adorn
I dream a world where all
Will know sweet freedom’s way,
Where greed no longer saps the soul
Nor avarice blights our day.
A world I dream where black or white,
Whatever race you be,
Will share the bounties of the earth
And every man is free,
Where wretchedness will hang its head
And joy, like a pearl,
Attends the needs of all mankind-
Of such I dream, my world!

 


In my recent blog post, Break My Ghostly Heart,  I wrote about Dorothy Parker being blacklisted and the impact it had on her.  However no individual was accused by the House Un-american Activities Committee (HUAC) of having more communist associations than Langston Hughes. Hughes would be forced to testify before Senator Joseph McCarthy’s subcommittee in 1953. In the end, Hughes’ legacy is one as a true American, not McCarthy.  The current claims of being “more patriotic” by Trump and his supporters ring with the same falsehoods that McCarthyism did in the 1950’s.

Langston responded to a questionnaire sent by Elmer Rice to 50 writers who had been named as suspected communists by the government in Red Channels.  Rice asked Langston a series of questions, but simply put – he was asking how has being blacklisted impacted you.   Here is a portion of Hughes’ brilliant reply to Rice in a letter in 1952.


Elmer Rice:   QUESTIONNAIRE

  1. Has the publication of your name in Red Channels adversely affected your employment or the use of your material in the radio and television fields?

 

Dear Elmer,

Here are my answers to the questionnaire re the FCC and blacklisting in TV and radio:

  1. The publication of my name in RED CHANNELS has not affected my employment in TV or radio. Being colored I received no offers of employment in these before RED CHANNELS appeared, and have had none since—so it hasn’t affected me at all.
  2. Answered above.
  3. Negro writers, being black, have always been blacklisted in radio and TV. Only once in a blue moon are any colored writers given an opportunity to do a script and then, usually, with no regularity, and no credits. Like Hollywood, Negroes just simply are not employed in the writing fields in the American entertainment industry.
  4. My personal experience has been that in my 25 years of writing, I have not been asked to do more than four or five commercial one-shot scripts. These were performed on major national hook-ups, but produced for me no immediate additional jobs or requests. One script for BBC was done around the world with an all-star cast. No American stations offered me work. My agents stated flatly, “It is just about impossible to sell a Negro writer to Hollywood or radio, and they use Negro subject matter very rarely.” Even the “Negro” shows like “Amos and Andy” and “Beulah” are written largely by white writers—the better to preserve the stereotypes, I imagine.

During the war I did a number of requested scripts for the Writers War Board, used throughout the country. Most of the white writers serving this committee also got any number of paying jobs to do patriotic scripts. Not one chance to do a commercial script was offered me.

My one period of work in radio covering several weeks was a few summers ago scripting the NBC show, “Swing Time at The Savoy”, a Negro variety revue. This was achieved at the insistence of the N.A.A.C.P. that objected to the stereotypes in the audition scripts written by white writers. NBC had at that time had not one Negro writer on its staff—which would have saved them making the mistakes the N.A.A.C.P. objected to and which were offensive to the general Negro public. As far as I know, Negro writers are, however, “blacklisted” at NBC. I know of none working there regularly.

Richard Durham in Chicago and Bob Lucas and Woody Bovell in New York are excellent radio writers but, being Negroes, they work with great irregularity—not due to being red but due to being colored.

  1. No point in my appearing—the color bars everyone knows have been with us since radio began, before TV was born, and long ere that.

I’d like to add, however, my personal gratitude to you and the committee for your very fine stand in relation to the freedom to work—for those writers who are white enough to work (when not red-baited) and I hope as well for those writers who have been blacklisted from birth.

And to you for your personal stand, Elmer, my very great admiration.

Sincerely yours,
Langston Hughes

 

Excerpted from “Selected Letters of Langston Hughes” (Knopf), edited by Arnold Rampersad and David Roessel with Christa Fratantoro. Copyright © 2014 the estate of Langston Hughes.

What Can Be Explained Is Not Poetry

Gabriela Mistral
Gabriela Mistral

Languages

by Carl Sandburg (1878 – 1967)

There are no handles upon a language
Whereby men take hold of it
And mark it with signs for its remembrance.
It is a river, this language,
Once in a thousand years
Breaking a new course
Changing its way to the ocean.
It is mountain effluvia
Moving to valleys
And from nation to nation
Crossing borders and mixing.
Languages die like rivers.
Words wrapped round your tongue today
And broken to shape of thought
Between your teeth and lips speaking
Now and today
Shall be faded hieroglyphics
Ten thousand years from now.
Sing—and singing—remember
Your song dies and changes
And is not here to-morrow

Buffalo Dusk

by Carl Sandburg

The buffaloes are gone.
And those who saw the buffaloes are gone.
Those who saw the buffaloes by thousands and how they pawed the prairie sod into dust with their hoofs, their great heads down pawing on in a great pageant of dusk,
Those who saw the buffaloes are gone.
And the buffaloes are gone.

 


Death Sonnets II

By Gabriela Mistral

Translated by D. K. Fennell

This growing tiredness will culminate some day,
and the soul will tell the body of its craving to desist
from dragging its heavy weight though that rosy way,
where men continue going, simply to exist.

You will feel at your side men digging urgently,
and another slumberer arrive at your noiseless door.
I will wait until I am covered totally . . .
And afterward we shall talk forevermore!

Only then will you know the reason, though immature
your flesh yet remains for such abysmal shrine,
you had to go down to sleep, with open eye.

Where fates are fixed there will be light, obscure;
you will learn that our connection bore an astral sign
and, with the vast pack broken, you had to die.

Este largo cansancio se hará mayor un día,
y el alma dirá al cuerpo que no quiere seguir
arrastrando su masa por la rosada vía,
por donde van los hombres, contentos de vivir.

Sentirás que a tu lado cavan briosamente,
que otra dormida llega a la quieta cuidad.
Esperaré que me hayan cubierto totalmente . . .
¡y después hablaremos por una eternidad!

Sólo entonces sabrás el porqué, no madura
para las hondas huesas tu carne todavía,
tuviste que bajar, sin fatiga, a dormir.

Se hará luz en la zona de los sinos, oscura;
sabrás que en nuestra alianza signo de astros había
y, roto el pacto enorme, tenías que morir . . .

 

Not As One, But As A Tribe

Carl Sandburg
Carl Sandburg (1878 – 1967)
Definition 11.  “Poetry is a series of explanations of life, fading off into horizons too swift for explanations.”
Carl Sandburg

Let Me Tell You What A Poem Brings

by Juan Felipe Herrera

Before you go further,
let me tell you what a poem brings,
first, you must know the secret, there is no poem
to speak of, it is a way to attain a life without boundaries,
yes, it is that easy, a poem, imagine me telling you this,
instead of going day by day against the razors, well,
the judgments, all the tick-tock bronze, a leather jacket
sizing you up, the fashion mall, for example, from
the outside you think you are being entertained,
when you enter, things change, you get caught by surprise,
your mouth goes sour, you get thirsty, your legs grow cold
standing still in the middle of a storm, a poem, of course,
is always open for business too, except, as you can see,
it isn’t exactly business that pulls your spirit into
the alarming waters, there you can bathe, you can play,
you can even join in on the gossip—the mist, that is,
the mist becomes central to your existence.


Sonnet 9

by Carl Sandburg

Fair is the rising morn when o’er the sky
The orient sun expands his roseate ray,
And lovely to the Bard’s enthusiast eye
Fades the meek radiance of departing day;
But fairer is the smile of one we love,
Than all the scenes in Nature’s ample sway.
And sweeter than the music of the grove,
The voice that bids us welcome. Such delight
EDITH! is mine, escaping to thy sight
From the hard durance of the empty throng.
Too swiftly then towards the silent night
Ye Hours of happiness! ye speed along,
Whilst I, from all the World’s cold cares apart,
Pour out the feelings of my burthen’d heart.


There are blog posts I know I should end without commentary, let the poems speak for themselves.   This is one of those posts, where my inner voice screams “Stop, you’ll ruin it,” and like an idiot, I ignore that voice and push on anyways.

I think there are many others, like myself, who find respite in poetry. I believe it is a global,  powerful, informed group of  individuals, who by their very nature, are diverse, complicated and have developed, maybe without evening knowing it, their own definitions of poetry, like Carl Sandburg….


Not As One, But As A Tribe

by T. A. Fry

Not as one, but as a tribe
Held to a mark befit our bent,
With poets as our willing scribes.
A writ of civic sacraments.

A language we can all abide;
Like wind before a wild horse.
Ideas that sweep along our lives
Allegory to avail our course.

Who lauds our lyric heroes now?
Inspirer’s of a greater good.
Words to guide what we avow,
Signposts in a darkening wood.

What laureate shall stake their claim
As mirror to a better world?
And silence critics that proclaim
They alone turn sand to pearls.


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