Watch With Wonder-Eyes

claude-mckay_photograph-from-the-1920s
Claude McKay

“Poems are handbooks for human decency and understanding. Poets hold water in their cupped hands and run back from the well because someone is parched and thirsting. The poem is a force field against despair. ”

Elizabeth Alexander – Academy of American Poets Chancellor

The Tropics of New York

By Claude McKay

Bananas ripe and green, and ginger root
. .Cocoa in pods and alligator pears,
And tangerines and mangoes and grape fruit,
. .Fit for the highest prize at parish fairs,

Sat in the window, bringing memories
. .of fruit-trees laden by low-singing rills,
And dewy dawns, and mystical skies
. .In benediction over nun-like hills.

My eyes grow dim, and I could no more gaze;
. .A wave of longing through my body swept,
And, hungry for the old, familiar ways
. .I turned aside and bowed my head and wept.


Claude McKay’s poetry is filled with lyric wishfulness, both joyous and homesick, poems filled with the radiance of memory and place, borne of an inner song.   It is the quality that Keats described when he said, “Poetry should be great and unobtrusive, a thing which enters into the soul, and does not startle or amaze with itself but with its subject.”

McKay was a poet before he left his beloved homeland of Jamaica to study agriculture, assuming he would return to share his new found knowledge. He attended the University of Kansas, where the love of literature overtook his interest in farming. McKay eventually moved to Harlem, where he would work menial jobs that paid enough to survive and would continue to write for the rest of his life.

McKay is the kind of poet who makes the difficult look easy.  He writes with a quality that makes words sing; songs of emotions and ideas. McKay confronted racism with his writing and more importantly confronted life.  McKay’s best poetry is like water for the thirsty, in protest or in reverence, his words are simply eloquent.

To read more about Claude McKay, in his own words, click on the link below for a reprint of an article he wrote in 1918 for Pearson’s Magazine.

http://harlemshadows.org/supp_mckay_claude-mackay-describes.html


Claude McKay and Jamaican Tourism-image-2

I Shall Return

by Claude McKay

I shall return again; I shall return
To laugh and love and watch with wonder-eyes
At golden noon the forest fires burn,
Wafting their blue-black smoke to sapphire skies.
I shall return to loiter by the streams
That bathe the brown blades of the bending grasses,
And realize once more my thousand dreams
Of waters rushing down the mountain passes.
I shall return to hear the fiddle and fife
Of village dances, dear delicious tunes
That stir the hidden depths of native life,
Stray melodies of dim remembered runes.
I shall return, I shall return again,
To ease my mind of long, long years of pain.

Strange Possessive Arms

ICHi-61825
Gwendolyn Brooks

 

Sonnet – Ballad

by Gwendolyn Brooks

Oh mother, mother, where is happiness?
They took my lover’s tallness off to war,
Left me lamenting. Now I cannot guess
What I can use an empty heart-cup for.
He won’t be coming back here any more.
Some day the war will end, but, oh, I knew
When he went walking grandly out that door
That my sweet love would have to be untrue.
Would have to be untrue. Would have to court
Coquettish death, whose impudent and strange
Possessive arms and beauty (of a sort)
Can make a hard man hesitate—and change.
And he will be the one to stammer, “Yes.”
Oh mother, mother, where is happiness?

 

 

We Real Cool

by Gwendolyn Brooks

The Pool Players.
. .Seven at the Golden Shovel.

. .We real cool. We
. .Left school. We

. .Lurk late. We
. .Strike straight. We

. .Sing sin. We
. .Thin gin. We

. .Jazz June. We
. .Die soon.

Copyright 1963 Gwendolyn Brooks

 

Voltas of Acoustics, Instinct & Metaphor

Terrance_Hayes575
Terrance Hayes

Although we live by strife,
     We’re always sorry to begin it.
What, we ask, is life
     Without a touch of Poetry in it.

Hail, Poetry, thou heav’n-born maid!
      Thou gildest e’en the pirate’s trade.
Hail, flowing fount of sentiment! 
      All hail! All hail! Divine emollient! 

Gilbert and Sullivan – Pirates of Penzance

 

American Sonnet for My Past and Future Assassin

by Terrance Hayes

I lock you in an American sonnet that is part prison,
Part panic closet, a little room in a house set aflame.
I lock you in a form that is part music box, part meat
Grinder to separate the song of the bird from the bone.
I lock your persona in a dream-inducing sleeper hold
While your better selves watch from the bleachers.
I make you both gym & crow here. As the crow
You undergo a beautiful catharsis trapped one night
In the shadows of the gym. As the gym, the feel of crow-
Shit dropping to your floors is not unlike the stars
Falling from the pep rally posters on your walls.
I make you a box of darkness with a bird in its heart.
Voltas of acoustics, instinct & metaphor. It is not enough
To love you. It is not enough to want you destroyed.

Copyright Poetry September 2017.


Who said the sonnet is a dried up husk as a literary form?  It still lives and breathes fire and ice in the hands of spirited young writers, like Terrance Hayes, who revel in the mastery of 14 lines.  Hayes stays within the bounds of tradition enough to give the poem added weight, while loosening the straps of  literary restraint enough to wiggle free to write smoothly and with style.

I love this poem.  The grinder to separate the song of the bird from the bone, is one hell of a line. Interesting questions come to my mind at the end. What does Hayes love?  What does he want destroyed? Tradition? I think he’ll let us decide.  I am grateful he is writing clever, thought provoking poetry.

The line “While your better selves watch from the bleachers” made me think of Yeats poem Second Coming and the line; “The best lack all conviction, while the worst are full of passionate intensity.”

What does Gilbert and Sullivan have to do with anything?   A silly reminder, fellow Pirate Kings, to try and keep a sense of humor, despite a whole herd of rough beasts slouching towards Bethlehem to be born.

To listen to Terrance Hayes read his poem, click on the link below to go to the Poetry Foundations website and click on the red arrow near the title.

https://www.poetryfoundation.org/poetrymagazine/poems/143917/american-sonnet-for-my-past-and-future-assassin-598dc83c976f1

 

Take Darkness And Make it Moan

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Tom Wiggins (1849 – 1908)

Sonnet Crown For Blind Tom

(Excerpt)

by Tyehimba Jess

What the Wind, Rain and Thunder said to Tom
Hear how sky opens its maw to swallow
Earth? To claim each blade and being and rock
with its spit? Become your own full sky. Own
every damn sound that struts through your ears.
Shove notes in your head till they bust out where
your eyes supposed to shine. Cast your lea
brightness across the world and folk will stare
when your hands touch piano. Bend our breath
through each fingertip uncurled and spread
upon the upright’s eighty-eight pegs.
Jangle up its teeth until it can tell
our story the way you would tell your own:
the way you take darkness and make it moan.

Copyright 2010 Tyehimba Jess

 


Tom Wiggins (1849-1908) was born into slavery.  Possessing remarkable skill on the piano, he performed original compositions and  popular songs on vaudeville stages all over the United States, played at the White House and did a tour of Europe.  An autistic savant, before the term was coined, he is described as having the ability to memorize any piece of music almost instantly.  He earned a small fortune for his pre-civil war “family” under the ruse of managing his career.

To read an interview with Tyehimba Jess and the entire poem Sonnet Crown For Blind Tom click on the link below. There is also an excellent article on Wikipedia that provides more information on the fascinating life of Tom Wiggins.

https://www.connotationpress.com/hoppenthaler-s-congeries/2014-07-31-16-08-50/january-2013/1701-tyehimba-jess-poetry

 

 

To hear a performance of one of Tom’s original compositions click on the link below:

 

 

Secret Knowledge

wanda_coleman
Wanda Coleman

American Sonnet (35)

By Wanda Coleman (1946 – 2013)

boooooooo. spooky ripplings of icy waves. this
umpteenth time she returns–this invisible woman
long on haunting short on ectoplasm

“you’re a good man, sistuh,” a lover sighed solongago.
“keep your oil slick and your motor running.”

wretched stained mirrors within mirrors of
fractured webbings like nests of manic spiders
reflect her ruined mien (rue wiggles remorse
squiggles woe jiggles bestride her). oozy Manes spill
out yonder spooling in night’s lofty hour exudes
her gloom and spew in rankling odor of heady dour

as she strives to retrieve flesh to cloak her bones
again to thrive to keep her poisoned id alive

usta be young usta be gifted—still black

Copyright © 1998 by Wanda Coleman.


Amen

By James Baldwin (1927 – 1984)

No, I don’t feel death coming.
I feel death going:
having thrown up his hands,
for the moment.
I feel like I know him
better than I did.
Those arms held me,
for a while,
and, when we meet again,
there will be that secret knowledge
between us.

Even After All This Time

hands-of-love

“Even 
After 
All this time
The Sun never says to the Earth,

“You owe me.”

Look
What happens
With a love like that,
It lights the whole sky.”

Hafiz

 

 

When Sue Wears Red

by Langston Hughes

When Susanna Jones wears red
her face is like an ancient cameo
Turned brown by the ages.
Come with a blast of trumphets, Jesus!

When Susanna Jones wears red
A queen from some time-dead Egyptian night
Walks once again.
Blow trumphets, Jesus!

And the beauty of Susanna Jones in red
Burns in my heart a love-fire sharp like a pain.
Sweet silver trumphets, Jesus!

Where Are The Stars

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June Jordan

Poem For My Love

By June Jordan (1936 – 2002)

How do we come to be here next to each other
in the night
Where are the stars that show us to our love
inevitable
Outside the leaves flame usual in darkness
and the rain
falls cool and blessed on the holy flesh
the black men waiting on the corner for
a womanly mirage
I am amazed by peace
It is this possibility of you
asleep
and breathing in the quiet air

 


 

 

June Jordan reading 8 poems, Feb. 12, 1979

This is a longer recording.  Click on the link below to hear the musicality and intensity of June Jordan’s voice verse.  Jordan was a prolific writer, essayist, poet, civil rights activist and a talented teacher.

https://www.loc.gov/item/91740691/

 


 

Sunflower Chalrles Beck
Charles Beck ( 1923 – 2017)

Sunflower Sonnet Number 2

June Jordan

Supposing we could just go on as two
voracious in the days apart as well as when
we side by side (the many ways we do
that) well! I would consider then
perfection possible, or else worthwhile
to think about. Which is to say
I guess the costs of long term tend to pile
up, block and complicate, erase away
the accidental, temporary, near
thing/pulsebeat promises one makes
because the chance, the easy new, is there
in front of you. But still, perfection takes
some sacrifice of falling stars for rare.
And there are stars, but none of you, to spare.