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.
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.
If a man is not faithful to his own individuality, then he can not by loyal to anything.
By Claude McKay (1889 – 1948)
Sometimes I tremble like a storm-swept flower,
And seek to hide my tortured soul from thee.
Bowing my head in deep humility
Before the silent thunder of thy power.
Sometimes I flee before thy blazing light,
As from the specter of pursuing death;
Intimidated lest thy mighty breath,
Windways, will sweep me into utter night.
For oh, I fear they will be swallowed up–
The loves which are to me of vital worth,
My passion and my pleasure in the earth–
And lost forever in thy magic cup!
I fear, I fear my truly human heart
Will perish on the altar-stone of art!
Check out this excerpt of an audio recording of a James Baldwin speech. In it he says; “the artist’s struggle for integrity is a metaphor for the struggle of all human beings to become human beings.”
What kind of artist are you? What kind of artist do you want want to be? Interesting questions to contemplate.
A House in Taos
by Langston Hughes (1902 – 1967)
Thunder of the Rain God: . .And we three . .Smitten by beauty.
Thunder of the Rain God: . .And we three . .Weary, weary.
Thunder of the Rain God: . .And you, she, and I . .Waiting for nothingness.
Do you understand the stillness . .Of this house . ..In Taos
Under the thunder of the Rain God?
That there should be a barren garden
About this house in Taos
Is not so strange,
But that there should be three barren hearts
In this one house in Taos—
Who carries ugly things to show the sun?
Did you ask for the beaten brass of the moon?
We can buy lovely things with money,
Yet you seek,
As though you could keep,
This unbought loveliness of moon.
Touch our bodies, wind.
Our bodies are separate, individual things.
Touch our bodies, wind,
But blow quickly
Through the red, white, yellow skins
Of our bodies
To the terrible snarl,
But all one snarl of souls.
Blow quickly, wind,
Before we run back
Into the windlessness—
With our bodies—
Into the windlessness
Of our house in Taos.
“Modern thought and literature begins with the invention of the sonnet.”
Paul Oppenheimer in The Birth of the Modern Mind
By Jean Toomer (1894 – 1967)
Whoever it was who brought the first wood and coal
To start the Fire, did his part well;
Not all wood takes to fire from a match,
Nor coal from wood before it’s burned to charcoal.
The wood and coal in question caught a flame
And flared up beautifully, touching the air
That takes a flame from anything.
Somehow the fire was furnaced,
And then the time was ripe for some to say,
“Right banking of the furnace saves the coal.”
I’ve seen them set to work, each in his way,
Though all with shovels and with ashes,
Never resting till the fire seemed most dead;
Whereupon they’d crawl in hooded night-caps
Contentedly to bed. Sometimes the fire left alone
Would die, but like as not spiced tongues
Remaining by the hardest on till day would flicker up,
Never strong, to anyone who cared to rake for them.
But roaring fires never have been made that way.
I’d like to tell those folks that one grand flare
Transferred to memory tissues of the air
Is worth a like, or, for dull minds that turn in gold,
All money ever saved by banking coal.
Curiosity is the only lens anyone has into the life of another human being. What I enjoy about poetry is that it wipes away the differences that may appear to divide us and aligns all of humanity around our common dreams, the innermost whispers that make us all the same.
The sonnet may feel to some like a straight jacket of literary convention. If you look deeper, its history is one of rebellion. The sonnet was the first lyric form intended for self reflection. Throughout its history, the sonnet has been used as a radical vehicle to share the poet’s self-consciousness and self- conflict through the brazen use of first person.
The sonnet is far from settled as a literary form and Jean Toomer’s poem Banking Coal is a great example of that flexibility. Toomer utilizes elements of the sonnet structure to connect to a deeper literary history. The sonnet is a vehicle for self-discovery and self-definition that cannot be defined by a single racial or gender identity.
Toomer was fiercely independent and refused to be categorized during his lifetime as strictly an African American writer, although his publisher played up his connection to the Harlem Renaissance movement in part to increase sales. Toomer moved continually between black and white societies and did not allow himself to be bound by race in his personal or professional life. Toomer claimed to be an American who represented a new culture, a mixing of American society.
His novel Cane was widely acclaimed as a new voice in literature. In it Toomer combines poetry, short stories and theater dialogue into a fluid vehicle for story telling. Cane is written in a unique style that broadened the idea of the modern novel. The sonnet below is an excerpt from Cain.
On a side note, Toomer and I have something in common, in that we both studied Agriculture at a land grant University, in his case the University of Wisconsin.
Science! true daughter of Old Time thou art!
Who alterest all things with thy peering eyes.
Why preyest thou thus upon the poet’s heart,
Vulture, whose wings are dull realities?
How should he love thee? or how deem thee wise,
Who wouldst not leave him in his wandering
To seek for treasure in the jewelled skies,
Albeit he soared with an undaunted wing?
Hast thou not dragged Diana from her car,
And driven the Hamadryad from the wood
To seek a shelter in some happier star?
Hast thou not torn the Naiad from her flood,
The Elfin from the green grass, and from me
The summer dream beneath the tamarind tree?
By T. A. Fry
Crooked handle, points of light, Ladle full of black delight, Obscured from sight or burning bright, The dipper points due north.
It’s infinite, a soup of dreams. Laughter broth with tiger cream, Pig-tailed girls, little boys lean Who dare to venture forth.
What of those who turn away? Or hunker down and choose to stay. Who hate the night, embrace the day, And face the sunshine south.
Restraint is in the milky way, River of light, come what may. For roosters crow and donkeys bray With a smiling mouth.
Then there’s those that love the moon. It’s gentle light, a babies croon, A swooping owl, a laughing loon, Peace rises in the east.
The moon it waxes and it wanes, Outside our doors and window panes. Old or young, it’s all the same. The grateful at a feast.
Adventurers and nestled stones, Withered muscle, sturdy bone, A crowded dance or home alone, Our lonely sun sails west.
The sun it rises and it sets, The miser saves, the gambler bets A desert’s dry, an ocean’s wet, Your love my welcome guest.
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.
Your song dies and changes
And is not here to-morrow
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 . . .
Definition 11. “Poetry is a series of explanations of life, fading off into horizons too swift for explanations.”
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.
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 even 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.