Something Like A Sonnet for Phillis Miracle Wheatley
by June Jordan
Girl from the realm of birds florid and fleet flying full feather in far or near weather Who fell to a dollar lust coffled like meat Captured by avarice and hate spit together Trembling asthmatic alone on the slave block built by a savagery travelling by carriage viewed like a species of flaw in the livestock A child without safety of mother or marriage Chosen by whimsy but born to surprise They taught you to read but you learned how to write Begging the universe into your eyes: They dressed you in light but you dreamed with the night. From Africa singing of justice and grace, Your early verse sweetens the fame of our Race.
His Excellency General Washington (Excerpt)
Phillis Wheatley – (1753-1784)
. .The Goddess comes, she moves divinely fair, Olive and laurel binds Her golden hair: Wherever shines this native of the skies, Unnumber’d charms and recent graces rise.
Muse! Bow propitious while my pen relates How pour her armies through a thousand gates, As when Eolus heaven’s fair face deforms, Enwrapp’d in tempest and a night of storms; Astonish’d ocean feels the wild uproar, The refluent surges beat the sounding shore; Or think as leaves in Autumn’s golden reign, Such, and so many, moves the warrior’s train. In bright array they seek the work of war, Where high unfurl’d the ensign waves in air. Shall I to Washington their praise recite? Enough thou know’st them in the fields of fight. Thee, first in peace and honors—we demand The grace and glory of thy martial band. Fam’d for thy valour, for thy virtues more, Hear every tongue thy guardian aid implore!
“Who hasn’t walked through a life of small tragedies?
Jacqueline Woodson, Another Brooklyn
sometimes no words are needed
by Jacqueline Woodson
Deep winter and the night air is cold. So still, it feels like the world goes on forever in the darkness until you look up and the earth stops in a ceiling of stars. My head against my grandfather’s arm, a blanket around us as we sit on the front porth swing. Its whine like a song.
You don’t need words on a night like this. Just the warmth of your grandfather’s arm. Just the silent promise that the world as we know it will always be here.
what god knows
by Jacqueline Woodson
We pray for my grandfather Ask God to spare him even though he’s a nonbeliever. We ask that Jehovah look into his heart, see the goodness there.
But my grandfather says he doesn’t need our prayers. I work hard, he says, I treat people like I want to be treated. God sees this. God knows.
At the end of the day he lights a cigarette , unlaces his dusty brogans. Stretches his legs. God sees my good, he says. Do all the preaching and praying you want
For me, the promised land, always seeming just beyond my reach, is the poetic masterpiece, that perfect union of words in cadence, each beckoned and shined and breathed into place, each moving in well-tried harmony of tone and texture and meaning with its neighbors, molding an almost living being so faithful to observable truth, so expressive of the mass of humanity and so aglow with the beauty of just proportions that the reader feels a chill in his legs or a catch in his throat.
A Fool For Evergreen
by James Emanuel
A little bit of fool in me Hides behind my inmost tree And pops into the narrow path I walk blindfolded by my wrath Or shrunken by some twist of pain, Some hope that will not wind again. He ogles with his antic eyes and somersaults a you’re-not-wise Until the patches in his pants Go colorwheeling through my glance So fast that I cannot recall That I was mad or sad at all. A little bit of fool in me Keeps evergreen my inmost tree.
Writing this blog, it is hard sometimes for me to reconcile the beauty of a poem and the sadness that is part of a poets life. Most of these poets I know nothing about their lives until I find their poem first and then do a little research about the poet. James Emanuel was born and grew up Nebraska. At age twenty he enlisted in the United States Army in 1941 and served as the confidential secretary to the Assistant Inspector General of the U.S. Army during WWII. After his discharge, he went to Harvard for his undergraduate, then Northwestern for his masters and ultimately on to Columbia for his Ph. D. He then moved to New York City where he taught at City College of New York (CUNY) where he taught the college’s first course on African-American poetry.
Emanuel was a poet, an educator, a scholar, an editor and mentor to many. As the years passed Emanuel became disenfranchised with racism in America. In 1960 he moved to Europe where he continued a brilliant career at the University of Toulouse as a Fulbright scholar. He traveled and lectured at many Universities with extended stays at the University of Grenoble and University of Warsaw. In the late 1980’s his only child, a son, was brutally beaten by three racist cops in Los Angeles. In the emotional aftermath his son committed suicide and Emanuel never returned to America.
Emanuel published more than 300 poems, 13 books and was an influential editor and critic. Emanuel created a new literary genre, jazz-and-blues haiku, which he read to musical accompaniment throughout Europe and Africa. Yet despite all that success he is largely overlooked in most literary circles after 1960, in part because he left the United States and because he wrote in mostly traditional poetic forms. Emanuel was the last surviving writer from the Harlem Renaissance. He died in 2013 in Paris France. I find it interesting that both he and Ethridge Knight shared a love of haiku that went largely unnoticed in America during their lifetimes.
I listened to the video below as I wrote this blog entry. It brightened my day. I found it ironic that the critics ignored him for being “traditional” and yet there is nothing traditional about his verse. The joy in his voice, the artists he is honoring mingle with his haiku style and content and the sweet saxophone jazz. It all combines into a stunning hypnotic literary effect. Check out the video at about the 16:30 there are a couple of haiku on hip hop. I particularly enjoyed the Jazz Rabbit.
by James Emanuel
I hear a whistling Through the water. Little Emmett Won’t be still. He keeps floating Round the darkness, Edging through The silent chill. Tell me, please, That bedtime story Of the fairy River Boy Who swims forever, Deep in treasures, Necklaced in A coral toy.
If Black History Month is not
viable then wind does not
carry the seeds and drop them
on fertile ground
rain does not
dampen the land
and encourage the seeds
sun does not
warm the earth
and kiss the seedlings
and tell them plain:
You’re As Good As Anybody Else
You’ve Got A Place Here, Too
As A Possible Lover
by Amiri Baraka (1934 – 2014)
silence, the way of wind
in early lull. Cold morning
to night, we go so
to ourselves. (Enough
to have thought
finishes it. What
you are, will have
no certainty, or
end. That you will
stay, where you are,
a human gentle wisp
of life. Ah . . . . ) . . practices
as a virtue. A single
what you have