Archive for the 'Race' Category

Robert Hayden

May 9, 2007

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(1913-1980)

Born in Detroit, was raised by a foster family next door to his mother
Struggled with severe nearsightedness
Greatly admired W.H. Auden
Taught until his death
Poet of elegance and restraint, wrote about such emotionally fraught subjects as lynching of African Americans during the civil rights movement, the transport of slaves from Africa to the New World and his own perplexity as a youth raised in a Detroit slum
Poetry condenses and evokes feelings and ideas in intricate sonic textures
Approaches highly charged subjects indirectly, even risking adoption of the voice of victimizer
One of the leading African American poets of the twentieth century
Became Baha’i in 1943, embracing a religion that teaches the unity of all faiths and peoples
Put to powerful use modernist aesthetic principles as concision, allusion, juxtaposition, collage, and symbolism

Quotations:

I
Jesus, Estrella, Esperanza, Mercy:
Sails flashing to the wind like weapons,/ sharks follwing the moans the fever and they dying;/ horror the corposant and compass rose.
Middle Passage:/ voyage through death/ to life upon these shores.

“10 April 1800-/ Blacks rebellious. Crew uneasy. Our linguist says/ their moaning is a prayer for death,/ ours and their own. Some try to starve themselves./ Lost three this morning leaped with crazy laughter/ to the waiting sharks, sang as they went under.”
Desire, Adventure, Tartar, Ann:
Standing to America, bringing home/ black gold, black ivory, black seed.
Deep in the festering hold thy father lies,/ of his bones New England pews are made,/ those are altar lights that were his eyes.
Jesus   Savior   Pilot   Me/ Over   Life’s   Tempestuous   Sea
We pray that Thou wilt grant, O Lord,/ safe passage to our vessels bringing/ heathen souls unto Thy chastening.
Jesus   Savior

II
Aye, lad, and I have seen those factories,/ Gambia, Rio Pongo, Calabar;/ have watched the artful mongos baiting traps/ of war wherein the victor and the vanquished
Were caught as prizes for our barracoons./ Have seen the nigger kings whose vanity/ and greed turned wild black hides of Fellatah,/ Mandingo, Ibo, Kru to gold for us.

III
Shuttles in the rocking loom of history,/ the dark ships move, the dark ships move,/ their bright ironical names/ like jests of kindness on a murderer’s mouth;/ plough through thrashing glister toward/ fata morgana’s lucent melting shore,/ weave toward New World littorals that are/ mirage and myth and actual shore.
Voyage through death,/ voyage whose chartings are unlove.

You cannot stare that hatred down/ or chain the fear that stalks the watches/ and breathes on you its fetid scorching breath;/ cannot kill the deep immortal human wish,/ the timeless will.

“It sickens me/ to think of what I saw, of how these apes/ threw overboard the butchered bodies of our men, true Christians all, like so much jetsaam./ Enough, enough. the rest is quickly told:/ Cinque was forced to spare the two of us/ you see to steer the ship to Africa,/ and we like phantoms doomed to rove the sea/ voyaged east by day and west by night,/ deceiving them, hoping for rescue,/ prisoners on our own vessel, till/ at length we drifted to the shores of this/ your land, America, where we were freed/ from our unspeakable misery. Now we/ demand, good sirs, the extradition of/ Cinquez and his accomplices to La/ Havana.

I tell you that we are determined to return to Cuba/ with our slaves and there see justice done./ Cinquez-/ or let us say ‘the Prince’- Cinquez shall die.”
The deep imortal human wish,/ the timeless will.
Cinquez its deathless primaveral image,/ life that transfigures many lives.
Voyage through death/ to life upon these shores.

-Middle Passage

Journey of slaves across the Atlantic from Africa to the Americas
Poetic voice changes in each part

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Gwendolyn Brooks

May 9, 2007

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(1917-2000)

Grew up in Chicago
Appointed poet laureate of Illinois
Became the first African American woman to be appointed poetry consultant to the Library of Congress
Married to Henry Blakely and had a son and daughter
Often presents the characters of local people
Poetry is direct but sly and ironic
Determined to represent everyday lives of African American city dwellers in her work

Quotations:

We real cool. We/ Left school. We
Lurk late. We/ Strike straight. We
Sing sin. We/ Thin gin. We
Jazz June. We/ Die soon.

-We Real Cool (in whole)

The Pool Players.
Seven at the Golden Shovel.

Without my having known./ Policeman said, next morning,/ “Apparently died Alone.”/ “You heard a shot?” Policeman said./ Shots I hear and Shots I hear./ I never see the dead.
The Shot that killed him yes I heard/ as I heard the Thousand shots before;/ careening tinnily down the nights/ across my years and arteries.
Policeman pounded on my door./ “Who is it?” “POLICE!” Policeman yelled./ “A Boy was dying in your alley./ A Boy is dead, and in your alley./ And have you known this Boy before?”
I have known this Boy before./ I have known this Boy b efore, who/ ornaments my alley./ I never saw his face at all./ I never saw his futurefall./ But I have known this Boy.
I have always heard him deal with death./ I have always heard the shout, the volley./ I have closed my heart-ears late and early./ And I have killed him ever.
I joined the Wild and killed him/ with knowledgeable unknowing./ I saw where he was gong./ I saw him Crossed. And seeing,/ I did not take him down.
he cried not only “Father!”/ but “Mother!/ Sister!/ Brother.”/ The cry climbed up the alley./ It went up to the wind./ It hung upon the heaven/ for a long/ stretch-strain of Moment.
The red floor of my alley/ is a special speech to me.

-The Boy Died in My Alley (in whole)

They eat beans mostly, this old yellow pair./ Dinner is a casual affair./ Plain chipware on a plain and creaking wood,/ Tin flatware.
Two who are Mostly Good./ Two who have lived their day,/ But keep on putting on their clothes/ And putting things away.
And remembering…/ Remembering, with twinklings and twinges,/ As they lean over the beans in their rented back room that is full of beads and receipts and dolls and cloths, tobacco crumbs, vaces and fringes.

-The Bean Eaters (in whole)

Whose broken window is a cry of art/ (success, that winks aware/ as elegance, as a treasonable faith)/ is raw: is sonic: is old-eyed premiere./ Our beautiful flaw and terrible ornament./ Our barbarous and metal little man.
“I shall create! If not a note, a hole./ If not an overture, a desecration.”
Full of pepper and light/ and Salt and night and cargoes.
“Don’t go down the plank/ if you see there’s no extension./ Each to his grief, each to/ his loneliness and fidgety revenge.
Nobody knew where I was and now I am no longer there.”
The only sanity is a cup of tea./ The music is in minors.
Each one other/ is having different weather.
“It was you, it was you who threw away my name!/ And this is everything I have for me.”
Who has not Congress, lobster, love, luau,/ the Regency Room, the Statue of Liberty,/ runs. A sloppy amalgamation./ A mistake./ A cliff./ A hymn, a snare, and an exceeding sun.

-Boy Breaking Glass (in whole)

To Marc Crawford from whom the commission

Derek Walcott

May 9, 2007

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(1930-)

The preeminent Caribbean poet writing in English
Born on Saint Lucia, one of the four Windward Islands
Background is racially and culturally mixed
Tries to embrace all his cultural influences
Asks how the postcolonial poet can both grieve the agonizing harm of Brithis colonialism and appreciate the empire’s literary gift
Has adapted various literary archetypes and forms
Has a great passion for metaphor
Currently paints and writes on the Northwest coast of Saint Lucia

Quotations:

A wind is ruffling the tawny pelt/ Of Africa. Kikuyu, quick as flies,/ Batten upon the bloodstreams of the veldt./ Corpses are scattered through a paradise.

The violence of beast on beast is read/ As natural law, but upright man/ Seeks his divinity by inflicting pain.

I who am poisoned with the blood of both,/ Where shall I turn, divided to the vein?/ I who have cursed/ The drunken officer of British rule, how choose/ Between this Africa and the English tongue I love?/ Betray them both, or give back what they give?/ How can I face such slaughter and be cool?/ How can I turn from Africa and live?

-A Far Cry From Africa

Below bent breadfruit trees/ in the flat, coloured city, class
escalated into structures still,/ merchant, middleman, magistrate, knight. To go downhill/ from here was to ascend.
The middle passage never guessed its end./ This is the hight of poverty/ for the desperate and black;
climbing, we could look back/ with widening memory/ on the hot, corrugated-iron sea/ whose horrors we all
shared.

Afterwards,/ the ceremony, the careful photograph/ moved out of range before the patient tombs,
we dare a laugh,/ ritual, desperate words,/ born like these children from habitual wombs,
from lives fixed in the unalterable groove/ of grinding poverty. I stand out on a balcony/ and watch the sun pave its flat, golden path
across the roofs, the aerials, cranes, the tops/ of fruit trees crawling downard to the city./ Something inside is laid wide like a wound,
some open passage that has cleft the brain,/ some deep, amnesiac blow. We left/ somewhere a life we never found,
customs and gods that are not born again,/ some crib, some grille of light/ clanged shut on us in bondage, and withheld
us from that world below us and beyond,/ and in its swaddling cerements we’re still bound.

-Laventille

Laventille is a hillside slum outside Port of Spain

Where are your monuments, your battles, martyrs?/ Where is your tribal memory? Sirs,/ in that grey vault. The sea. The sea/ has locked them up. The sea is History.

Sir, it islocked in them sea-sands/ out there past the reef’s moiling shelf,/ where the men-o’-war floated down;
strop on these goggles, I’ll guide you there myself./ It’s all subtle and submarine,/ through colonnades of coral,
past the gothic windows of sea-fans/ to where the crusty grouper, onyx-eyes,/ blinks, weighted by its jewels, like a bald queen;
and these groined caves with barnacles/ pitted like stone/ are our cathedrals,
and the furnace before the hurricanes:/ Gomorrah. Bones ground by windmills/ into marl and cornmeanl,
and that was Lamentations-/ that was just Lamentations,/ it was not History;

Then came the white sisters clapping/ to the waves’ progress, / and that was Emancipation-
jubilation, O jubilation-/ vanishing swiftly/ as the sea’s lace dries in the sun,
but that was not History,/ that was only faith,/ and then each rock broke into its own nation;
then came the synod of flies,/ then came the secretarial heron,/ then came the bullfrog bellowing for a vote,
fireflies with bright ideas/ and bats like jetting ambassadors/ and the mantis, like khaki police,
and the furred caterpillars of judges/ examining each case closely,/ and then in the dark ears of ferns
and in the salt chuckle of rocks/ with their sea pools, there was the sound/ like a rumor without any echo
of Hisotry, really beginning.

-The Sea Is History

 

Lucille Clifton

May 9, 2007

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(1936-)

Born Thelma Lucille Sayles
Married Fred Clifton
Has written frankly about being an incest survivor
Raised six children
Has two ancestors of great significance to her: great-great-grandmother Caroline, a west-central African girl kidnapped by slave traders and great-grandmother Lucille, the first woman legally hanged in “Virginia for murdering the white father of her only son
Celebrates African American culture, especially black womanhood
Protests the injustices inflicted by the larger culture
Intensely personal and yet collectivist: bridges the gap between “confessional poetry” and “identity poetry”

Quotations

i am accused of tending to the past/ as if i made it,/ as if i sculpted it/ with my own hands. i did not./ this past was waiting for me/ when i came,/ a monstrous unnamed baby,/ and i with my mother’s itch/ took it to breast/ and named it/ History./ she is more human now,/ learning language everyday,/ remembering faces, names and dates./ when she is strong enough to travel/ on her own, beware, she will.

-[i am accused of tending to the past] (in whole)

among the rocks/ at walnut grove/ your silence drumming/ in my bones,/ tell me your names.
nobody mentioned slaves/ and yet the curious tools/ shine with your fingerprints./ nobody mentioned slaves/ but somebody did this work/ who had no guide, no stone,/ who moulders under rock.
tell me your names,/ tell me your bashful names/ and i will testify.
the inventory lists ten slaves/ but only men were recognized.
among the rocks/ at walnut grove/ some of these honored dead/ were dark/ some of these dark/ were slaves/ some of these slaves/ were women/ some of them did this/ honored work./ tell me your names/ foremothers, brothers,/ tell me your dishonored names./ here lies/ here lies/ here lies/ here lies/ hear

-at the cemetery, walnut grove plantation, south carolina, 1989 (in whole)

you   uterus/ you have been patient/ as a sock/ while i have slippered into you/ my dead and living children/ now/ they want to cut you out/ stocking i will not need/ where i am going/ where am i going/ old girl/ without you/ uterus/ my bloody print/ my estrogen kitchen/ my black bag of desire/ where can i go/ barefoot/ without you/ where can you go/ without me

-poem to my uterus (in whole)

well girl, goodbye,/ after thrity-eight years./ thirty-eight years and you/ never arrived/ splendid in your red dress/ without trouble for me/ somewhere, somehow.
now it is done,/ and i feel just like/ the grandmothers who,/ after the hussy has gone,/ sit holding her photograph/ and sighing,
wasn’t she/ beautiful? wasn’t she beautiful?

-to my last period (in whole)

Michael S. Harper

May 9, 2007

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(1938-)

Born in Brooklyn, New York but went to the west coast for much of his education
Is a professor at Brown Univesity
Secretly listened to jazz recordings as an adolescent
Work takes the view that life is at best a melancholy business
Mourns the deaths of two infant sons in a series of tormented elegies
Pursued premedical studies before being deterred by racism
Forces scientific culture and black oral culture

Quotaitons:

I place these numbed wrists to the pane/ watching white uniforms whisk over/ him in the tube-kept/ prison/ fear what they will do in experiement/ watch my gloved stickshifting gasolined hands/ breathe boxcar-information-please infirmary tubes/ distrusting white-pink mending paperthin/ silkened end hairs, distrusting tubes/ shrunk in his trunk-skincapped/ shaven head, in thighs/ distrusting-white-hands-picking-baboon-light/ on his own son who will not make his second night/ of this wardstrewn intensive airpocket/ where his father’s asthmatic/ hymns of night-train, train done gone/ his mother can only know that he has flown/ up into essential calm unseen corridor/ going boxscarred home, mamaborn, sweetsonchild/ mama-son-don-gone/ me telling her ‘nother/ train tonight, no music, no breathstroked/ heartbeat in my infinite distrust of them:
and of my distrusting self/ white-doctor-who-breathed-for-him-all-night/ say it for two sons gone,/ say nightmare, say it loud/ panebreaking heartmadness:/ nightmare begins responsibility.

-Nightmare Begins Responsilibity (in whole)

Edgar Allan Poe

February 1, 2007

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(1809-1849)

Born in Boston, son of itinerant actors: mom died, dad left
Lived in London with merchant John Allan and his family
In 1827, clashed with Allan and left for Boston where he joined the army
Attended the US Military Academy until dismissed
Began writing for magazines in Baltimore
Secured a position with the Southern Literary Messenger and married his cousin
Fired by publisher of SLM and relocated in New York: Published his only novel
Became the editor of Graham’s Magazine, devastated by wife’s tuberculosis and resigned
Became owner of Broadway Journal
Courted his first sweetheart in Richmond, lectured on poetry
Collapsed in Baltimore and died in a hospital

The Pit And The Pendulum

About the torments endured by a prisoner of the Spanish Inquisition

Quotations:

“And then my vision fell upon the seven tall candles upon the table. At first they wore the aspect of charity, and seemed white slender angels who would save me; but then, all at once, there came a most deadly nausea over my spirit, and I felt every fibre in my frame thrill as if I had touched the wire of a galvanic battery, while the angel forms became meaningless spectres, with heads f flame, and I saw that from them there would be no help. And then there stole into my fancy like a rich musical note, the thought of what sweet rest there must be in the grave.”

“even in the grave all is not lost. Else there is no immortality for man.”

“In the return to life from the swoon there are two stages: first, that of the sense of mental or spiritual, secondly, that of the sense of physical, existence.”

“Then a strong desire to lapse into insensibility.”

“It was not that I feared to look upon things horrible, but that I grew aghast lest there should be nothing to see.”

“Yet not for a moment did I suppose myself actually dead. Such a supposition, notwithstanding what we read in fiction, is altogether inconsistent with real existence; but where and in what state was I?”

“And the death just avoided was of that very character which I had regarded as fabulous and frivolous in the tales respecting the Inquisition. To the victims of its tyranny there was the choice of death with its direst physical agonies, or death with its most hideous moral horrors. I had been reserved for the latter.”

“so potent is the effect of total darkness upon one rousing from lethargy or sleep!”

“Its sweep was brief, and of course slow. I watched it for some minutes, somewhat in fear, but more in wonder.”

“I could no longer doubt the doom prepared for me by monkish ingenuity in torture.”

“It was, as I say, a half-formed thought: man has many such, which are never completed. I felt that it was of joy- of hope; but I felt also that it had perished in its formation. In vain I struggled to perfect- to regain it. Long suffering had nearly annihilated all my ordinary powers of mind. I was an imbecile- an idiot.”

“the unformed half of that idea of deliverance to which I have previously alluded, and of which a moiety only floated indeterminately through my brain when I raised food to my burning lips. the whole thought was now preseent- feeble, scarcely sane, scarcely definite- but still entire.”

“There was a discordant hum of human voices! There was a loud blast as of many trumpets! There was a harsh grating as of a thousand thunders! The fiery walls rushed back! An outstretched arm caught my own as I fell, fainting, into the abyss. It was that of General Lasalle. The French army had entered Toledo. The Inquisition was in the hands of its enemies.”

The Narrative of Arthur Gordon Pym of Nantucket (1837)

Quotations:

“Augustus frankly confessed to me that, in his whole life, he had at no time eperienced so excruciating a sense of dismay as when on board our little boat he first discovered the extent of his intoxication, and felt himself sinking beneath its influence.”

James Baldwin

November 28, 2006

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(1924-1987) 

James Arthur Baldwin
American writer, noted for his novels on sexual and personal identity, and sharp essays on civil-rights struggle in the United States
Born in Harlem, New York City, son of a domestic worker and brought up in great poverty
Never knew his own father, his stepfather was cruel and a storefront preacher who died in a mental hospital
First short story was featured in the church newspaper at the age of 12
At age 14 , Baldwin became a preacher at the small Fireside Pentecostal Church in Harlem
Left home at 17 for Greenwhich Village to write
Most important source of literary support came from Richard Wright until Baldwin criticized his novel “Native Son” (from which Baldwin got the title for his novel “Notes of a Native Son”) in his article “Everybody’s Protest Novel”

“I knew Richard and I loved him. I was not attacking him; I was trying to clarify something for myself.”

Claimed to have traveled so much because it allowed him to clearly focus on American civilization
Died of cancer at the age of 63

“What societies really, ideally, want is a citizenry which will simply obey the rules of society. If a society succeeds in this, that society is about to perish. The obligation of anyone who thinks of himself as responsible is to examine society and try to change it and to fight it – at no matter what risk. This is the only hope society has. This is the only ways societies change.”

Everybody’s Protest Novel 1949

Essay attacking the kind of fiction, specifically Uncle Tom’s Cabin and Native Son, that had been written about the ordeal of the American Negroes

Quotations:

“Uncle Tom’s Cabin is a very bad novel, having, in its self-righteous, virtuous sentimentality, much in common with Little Women. /Sentimentality, the ostentatious parading of excessive and spurious emotion, is the mark of dishonesty, the inability to feel; the wet eyes of the sentimentalist betray his aversion to experience, his fear of life, his arid heart; and it is always, therefore, the signal of secret and violent inhumanity, the mask of cruelty. Uncle Tom’s Cabin – like its multitudinous, hard-boiled descendants – is a catalogue of violence.”

“But that battered word, truth, having made its appearance here, confronts one immediately with a series of riddles and has, moreover, since so many gospels are preached, the unfortunate tendency to make one belligerent. Let us say, then, that truth, as used here, is meant to imply a devotion to the human being, his freedom and fulfillment; freedom which cannot be legislated, fulfillment which cannot be charted. This is the prime concern, the frame of reference; it is not to be confused with a devotion to Humanity which is too easily equated with a devotion to a Cause; and Causes, as we know, are notoriously blood-thirsty.”

“It is this power of revelation which is the business of the novelist, the journey toward a more vast reality which must take precedence over all other claims.”

“The virtuous rage of Mrs. Stowe is motivated by nothing so temporal as a concern for the relationship of men to one another – or, even, as she would have claimed, by a concern for their relationship to God – but merely by a panic of being hurled into the flames, of being caught in traffic with the devil. She embraced this merciless doctrine with all her heart, bargaining shamelessly before the throne of grace: God and salvation becoming her personal property, purchased with the coin of her virtue. Here, black equates with evil and white with grace; if, being mindful of the necessity of good works, she could not cast out the blacks – a wretched, huddled mass, apparently, claiming, like an obsession, her inner eye – she could not embrace them either without purifying them of sin.”

“Our passion for categorization, life neatly fitted into pegs, has led to an unforeseen paradoxical distress; confusion, a breakdown of meaning. Those categories which were meant to define and control the world for us have boomeranged us into chaos; in which limbo we whirl, clutching the straws of our definitions.”

“The aim has now become to reduce all Americans to the compulsive, bloodless dimensions of a guy named Joe.”

“It is the peculiar triumph of society – and its loss – that it is able to convince those people to whom it has given inferior status of the reality of this decree…”

“The failure of the protest novel lies in its rejection of life, the human being, the denial of his beauty, dread, power, in its insistence that it is his categorization alone which is real and which cannot be transcended.”

Giovanni’s Room  1956

Baldwin explores the connection between race and sexuality 

Quotations:

“I had asked her to marry me before she went away to Spain; and she laughed and I laughed but that, somehow, all the same, made it more serious for me, and I persisted; and then she said she would have to go away and think about it. And the very last night she was here, the very last time I saw her, as she was packing her bag, I told her that I had loved her once and I made myself believe it. But I wonder if I had. I was thinking, no doubt, of our nights in bed, of the peculiar innocence and confidence, which will never come again, which had made those nights so delightful, so unrelated to past, present, or anything to come, so unrelated, finally, to my life since it was not necessary for me to take any but the most mechanical responsibility for them. And these nights were being acted out under a foreign sky, with no one to watch, no penalties attached – it was this last fact which was our undoing, for nothing is more unbearable, once one has it, than freedom. I suppose this was why I asked her to marry me: to give myself something to be moored to. Perhaps this was why, in Spain, she decided that she wanted to marry me. But people can’t, unhappily, invent their mooring posts, their lovers and their friends, anymore than they can invent their parents. Life gives these and also takes them away and the great difficulty is to say Yes to life.” 

“Then, for the first time in my life, I was really aware of another person’s body, of another person’s smell. We had our arms around each other. It was like holding in my hand some rare, exhausted, nearly doomed bird which I had miraculously happened to find.”

“And my father’s face changed. It became terribly old and at the same time absolutely, helplessly young. I remember being absolutely astonished, at the still, cold center of the storm which was occurring in me, to realize that my father had been suffering, was suffering still.
‘Don’t cry,’ he said, ‘don’t cry.’ He stroked my forehead with that absurd handkerchief as though it possessed some healing charm. ‘There’s nothing to cry abount. Everything’s going to be all right.’ He was almost weeping himself. ‘There’s nothing wrong, is there? I haven’t done anything wrong, have I?’ And all the time he was stroking my face with that handkerchief, smothering me.”

“For I am – or I was – one of those people who pride themselves on their willpower, on their ability to make a decision and carry it through. This virtue, like most virtues, is ambiguity itself. People who believe that they are strong-willed and the masters of their destiny can only continue to believe this by becoming specialists in self-deception. Their decisions are not really decisions at all – a real decision makes on humble, one knows that it is at the mercy of more things than can be named – but elaborate systems of evasion, of illusion, designed to make themselves and the world appear to be what they and the world are not.”

“‘I don’t believe in this nonsense about time. Time is just common, it’s like water for a fish. Everybody’s in this water, nobody gets out of it, or if he does the same thing happens to him that happens to the fish, he dies. And you know what happens in this water, time? The big fish eat the little fish. That’s all. The big fish eat the little fish and the ocean doesn’t care.’
‘Oh, please,’ I said. ‘I don’t believe that. Time’s not water and we’re not fish and you can choose to be eaten and also not to eat – not to eat,’ I added quickly, turning a little red before his delighted and sardonic smile, ‘the little fish, of course.’

‘Anyway,’ he said mildly, ‘I don’t see what you can do with little fish except eat them. What else are they good for?’
‘In my country,’ I said, feeling a subtle ware within me as I said it, ‘the little fish seem to have gotten together and are nibbling at the body of the whale.’
‘That will not make them whales,’ said Giovanni. ‘The only result of all that nibbling will be that there will no longer be any grandeur anywhere, not even at the bottom of the sea.'”

“Now the cabdriver asked us where we wanted to go, for we had arrived at the choked boulevards and impassable sidestreets of Les Halles. Leeks, onions, cabbages, oranges, apples, potatoes, cauliflowers, stood gleaming in mounds all over, on the sidewalks, in the streets, before great metal sheds. The sheds were blocks long and within the sheds were piled more fruit, more vegetables, in some sheds, fish, in some sheds, cheese, in some whole animals, lately slaughtered. It scarcely seemed possible that all of this could ever be eaten. But in a few hours it would all be gone and trucks would be arriving from all corners of France – and making their way, to the great profit of a beehive of middlemen, across the city of Paris – to feed the roaring multitude. Who were roaring now, at once wounding and charming the ear, before and behind, and on either side of our taxi – our taxi driver, and Giovanni, too, roared back. The multitude of Paris seems to be dressed in blue every day but Sunday, when, for the most part, they put on an unbelievably festive black. Here they were now, in blue, disputing, every inch, our passage, with their wagons, handtrucks, camions, their bursting baskets carried at an angle steeply self-confident on the back. A red-faced woman, burdened with fruit, shouted – to Giovanni, the driver, to the world – a particularly vivid cochonnerie, to which the driver and Giovanni, at once, at the top of their lungs, responded, though the fruit lady had already passed beyond our sight and perhaps no longer even remembered her precisely obscene conjectures.”

“Giovanni stared. ‘Mas tu es fou,’ he said mildly. ‘There is certainly no point in going home now, to face an ugly concierge and then go to sleep in that room all by yourself and then wake up later, with a terrible stomach and a sour mouth, wanting to commit suicide. Come with me; we will rise at a civilized hour and have a gentle aperitif somewhere and then a little dinner. It will be much more cheerful like that,’ he said with a smile, ‘you will see.’
‘But I must get my clothes,’ I said.
He took my arm. ‘
Bien sur. But you do not have to get them now.’ I held back. He stopped. ‘Come. I am sure that I am much prettier than your wallpaper – or your concierge. I will smile at you when you wake up. They will not.'”

“But they made me tense – with their ribaldries, their good-nature, their fellowship, the life written on their hands and in their faces and in their eyes.”

“I remember that life in that room seemed to be occurring beneath the sea. Time flowed past indifferently above us; hours and days had no meaning. In the beginning, our life together held a joy and amazement which was newborn every day. Beneath the joy, of course, was anguish and beneath the amazement was fear; but they did not work themselves to the beginning until our high beginning was aloes on our tongues. By then anguish and fear had become the surface on which we slipped and slid, lsoing balance, dignity, and pride. Giovanni’s face, which I had memorized so many mornings, noons, and nights, hardened before my eyes, began to give in secret places, began to crack.”

“Giovanni liked to believe that he was hard-headed and that I was not and that he was teaching me the stony facts of life. It was very important for him to feel this: it was because he knew, unwillingly, at the very bottom of his heart, that I, helplessly, at the very bottom of mine, resisted him with all my strength.”

“And what distinguished the men was that they seemed incapable of age; they smelled of soap, which seemed indeed to be their preservative against the dangers and exigencies of any more intimate odor; the boy he had been shone, somehow, unsoiled, untouched, unchanged, through the eyes of the man of sixty, booking passage, with his smiling wife, to Rome. His wife might have been his mother, forcing more oatmeal down his throat, and Rome might have been the movie she had promised to allow him to see. Yet I also suspected that what I was seeing was but a part of the truth and perhaps not even the most important part; beneath these faces, these clothes, accents, rudenesses, was power and sorrow, both unadmitted, unrealized, the power of inventors, the sorrow of the disconnected.”

“And this was perhaps the first time in my life that death occurred to me as a reality. I thought of the people before me hwo had looked down at the river and gone to sleep beneath it. I wondered about them. I wondered how they had done it – it, the physical act. I had thought of suicide when I was much younger, as, possibly, we all have, but then it would have been for revenge, it would have been my way of informing the world how awfully it had made me suffer. But the silence of the evening, as I wandered home, had nothing to do with that storm, that far-off boy. I simply wondered about the dead because their days had ended and I did not know how I would get through mine.”

“He smiled, ‘Why, you will go home and then you will find that home is not home anymore. Then you will really be in trouble. As long as you stay here, you can always think: One day I will go home.’ He played with my thumb and grinned.”

“‘I don’t see what’s so hard about being a woman. At least, not as long as she’s got a man.’
‘That’s just it,’ said she. ‘Hasn’t it ever struck you that that’s a sort of humiliating necessity?’
‘Oh, please,’ I said. ‘It never seemed to humiliate any of the women I knew.'”

“I began to realize it in Spain – that I wasn’t free, that I couldn’t be free until I was attached – no, committed – to someone.'”

“I may have been the only man in Paris who knew that he had not meant to do it, who could read why he had done it beneath the details printed in the newspapers.”

“I move at last from the mirror and begin to cover that nakedness which I must hold sacred, though it be never so vile, which must be scoured perpetually with the salt of my life.”

Jean Toomer

October 31, 2006

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(1894-1967)

Born to racially mixed parents: his father left soon after his birth and his mother died when he was 15, after which he lived with his grandparents
Grew up in Washington, D.C. and New Rochelle, New York
His light-skinned appearance allowed him to live alternately as a black and a white person
Attended five different colleges after high school and never received a degree
Wrote experimental poetry that was indebted to imagism, urbanism, and East Asian poetic forms
Protested against fallacious racial stereotypes
Wrote one of the classic books of American literature with “Cane”: alternates lyric poems with prose pieces and combines features of the Harlem Renaissance and the modernist movement
Many of his poems’ speakers bear witness to the difficult and often heroic struggles of an oppressed people sustained by their culture and community
After “Cane”, Toomer abandoned his racial subject matter and commenced a spiritual quest that would occupy him for the rest of his life
Became a follower of the European mysic George Gurdjieff who advocated a personal transofmation into heightened awareness
In the mid-1930’s Toomer and his wife and daughter turn from Gurdjieff to the Quaker Society of Friends
For 15 years he wrote religious treatises, autobiographies and unpublished poems

Quotations:

A cow-hoof imprint / pressed against the under-asphalt of / Fifth Avenue, sustains it
The osseous teat of an inverted cow / spurts s k y s c r a p e r s / against a cloud / racing to / dusk, / and / it / sprays / in / num / er / ab / le / blunk peaks against / the milky-way.

-Skyline (in whole)

Hair – braided chestnut, / Coiled like a lyncher’s rope / Eyes – fagots, / Lips – old scars, or the first red blisters, / Breath – the last weet scent of cane, / And her slim body, white as the ash / Of black flesh after flame.

-Portrait in Georgia (in whole)

Amiri Baraka

October 17, 2006

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(1934-) 

Born LeRoi Jones
Born in the industrial city of Newark, New Jersey
After attending Howard University in Washington, D. C., he served in the United States Air Force
In the late fifties, settled in New York’s Greenwich Village where he was a central figure of that bohemian scene
Became nationally prominent in 1964, with the New York production of his Obie Award-winning play, Dutchman
Became a Black Nationalist, moving first to Harlem and then back home to Newark
In the mid-1970s, became a Third World Marxist-Leninist
1999, after teaching for twenty years in the Department of Africana Studies at SUNY-Stony Brook, he retired
Currently he lives with his wife, the poet Amina Baraka, in Newark.

Quotations:

Poems are bullshit unless they are / teeth or trees or lemons piled / on a step. Or black ladies dying / of men leaving nickel hearts / beating them down. Fuck poems / and they are useful, wd they shoot / come at you, love what you are, / breathe like wrestlers, or shudder / strangely after pissing. We want live / words of the hip world live flesh & / coursing blood. Hearts Brains / Souls splintering fire. We want poems / like fists beating niggers out of Jocks / or dagger poems in the slimy bellies / of the owner-jews. Black poems to / smear on girdlemamma mulatto bitches / whose brains are red jelly stuck / between ‘lizabeth taylor’s toes. Stinking / Whores! We want ‘poems that kill.’ / Assassin poems, Poems that shoot / guns. Poems that wrestle cops into alleys / and take their weapons leaving them dead / with tongues pulled out and sent to Ireland. Knockoff / poems for dope selling wops or slick halfwhite / politicians Airplane poems. rrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrr / rrrrrrrrrrrr … tuhtuhtuhtuhtuhtuhtuhtuhtuhtuh / … rrrrrrrrrrrrrrrr … Setting fire and death to / whities ass. Look at the Liberal / Spokesman for the jews clutch his throat / & puke himself into eternity … rrrrrrrrrr / There’s a negroleader pinned to / a bar stool in Sardi’s eyeballs melting / in hot flame. Another negroleader / on the steps of the white house one / kneeling between the sheriff’s thighs / negotiating cooly for his people. / Aggh … stumbles across the room … / Put it on him, poem. Strip him naked / to the world! Another bad poem cracking / steel knuckles in a jewlady’s mouth / Poem scream poison gas on beasts in green berets / Clean out the world for virtue and love, / Let there be no love poems written / until love can exist freely and / cleanly. Let Black People understand / that they are the lovers and the sons / of lovers and warriors and sons / of warriors Are poems & poets & / all the loveliness here in the world
We want a black poem. And a / Black World. / Let the world be a Black Poem / And Let All Black People Speak This Poem / Silently
or LOUD

-Black Art (in whole)

For Malcolm’s eyes, when they broke/ the face fos ome dumb white man, For/ Malcolm’s hands raised to bless us/ all black and strong in his image/ of ourselves. For Malcolm’s words/ fire dars, the victor’s tireless/ thrusts, words hung above the world/ change as it may, he said it, and/ for this he was killed, for waying,/ and feeling, and being/change, all/ collected hot in his heart, For Malcolm’s/ heart raising us above our filthy cities,/ for his stride, and his beat, and his address/ to the grey monsters of the world, For Malcolm’s/ pleas for your dignity, black men, for your life,/ black man, for the filling of your minds/ with righteousness. For all of him dead and/ gone and vanished from us, and all of him which/ clings to our speech black god of our time./ For all of him, and all of yourself, look up,/ black man, quit stuttering and shuffling, look up,/ black man, quit whining and stooping, for all of him,/ For Great Malcolm a prince of the earth, let nothing in us rest/ until we avent ourselves for his death, stupid animals/ that killed him, let us never breathe a pure breath if/ we fail, and whtie men call us faggots till the end of/ the earth.

-A Poem For Black Hearts (in whole)

In the south, sleeping agains/ the drugstore, growling under/ the trucks and stoves, stumbling/ through and over the cluttered eyes/ of early mysterious night. Frowning/ drunk waving moving a hand or lash./ Dancing kneeling reaching out, letting/ a hand rest in shadows. Squatting/ to drink or pee. Stretching to climb/ pulling themselves onto horses near/ where there was sea (the old songs/ lead you to believe). Riding out/ from this town, to another, where/ it is also black. Down a road/ wehre people are asleep. Towards/ the moon or the shadows of houses./ Towards the songs’ pretended sea.

-Legacy (For Blues People) (in whole)

How will it go, crumbling earthquake, towering inferno, juggernaut, volcano, smashup,/ in reality, other than the feverish nearreal fantasy of the capitalist flunky film hacks/ tho they sense its reality breathing a quake inferno scar on their throat even snorts of/ 100% pure cocaine cant cancel the cold cut of impending death to this society. On all the/ screens of america, the joint blows up every hour and a half for two dollars an fifty cents./ They have taken the niggers out to lunch, for a minute, made us partners (nigger charlie) or/ surrogates (boss nigger) for their horror. But just as superafrikan mobutu cannot leopardskinhat his/ way out of responsibility for lumumba’s death, nor even with his incredible billions rockefeller/ cannot even save his pale ho’s titties in the crushing weight of things as they really are./ How will it go, does it reach you, getting up, sitting on the side of the bed, getting ready/ to go to work. Hypnotized by the machine, and the cement floor, the jungle treachery of trying/ to survive with no money in a money world, of making the boss 100,000 for every 200 dollars/ you get, and then having his brother get you for the rent, and if you want to buy the car you/ helped build, your downpayment paid for it, the rest goes to buy his old lady a foam rubber/ rhinestone set of boobies for special occasions when kissinger drunkenly fumbles with/ her blouse, forgetting himself./ If you dont like it, what you gonna do about it. That was the question we asked each other, &/ still right regularly need to ask. You dont like it? Whatcha gonna do, about it??/ The real terror of nature is humanity enraged, the true technicolor spectacle that hollywood/ cant record. They cant even show you how you look when you go to work. or when you come back./ They cant even show you thinking or demanding thenew socialist reality, its the ultimate tidal/ wave. When all over the planet, men and women, with heat in their hands, demand that society/ be planned to include the lives and self determination of all the people ever to live. That is/ the scalding scenario with a cast of just under two billion that they dare not even whisper./ Its called, “We Want It All … The Whole World!”

-A New Reality Is Better Than a New Movie! (in whole)

We’ll worship Jesus/ When jesus do/ Somethin/ When jesus blowup/ the white house/ or blast nixon down/ when jesus turn out congress/ or bust general motors to/ yard bird motors/ jesus we’ll worship jesus/ when jesus get down/ when jesus get out his yellow lincoln/ w/ the built in cross stain glass/ window& bow w/black peoples/ enemies we’ll worship jesus when he get bad enough to at least scare/ somebody

Jesus need to hurt some a our/ enemies, then we’ll check him/ out, all that screaming and hollering/ & wallering and moaning talkin bout/ jesus, jesus, in a red/ check velvet vine + 8 in. heels

we aint gonna worship jesus cause jesus dont exist/ xcept in song and story except in ritual and dance, except in slum stained/ tears or trillion dollar opulence stretching back in history, the history/ of the oppression of the human mind/ we worship the strength in us/ we worship our selves/ we worship the light in us/ we worship the warmth in us/ we worship the world/ we worship the love in us/ we worship our selves/ we worhsip nature/ we worship ouselves/ we worship the life in us, and science, and knowledge, and transformation/ of the visible world/ but we aint gonna worship no jesus/ we aint gonna legitimize the witches and devils and spooks and hobgoblins/  the sensuous lies of the rules to keep us chained to fantasy and illusion/ sing about life, not jesus/ sing about revolution, not no jesus/ stop singing about jesus,/ sing about, creation, our creation, the life of the world and fantastic/ nature how we struggle to transform it, but dont victimize our selves by/ distorting the world/ stop moanin about jesus, stop sweatin and crying and stompin and dyin for jesus/ unless thats the name of the army we building to force the land finally to/ change hands. And lets not call that jesus, get a quick consensus, on that,/ lets damn sure not call that black fire muscle no invisible psychic dungeon/ no gentle vision straight jacket, lets call that peoples army, or wapenduzi or/ simba/ wachanga, but we not gon callit jesus, and not gon worship jesus, throw/ jesus out yr mind. Build the new world out of reality, and new vision/ we come to find out what there is of the world/ to understand what there is here in the world!/ to visualize change, and force it./ we worship revolution

-When We’ll Worship Jesus

Langston Hughes

October 17, 2006

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(1902-1967)

Major American poet, leading name in Harlem Renaissance poetry, premier poet of political left, international poet
Born in Joplin, Missouri in a racially segregated society where lynching was a growing problem
Wrote more than 20 poems on lynching alone
Descended from a distinguished abolitionist African-American family
Held long term same-sex relationships
Strongly influenced by a diverse range of poets: Edgar Lee Masters, Vachel Lindsay, Amy Lowell, Carl Sandburg, and Walt Whitman
Captivated by African-American singers more than any writer
Attended columbia University for one year, but spent the time exploring the world of Harlem
Unlike most poets, was able to support himself through writing
Traveled as a journalist to Spain during the Spanish Civil War of 1936-39
Notably inventive in his use of culural styles and materials in poetry: adapted blues and jazz forms as well as oral traditions
Paired poetry with illustrations to tell stories more vividly
Relied on performing arts and drama to create a multi-voiced poetry
Investigated by FBI because of campaigns against lynching and leftist affiliations during the Cold War: not permitted to assume position of Poet Laureate
Forced to tone down politics in poetry and could not travel outside the country until 1960
Became the image of a poet who combines artistic innovation and vitality with joyful humor and humanity and the effective expression of social justice

Quotations:

Oh, silver tree! / Oh, shining rivers of the soul!
In a Harlem cabaret / Six long-headed jazzers play. / A dancing girl whose eyes are bold / Lifts high a dress of silken gold.
Oh, singing tree! / Oh, shining rivers of the soul!
Were Eve’s eyes / In the first garden / Just a bit too bold? / Was Cleaopatra gorgeous / In a gown of gold?
Oh, shining tree! / Oh, silver rivers of the soul!
In a whirling cabaret / Sing long-headed jazzers play.

-Jazzonia (in whole)

An attempt to adapt jazz to poetry

Droning a drowsy syncopated tune, / Rocking back and forth to a mellow croon, / I heard a Negro play. / Down on Lenox Avenue the other night / By the pale dull pallor of an old gas light / He did a lazy sway … / He did a lazy sway … / To the tune o’ those Weary Blues. / With his ebony hands on each ivory key / He made that poor piano moan with melody. / O Blues! / Swaying to and fro on his rickety stool / He played that sad raggy tune like a musical fool. / Sweet Blues! / Coming from a black man’s soul. / O Blues!
In a deep song voice with a melancholy tone / I head that Negro sing, that old piano moan – / ‘Ain’t got nobody in all this world, / Ain’t got nobody but ma self. / I’s gwine to quit ma frownin’ / And put ma troubles on the shelf.’ / Thump, thump, thump, went his foot on the floor. / He played a few chords then he sang some more – / ‘I got the Weary Blues / And I can’t be satisfied. / God the Weary Blues / And can’t be satisfied – / I ain’t happy no mo’ / And I wish that I had died.’ / And far into the night he crooned that tune. / The stars went out and so did the moon. / The singer stopped playing and went to bed / While the Weary Blues echoed through his head. / He slept like a rock or a man that’s dead.

-The Weary Blues (in whole)
See Poetry Speaks

Transformation of isolated pain into solace, art, and human connection

I’ve known rivers: / I’ve known rivers ancient as the world and older than the flow of human blood in human veins.
My sould has grown deep like the rivers.
I bathed in the Euphrates when dawns were young. / I built my hut near the Congo and it lulled me to sleep. / I looked upon the Nile and Raised the pyramids above it. / I heard the singing of the Mississippi when Abe Lincoln went down th New Orleans, and I’ve seen its muddy bosom turn all golden in the sunset.
I’ve known rivers: / Ancient, dusky rivers.
My soul has grown deep like the rivers.

-The Negro Speaks of Rivers (in whole)
See Poetry Speaks

One of Hughes’ first poems, written in high school

I, too, sing America.
I am the darker brother. / They send me to eat in the kitchen / When company comes, / But I laugh, / And eat well, / And grow strong.
Tomorrow, I’ll be at the table / When company comes.
Nobody’ll dare / Say to me, / ‘Eat in the kitchen,’ / Then.
Besides, / They’ll see how beautiful we are / And be ashamed-
I, too, am America.

-I, too (in whole)
See Poetry Archive

Compare to Walt Whitman’s “I Hear American Singing”

Oh, wash-woman / Arms elbow-deep in white suds, / Soul washed clean, Clothes washed clean, / I have many songs to sing you / Could I but find the words.
Was it four o’clock or six o’clock on a winter afternoon, I saw you wringing out the last shirt in Miss White Lady’s kitchen? Was it four o’clock or six o’clock? I don’t remember.
But I know, at seven one spring morning you were on Vermont Street with a bundle in your arms going to wash clothes. / And I know I’ve seen you in the New York subway in the late afternoon coming home from washing clothes.
Yes, I know you, wash-woman.
I know how you send your children to school, and high-school, and even college. / I know how you work to help your man when times are hard. / I know how you build your house up from the washtub and call it home. / And how you raise your churches from white suds for the service of the Holy God.
I’ve seen you winging, wash-woman. Out in the backyard garden under the apple trees, singing, hanging white clothes on long lines in the sunshine. / And I’ve seen you in church on Sunday morning singing, praising your Jesus because some day you’re going to sit on the right hand side of the Son of God and forget you ever were a wash-woman. And the aching back and the bundles of clothes will be unremembered then.
Yes, I’ve seen you singing.
So for you, O singing wash-woman, / For you, singing little brown woman, / Singing strong black woman, / Singing tall yellow woman, / Arms deep in white suds, / Soul washed clean, / Clothes washed clean, / For you I have / Many songs to sing / Could I but find the words.

-Song to a Negro Wash-Woman (in whole)