Langston Hughes – 5th day: As I Grew Older

I haven’t been consistent with posting these to WP, but you may catch up here on Tumblr.

Stashing all this here:

Gwendolyn Brooks course with Julia Bloch (poems studied and comments)

February 3, 2014

kitchenette buildling

We are things of dry hours and the involuntary plan,

Grayed in, and gray. “Dream” makes a giddy sound, not strong

Like “rent,” “feeding a wife,” “satisfying a man.”

But could a dream send up through onion fumes

Its white and violet, fight with fried potatoes

And yesterday’s garbage ripening in the hall,

Flutter, or sing an aria down these rooms

Even if we were willing to let it in,

Had time to warm it, keep it very clean,

Anticipate a message, let it begin?

We wonder. But not well! not for a minute!

Since Number Five is out of the bathroom now,

We think of lukewarm water, hope to get in it.

“garbage ripening in the hall” and waiting for the bathroom and hoping for lukewarm water, at least, suggests a multi-family dwelling on the low income side, and the smell of onions and fried potatoes suggests there are many families crammed together, so close that they can smell what one another is cooking.

agree with all of the above. lack of privacy. No one is there by choice.

grayed in and gray. I think gray is a reference to gray hair of the elderly, though it could also be a reference to a gray day with little sunlight because of the tall buildings blocking out the sun, or the winter snow blocking out sunlight. “Grayed in,” now that IS different. Sounds less physical and more emotional and/or spiritual. Gray is unclear, neither black nor white, so grayed in is distorted in a way so that clarity is loss. Could also have other interpretations.

“dry hours” maybe a reference to prohibition?

the final “it” could be opportunity, opportunity to escape, opportunity to improve, opportunity to break the bonds. This has all been alluded to by previous respondents. Of course, on the surface, it is the bathroom, the lukewarm water, the bath. But the “rebirth” requires water, just as applying for a job or going to school for, or that will hopefully result in upward mobility requires personal hygiene.

Hmmm. Could be. Minute/ In it?

interesting insight from the Richard Wright quote, really makes clear what the words in the poem are referencing. The contextual explanation conveys the first order derivative, and if one is examining a “great” poet, which is what Brooks was/is or we wouldn’t be discussing her, there are second and third order derivatives to be extracted. There is a universal message in the poem that is not contained by the Chicago ghetto, nor by the sonnet form, nor even by the limitations of the language in which it is written. It is a message that seeks relief, and release from the “things’ that contain and stifle and discourage. Perhaps that release and that relief are her dream, a dream that would be appropriate coming from an urban ghetto, from an Indian reservation, from a European concentration camp, from a middle class marriage that chokes and smothers hope, or from a stove-piped bureaucratic career.

It may be worth mentioning that this poem is a sonnet, the poet chose the sonnet form for a reason (not all of Brooks’ poems are sonnets, though she has a few), and sort of by definition a sonnet reaches some sort of resolution at the end. If the beginning was marked by chaos, then the resolution must be some type of order. I agree with those who believe the poem ends on a somewhat upbeat note, even an optimistic one.

February 4, 2014

a song in the front yard

BY GWENDOLYN BROOKS

I’ve stayed in the front yard all my life.

I want a peek at the back

Where it’s rough and untended and hungry weed grows.

A girl gets sick of a rose.

I want to go in the back yard now

And maybe down the alley,

To where the charity children play.

I want a good time today.

They do some wonderful things.

They have some wonderful fun.

My mother sneers, but I say it’s fine

How they don’t have to go in at quarter to nine.

My mother, she tells me that Johnnie Mae

Will grow up to be a bad woman.

That George’ll be taken to Jail soon or late

(On account of last winter he sold our back gate).

But I say it’s fine. Honest, I do.

And I’d like to be a bad woman, too,

And wear the brave stockings of night-black lace

And strut down the streets with paint on my face.

In and out today with projects due Thursday and Sunday. This poem reminds me of a much shorter poem written earlier by Harlem (which was actually Washington, but that’s another story) Renaissance poet, Helene Johnson:

Futility

It is silly –

This waiting for love

In a parlor.

When love is singing up and down the alley

Without a collar.

Is it of interest that the third and fourth stanzas are jammed together? Even so, the rhyming pattern remains intact.

This is very normal, though, that we each take the image and relate it to something we know. And if it fits, it shows that the poetry is universal in scope. I had a newspaper route that took me through the Morningside “housing project,” a term we used for low-income housing run by local government, so that is what I related it to. Very natural.

I don’t know the exact form/definition of a ballad, but the poem brought this Ella Fitzgerald standard to mind:

I am really digging that thought on line length and constraint, Nicola! Thanks for posting it.

February 5, 2014

the mother

BY GWENDOLYN BROOKS

Abortions will not let you forget.

You remember the children you got that you did not get,

The damp small pulps with a little or with no hair,

The singers and workers that never handled the air.

You will never neglect or beat

Them, or silence or buy with a sweet.

You will never wind up the sucking-thumb

Or scuttle off ghosts that come.

You will never leave them, controlling your luscious sigh,

Return for a snack of them, with gobbling mother-eye.

I have heard in the voices of the wind the voices of my dim killed children.

I have contracted. I have eased

My dim dears at the breasts they could never suck.

I have said, Sweets, if I sinned, if I seized

Your luck

And your lives from your unfinished reach,

If I stole your births and your names,

Your straight baby tears and your games,

Your stilted or lovely loves, your tumults, your marriages, aches, and your deaths,

If I poisoned the beginnings of your breaths,

Believe that even in my deliberateness I was not deliberate.

Though why should I whine,

Whine that the crime was other than mine?—

Since anyhow you are dead.

Or rather, or instead,

You were never made.

But that too, I am afraid,

Is faulty: oh, what shall I say, how is the truth to be said?

You were born, you had body, you died.

It is just that you never giggled or planned or cried.

Believe me, I loved you all.

Believe me, I knew you, though faintly, and I loved, I loved you

All.

The “I” here, the community, or even collective humanity, is attempting absolution, or at least, rationalization. It is a type of collective judgement day.

Now we are diving deep!

The action is inconsequential, and the degree to which it is deliberate or not is equally inconsequential, because those are human judgements, limited, flawed. In the end, as in the end of the poem, all that matters in the love, as in “I knew you, though faintly, and I loved…”

I think it may be significant that she writes, “I loved, I loved you,” as if there were two actions transpiring at the same time… Bob Marley sings, “One Love,” but Ms. Brooks shows us there are two, at least.

We already know the answer to this one. “Tell all the truth, but tell it slant/Success in circuit lies”

If the truth were factual, evidentiary, there’d be no reason to ask how to tell it, or what was to be said. But truth is relative, situational, especially in this case, and should be told in accordance with ED’s dictate.

I would like to add that the “you” in the first stanza are mothers, fathers, and all participants in the abortion decision. A community. I don’t think it is fair to lay all the blame and/or responsibility on one party.

This is a very political poem, I think. And powerful, and sobering, as stated above.

The “I” in the second stanza is similarly a community. A community has suffered a loss, and a community is responsible.

I vote for the older, contemplative narrator, which really comes through in the oral reading (video).

February 6, 2014

gay chaps at the bar

…and guys I knew in the States, young officers, return

from the front crying and trembling. Gay chaps at the

bar in Los Angeles, Chicago, New York….

Lieutenant William Couch

in the South Pacific

We knew how to order. Just the dash

Necessary. The length of gaiety in good taste.

Whether the raillery should be slightly iced

And given green, or served up hot and lush.

And we knew beautifully how to give to women

The summer spread, the tropics, of our love.

When to persist, or hold a hunger off.

Knew white speech. How to make a look an omen.

But nothing ever taught us to be islands.

And smart, athletic language for this hour

Was not in the curriculum. No stout

Lesson showed how to chat with death. We brought

No brass fortissimo, among our talents,

To holler down the lions in this air.

Sorry to arrive late to the discussion.

There is a great deal of tongue-in-cheekness in this poem, betrayed by the title, “gay chaps at the bar.” “Gay chaps” at the time, I think, was more of a British term, than an American one, suggesting the pretension of of a type of internationalization across the officer corps as a result of allied actions. In truth, African-American troops, commanded by African American officers, saw very little combat action. They played a lot of sports (“smart, athletic language”) and did a lot of service-type, back-office-type, entertaining and logistics-type tasks (we knew how to order/good taste gaity/raillery/the summer spread, the tropics of our love).

Of course, when they came home on furlough, they came home with the swagger and bravado of having been to a foreign land and or having conquered a foreign foe. But if they were officers, none of that was true, and many folks at home knew it. There were colored troops that saw combat action, but for the most part, they were in integrated units or all black units lead by white officers.

“No brave fortissimo, among our talents,” the poet wrote, because she knew the deal about the gay chaps who saw little combat action, not because they didn’t want to, but because the US Military brass believed that black officers were not morally fit to face the foe. It is just the way it was back then.

But back to the poem. Aha! Another sonnet! Interesting rhyming scheme (abba/cddc/eeff/gg) and interesting rhymes (almost, not quite, but technically rhyming). Everything about this poem says (secret joke!) the joke is safe with us.

rdm

-*

Yes. As they say in Rhizomatic Learning, the community is the curriculum!

Jenny has a great blog on this:

http://jennymackness.wordpress.com/2014/02/05/rhizomatic-learning-knowledge-and-books/

“Bronzeville” is formally known as the Grand Boulevard area (Grand Blvd. now named King Drive), and in the past was referred to as the Black Belt or Black Ghetto, Black Metropolis, or the Harlem of the Midwest. 4 miles south of the downtown Loop, the area is roughly bounded by 21st St. to the North, 51st St. to the South, the Lakefront to the East, and these days the Dan Ryan Expressway to the West. The area really took off after the Great Chicago Fire, as families needed to find new housing, and wanted to be farther away from the burnt downtown area, and grew further again in the 1880s when street cars were installed. A survey conducted in 1939 showed that more than 60% of all housing was built between the years of 1885 and 1894, with new housing created via conversion and additions to existing structures.

By about 1900, first generation immigrants who had first occupied the area moved away, and the area became mostly German and Jewish. According to the Chicago Metropolitan Area Fact Book, “As early as 1890, blacks lived in Grand Boulevard, residing mainly in the 4600 block of Langley and Champlain Avenues. Many lived in the area as servants of rich whites. The 1st World War stepped up migration of blacks from the rural South to Chicago, because there was a need for them as industrial workers. For a short period, the economic success of these workers allowed some blacks to buy homes east of State St. away from the ‘Federal Street’ slum where newcomers usually settled. Julius Rosenwald’s (he was the President of Sears and a major philanthropist to black causes) large scale housing project the Michigan Blvd. Garden Apartments, built in 1929, facilitated middle income black settlement in Grand Boulevard. “

In 1920 blacks made up 32% of Grand Boulevard/Bronzeville’s population – just 10 years later, the area was 95% black. In 1920 the population of the area was 77,000 – by 1940, the population was 103,000, peaking at 114,000 in 1950. These years were similar to the ‘Harlem Renaissance’ years in New York City, with “Bronzeville” having major retail and entertainment areas, the Regal Theater and other clubs major stosp for any touring band or group. The South Side Community Art Center was also an important artistic center. And one cannot understate the importance of the Chicago Defender newspaper (still in existence, though now a weekly), which was national in scope. The Pullman Porters would carry copies of the paper and deliver them to black communities throughout the country (and both Brooks as well as Langston Hughes wrote for the paper). Richard Wright lived in Bronzeville, and playwright Lorraine Hansberry also lived just south, and the George Hall Library was an important fixture in the area’s literary community (still in existence – “On July 7, 2000, the Friends of Libraries USA and Illinois Center for the Book designated George Cleveland Hall Branch as a literary landmark in recognition of the library’s promotion of African American literary culture by serving as a meeting place for such writers as Arna Bontemps, Gwendolyn Brooks, Lorraine Hansberry, Langston Hughes, Zora Neale Hurston, Claude McKay and Richard Wright”, per the Chicago Public Library website).

The area was also mostly self-governing, and was very much a part of the political ‘machine’, whereby the Alderman and Congressman got out the vote, and in return were given a set number of patronage jobs and left to run Bronzeville as they saw fit. There was a major race riot in 1919 which I won’t go into, but Wikipedia has a very good page on it here http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Chicago_Race_Riot_of_1919 but in general, the area was peaceful, with a mostly all black police force, fire stations, and of black alderman.

The area deteriorated greatly in the 1960s and 70s – the ‘Robert Taylor Homes’, a 28 building high rise housing project (thankfully now all torn down) was built, and this, along with the easing of housing restrictions allowed the upper and middle classes to flee the area. By 1980, the population was just 54,000 – of that, 37% were under 18 years old, and 70% of all households with children were headed by single females, with a 32% unemployment rate.

However, the area is receiving renewed attention from both the city government, as well as from local groups and community organizations. New housing, as well as restoration of the old brownstone homes in the area, bike paths, refurbished parks, and tours of the area by the Bronzeville Historical Society and Bronzeville Visitors Information Center are bringing new people into the area.

Its important to note that around 1950, Brooks moved away from Bronzeville further south, first to a home at 9134 S. Wentworth Ave., and from 1953 until her death she lived at 7428 S. Evans Ave., which is approximately 3 miles south of the Bronzeville community in an area known as Grand Crossing.

February 7, 2014

love note 1:surely

Surely you stay my certain own, you stay

My you. All honest, lofty as a cloud.

Surely I could come now and find you high,

As mine as you ever were; should not be awed.

Surely your word would pop as insolent

As always: “Why, of course I love you, dear.”

Your gaze, surely, ungauzed as I could want.

Your touches, that never were careful, what they were.

Surely – But I am very off from that.

From surely. From indeed. From the decent arrow

That was my clean naivete and my faith.

This morning men will deliver wounds and death.

They were deliver death and wounds tomorrow.

And I doubt all. You. Or a violet.

Sorry for arriving late to the party, y’all. Very busy Friday, big project coding xhmtl for a class. Yes, coding IS poetry, but it is also a foreign language…

I wrote lots of love notes in my wayward youth, so I take the title literally, very literally. I think this poem reflects a process, an awakening. Four lines start with “Surely,” and two more have “surely” near the beginning of the line, a repetition that I have heard too many women in my family use, as in “surely you jest,” or “surely you didn’t just say what I THINK I heard you say.” When you hear that “surely,” standby for a ton of bricks to fall! And fall it does, in the last line, “And I doubt all. You.”

Meanwhile, back to the process. It is a woman’s voice speaking. She has come to realize that her man is no good “Your touches, that were never careful, what they were” suggests a sort of growing disgust. She was a good girl, “decent” in her “naivete and faith.” But she has come to expect bad behavior from men, today and tomorrow (this morning…wounds and death/will deliver wounds and death tomorrow).

An aside. My mother “raised” African violets. They were very common in African-American households. but not everyone had the patience or the “green thumb” to raise them. She “rooted” them by putting the stem of a leaf in water, then transplanting that leaf with the root it eventually developed in potting soil. The flower that resulted was beautiful, a brilliant violet in color, but tender and frail and fragile. She started with a single leaf and grew so many that she had to give them away!

But back to the poem. The speaker has come to doubt everything. She is disappointed. The man has let her down one time too many, disappointing her again and again. Even the violet that he brought her failed.

February 10,2014 – do not be afraid of no

Do not be afraid of no,

Who has so very far to go”:

New caution to occur

To one whose inner scream set her to cede, for softer lapping and smooth fur!

Whose esoteric need

Was merely to avoid the nettle, to not-bleed.

Stupid, like a street

That beats into a dead end and dies there,

with nothing left to reprimand or meet.

And like a candle fixed

Against dismay and countershine of mixed

Wild moon and sun. And like

A flying furniture, or bird with lattice wing; or gaunt thing, a-stammer down a nightmare neon peopled with condor, hawk and shrike.

To say yes is to die.

A lot or a little. The dead wear capably their wry

Enabled emblems. They smell.

But that and that they do not altogether yell is all that we know well.

It is brave to be involved,

To be not fearful to be unresolved.

Her new wish was to smile

When answers took no airships, walked a while.

Not sure about the name of the form, but these couplets remind me of proverbs. Punctuation-wise, every one, except 5 and 7, is a complete standalone thought, though even 5 and 7 may stand alone if we wish them to.

There is another pattern. Short/long/short/long…short/short. A rhythm (not a rhyming) scheme. Percussive, like a drumbeat or a bass line.

And of course, the couplets are rhyming couplets. But not “just” rhymes. Perfect rhymes.

A bit of synesthesia going on here. I adore it!

definitely a “leaves of grass” experience. This is all so thrilling! And lucky me to have an autographed copy of Blacks!

February 14, 2014 – Children of the Poor

What shall I give my children? who are poor,

Who are adjudged the leastwise of the land,

Who are my sweetest lepers, who demand

No velvet and no velvety velour;

But who have begged me for a brisk contour,

Crying that they are quasi, contraband

Because unfinished, graven by a hand

Less than angelic, admirable or sure.

My hand is stuffed with mode, design, device.

But I lack access to my proper stone.

And plenitude of plan shall not suffice

Nor grief nor love shall be enough alone

To ratify my little halves who bear

Across an autumn freezing everywhere.

“Quasi” because born with birth defects resulting from impoverishment? Born of alcoholic/drug addicted/HIV and syphilitic (overseas disease cited earlier) mothers? Starting off life with deformities, disease, addiction themselves (sweetest lepers)?

“Quasi” can also be a moral, metaphorical or even a spiritual term, i.e., less than half a chance to survive and thrive, single parent household (quasi), etc., and in contrast with the American credo that all men (and women) are created equal, blah, blah, blah.

Not so odd, when you think about it.

I also thought about the earlier poem, but that thought, that those fetuses might be considered less than a full human being, was a bit morbid even for me, even on a snowy Friday. Growing up too soon and not fully experiencing childhood, yes, that could also result in a state of “quasi-ness.”

*

The abstractions attract my attention, draw me in for a closer look, a more thorough examination. Yes, it brings me in closer.

*

I don’t think WCW’s “measuring” nor his “measure” are references to external form, though I know that puts me in an unenviable place (an inglorious spot) amidst the poetics and poets of modernity and contemporarality. One can change the meter, the rhythm, the musicality of poetry without abolishing the external container, i.e., the ballad, the sonnet form, etc., and in my view, that preservation represents the highest level of artistry and craft mastery. Somewhere in one of the earlier threads there was a quote about putting new wine in old bottles and having the wine make the bottles new. I like that.

“Reverence the wombs that bore you…”

February 14, 2014 – The Anniad

“Clogged and soft and sloppy eyes

Have lost the light that bites or terrifies

There are no swans and swallows any more.

The people settled for chicken and shut the door.

But one by one

They got things done:

Watch for porches as you pass

And prim low fencing pinching in the grapss.

Pleasant custards sit behind

The white Venetian blind.”

while the end is much more ominous:

“The toys are all grotesque

And nor for lovely hands; are dangerous,

Serrate in open and artful places. Rise.

Let us combine. There are no magics or elves

Or timely godmothers to guide us. We are lost, must

Wizard a track through our own screaming weed.”

truth

By Gwendolyn Brooks

And if sun comes

How shall we greet him?

Shall we not dread him,

Shall we not fear him

After so lengthy a

Session with shade?

Though we have wept for him,

Though we have prayed

All through the night-years—

What if we wake one shimmering morning to

Hear the fierce hammering

Of his firm knuckles

Hard on the door?

Shall we not shudder?—

Shall we not flee

Into the shelter, the dear thick shelter

Of the familiar

Propitious haze?

Sweet is it, sweet is it

To sleep in the coolness

Of snug unawareness.

The dark hangs heavily

Over the eyes.

I remember this from ModPo, coupled with the Etheridge Knight poem, The Sun Came. And yes, somewhat surprised to learn it’s part of this longer series.

It’s a return (for me, a welcome return) to traditional form. Part of the Anniad. Part of the structured part of Annie Allen, looking at it from the outside. It’s form, a safe place, a protected harbor. It’s content, however, is totally unsettling, all those question marks, all those subtle suggestions of tentativeness, of lack of preparation…

But complicated? No, I wouldn’t call it complicating.

But how are we to know an unconstrained truth? An unconstrained truth, to me, appears unknowable, and only a knowable truth can “set us free.”

Appropo of nothing, I am noticing an interesting influence of the Brooks readings on the daily posting I am doing of Langston Hughes poems here: http://www.tumblr.com/blog/raymmax .

The Hughes selections are random, or are they?

_

February 16, 2014

My thinking is that as we go through Brooks’ poems with each other, it opens our minds, every so slightly, perhaps, to her innovations and tensions and discoveries. Then, late in the evening, as I am seeking Hughes selections for the next day’s post, either consciously or unconsciously I am looking, in Hughes, for things we discovered in Brooks.

Now that we are “into the flow” of Brooks, so to speak, it may be possible to guess what is coming next in Brooks, or even to read ahead, and apply what’s coming up to the making of the Hughes selection. Time will tell. In the meantime, and I have this from the horse’s mouth, we are obliged and obligated to keep studying, to keep learning, and to keep writing until we find our own voice.

Now all that may just be a poem.

Happy Sunday!

Ray

*

February 17, 2014

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.

I never noticed it before. The period may be a type of “equal” sign, setting up an identity that reinforces the original equality between the subject and the direct object of the sentence. That identity carries on throughout the poem, the equality between the “We” and the things that they do. Until the end. The end has no subject, and it has no object, and its verb signifies the end of all action. I seem to recall hearing an actor recently recite this, either Morgan Freeman or Danny Glover, can’t remember, But I do recall that they managed to invoke the same cadence, the predicate equivalence with the subject, until the end.

February 17, 2014 – Old Mary

Old Mary

My last defense

Is the present tense.

It little hurts me now to know

I shall not go

Cathedral-hunting in Spain

Nor cherrying in Michigan or Maine.

February 18, 2014

The Last Quatrain of the

Balled of Emmett Till

After the murder,

After the burial

Emmett’s mother is a pretty-faced thing;

the tint of pulled taffy.

She sits in a red room,

drinking black coffee.

She kisses her killed boy.

And she is sorry.

Chaos in windy grays

through a red prairie.

It is a bit “imagist” in the WCW sense. The use of the ballad form makes it easier to remember and to repeat and sends a signal that it is a story that should be told. The rhyme, I think, unifies the quatrain throughout, but just barely, as the rhymes are far from perfect, but just barely holding it together, like a thin layer of ice appears to hold a river together on a cold winter morning.

Taffy/coffee/sorry/prairie. Just barely holding it together. Reflects the fragmentation of the community at the time of the Till butchery.

We are all in this together.

And we want to read “grays” as “graves.” Does that fit?

I seem to recall there was a gap in time between the murder and the burial after his body was discovered, first, and then identified because the poor guy was beat and slaughtered beyond recognition by those thugs. Maybe that accounts for the pause (“,/”) between the murder and the burial.

Wow! That “imagist” thing was just a blind stab in the dark. I must have learned something in ModPo!

It has raised my blood pressure a few points, Madeline. But I think that understatement is another aspect of the imagists school.

*

*

A Bronzeville Mother Loiters in Mississippi. Meanwhile, a Mississippi Mother Burns Bacon.

From the first it had been like a

Ballad. It had the beat inevitable. It had the blood.

A wildness cut up, and tied in little bunches,

Like the four-line stanzas of the ballads she had never quite

Understood-the ballads they had set her to, in school.

Herself: the milk-white maid, the “maid mild”

Of the ballad. Pursued

By the Dark Villain. Rescued by the Fine Prince.

The Happiness-Ever-After.

That was worth anything.

It was good to be a “maid mild.”

That made the breath go fast.

Her bacon burned. She

Hastened to hide it in the step-on can, and

Drew more strips from the meat case. The eggs and sour-milk

biscuits

Did well. She set out a jar

Of her new quince preserve.

…But there was a something about the matter of the Dark

Villian.

He should have been older, perhaps.

The hacking down of a villain was more fun to think about

When his menace possessed undisputed breadth, undisputed

height,

And a harsh kind of vice.

And best of all, when his history was cluttered

With the bones of many eaten knights and princesses.

The fun was disturbed, then all but nullified

When the Dark Villain was a blackish child

Of fourteen, with eyes still too young to be dirty,

And a mouth too young to have lost every reminder

Of its infant softness.

That boy must have been surprised! For

These were grown-ups. Grown-ups were supposed to be wise.

And the Fine Prince-and that other-so tall, so broad, so

Grown! Perhaps the boy had never guessed

That the trouble with grown-ups was that under the

magnificent shell of adulthood, just under,

Waited the baby full of tantrums.

It occurred to her that there may have been something

Ridiculous in the picture of the Fine Prince

Rushing (rich with the breadth and height and

Mature solidness whose lack, in the Dark Villain, was impressing

her,

Confronting her more and more as this first day after the trial

And acquittal wore on) rushing

With his heavy companion to hack down (unhorsed)

That little foe.

So much had happened, she could not remember now what

that foe had done

Against her, or if anything had been done.

The one thing in the world that she did know and knew

With terrifying clarity was that her composition

Had disintegrated. That, although the pattern prevailed,

The breaks were everywhere. That she could think

Of no thread capable of the necessary

Sew-work.

She made the babies sit in their places at the table.

Then, before calling Him, she hurried

To the mirror with her comb and lipstick. It was necessary

To be more beautiful than ever.

The beautiful wife.

For sometimes she fancied he looked at her as though

Measuring her. As if he considered, Had she been worth It?

Had she been worth the blood, the cramped cries, the little

stuttering bravado,

The gradual dulling of those Negro eyes,

The sudden, overwhelming little-boyness in that barn?

Whatever she might feel or half-feel, the lipstick necessity was

something apart. He must never conclude

That she had not been worth It.

He sat down, the Fine Prince, and

Began buttering a biscuit. He looked at his hands.

He twisted in his chair, he scratched his nose.

He glanced again, almost secretly, at his hands.

More papers were in from the North, he mumbled. More

meddling headlines.

With their pepper-words, “bestiality,” and “barbarism,” and

“Shocking.”

The half-sneers he had mastered for the trial worked across

His sweet and pretty face.

What he’d like to do, he explained, was kill them all.

The time lost. The unwanted fame.

Still, it had been fun to show those intruders

A thing or two. To show that snappy-eyed mother,

That sassy, Northern, brown-black-

Nothing could stop Mississippi.

He knew that. Big Fella

Knew that.

And, what was so good, Mississippi knew that.

Nothing and nothing could stop Mississippi.

They could send in their petitions, and scar

Their newspapers with bleeding headlines. Their governors

Could appeal to Washington…

“What I want,” the older baby said, “is ‘lasses on my jam.”

Whereupon the younger baby

Picked up the molasses pitcher and threw

The molasses in his brother’s face. Instantly

The Fine Prince leaned across the table and slapped

The small and smiling criminal.

She did not speak. When the Hand

Came down and away, and she could look at her child,

At her baby-child,

She could think only of blood.

Surely her baby’s cheek

Had disappeared, and in its place, surely,

Hung a heaviness, a lengthening red, a red that had no end.

She shook her head. It was not true, of course.

It was not true at all. The

Child’s face was as always, the

Color of the paste in her paste-jar.

She left the table, to the tune of the children’s lamentations,

which were shriller

Than ever. She

Looked out of a window. She said not a word. That

Was one of the new Somethings-

The fear,

Tying her as with iron.

Suddenly she felt his hands upon her. He had followed her

To the window. The children were whimpering now.

Such bits of tots. And she, their mother,

Could not protect them. She looked at her shoulders, still

Gripped in the claim of his hands. She tried, but could not resist

the idea

That a red ooze was seeping, spreading darkly, thickly, slowly,

Over her white shoulders, her own shoulders,

And over all of Earth and Mars.

He whispered something to her, did the Fine Prince, something

About love, something about love and night and intention.

She heard no hoof-beat of the horse and saw no flash of the

shining steel.

He pulled her face around to meet

His, and there it was, close close,

For the first time in all those days and nights.

His mouth, wet and red,

So very, very, very red,

Closed over hers.

Then a sickness heaved within her. The courtroom Coca-Cola,

The courtroom beer and hate and sweat and drone,

Pushed like a wall against her. She wanted to bear it.

But his mouth would not go away and neither would the

Decapitated exclamation points in that Other Woman’s eyes.

She did not scream.

She stood there.

But a hatred for him burst into glorious flower,

And its perfume enclasped them-big,

Bigger than all magnolias.

The last bleak news of the ballad.

The rest of the rugged music.

The last quatrain.

From THE BEAN EATERS (Harper & Row, 1960)

“So very, very, very red” also has an echo of Gertrude Stein. “Nothing and nothing could stop Mississippi.”

As a diversion…

Langston Hughes’ poem in memory of Emmett Till has gone through as many changes as Leaves of Grass. Here is my favorite (posting tonight to FB and Tumblr):

“Mississippi—1955”

(To the Memory of Emmett Till)

Oh, what sorrow!

Oh, what pity!

Oh, what pain

That tears and blood

Should mix like rain

And terror come again

To Mississippi.

Come again?

Where has terror been?

On vacation? Up North?

In some other section

Of the nation.

Lying low, unpublicized?

Masked—with only

Jaundiced eyes

Showing through the mask?

Oh, what sorrow,

Pity, pain,

That tears and blood

Should mix like rain

In Mississippi!

And terror, fetid hot,

Yet clammy cold,

Remain.

February 17, 2014 – Old Mary

My last defense

Is the present tense.

It little hurts me now to know

I shall not go

Cathedral-hunting in Spain

Nor cherrying in Michigan or Maine.

A Lovely Love

Lillian’s

Let it be alleys. Let it be a hall

Whose janitor javelins epithet and thought

To cheapen hyacinth darkness that we sought

And played we found, rot, make the petals fall.

Let it be stairways, and a splintery box

Where you have thrown me, scraped me with your kiss,

Have honed me, have released me after this

Cavern kindness, smiled away our shocks.

That is the birthright of our lovely love

In swaddling clothes. Not like that Other one.

Not lit by any fondling star above.

Not found by any wise men, either. Run.

People are coming. They must not catch us here

Definitionless in this strict atmosphere.

Whenever I read a Brooks sonnet, I am immediately blown away by how deep she thinks, how expressive and well-versed, how she spins words into concreteness (Be! And it is…), and how pitiful, pitiable, and futile my own sonnet-making efforts must appear. But I know that is not her intent, so I forgive myself for that little pity party…

Hark! an email just arrived from Mandana! Wonder what she is talking about?

“Hyacinth darkness” evokes that original condition. And there is an initiation, not sure into what, “honed (rhymes with thrown) me, have released me […] the birthright of our lovely love/In swaddling clothes.”

Let’s stop here and see what Mandana has said…

This poem definitely takes us back to the kitchenette. But it is more. This poem takes us back to a crudeness that is in our past, a pre-sophistication, a lowly origin. Perhaps to that mating-with-Neanderthals period that scientists have recently discovered in our DNA.

Breathtakingly tragic, I agree. Heart-stoppingly tragic. And grec0-roman tragedy, where there is no hope for resolution, and total resignation to the tragedy, “Let it be alleys.[..].Run/People are coming. They must not catch us here.”

“Definitionless here in this strict atmosphere” is almost like saying, “without a name where everything has a name.” There is a loneliness there that overlays the resignation that overlays the tragedy for which there is no escape.

February 20, 2014

Boy Breaking Glass

BY GWENDOLYN BROOKS

To Marc Crawford

from whom the commission

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 première.

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.

The boy speaks in parentheses, I propose. In the absence of art supplies or art materials, the breaking of a window (as boys do) is an exercise of an artistic impulse. “I shall create,” the boy exclaims, “if not a note (musical expression) a hole (the absence of proper art, the vacuum that absence creates). “If not an overture,” (again a musical composition) “a desecration (again, just the opposite).

Finally (though not really, so why did I use that word?), “the music is in minors” is a reference to the blues, a sad, always sad song, sadder even than a sad ballad.

The boy speaks in parentheses, I propose. In the absence of art supplies or art materials, the breaking of a window (as boys do) is an exercise of an artistic impulse. “I shall create,” the boy exclaims, “if not a note (musical expression) a hole (the absence of proper art, the vacuum that absence creates). “If not an overture,” (again a musical composition) “a desecration (again, just the opposite).

Finally (though not really, so why did I use that word?), “The music is in minors” is a reference to the blues, a sad song in a minor key and in minor chords (broken plurals).

February 21, 2014

Medgar Evers

For Charles Evers

The man whose height his fear improved he

arranged to fear no further. The raw

intoxicated time was time for better birth or

a final death.

Old styles, old tempos, all the engagement of

the day–the sedate, the regulated fray–

the antique light, the Moral rose, old gusts,

tight whistlings from the past, the mothballs

in the Love at last our man forswore.

Medgar Evers annoyed confetti and assorted

brands of businessmen’s eyes.

The shows came down: to maxims and surprise.

And palsy.

Roaring no rapt arise-ye to the dead, he

leaned across tomorrow. People said that

he was holding clean globes in his hands.

This is really a shot in the dark, but…

Many of the old school civil rights leaders were also involved in quasi-religious groups unrelated, on the surface, to the civil rights struggle that occupied most of their waking moments. Some of them were Freemasons, many were Rosicrucians (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Rosicrucianism). Some had other hidden identities. But some rejected all that stuff as, at best, worthless hocus-pocus. It almost sounds like the poet is suggesting in the third stanza that Evers was of the latter group. It also fits with the second stanza. Or it could ALL be hocus-pocus.

Please don’t ask me how I know any of this…. I’d have to tell you, and then…

*

February 24, 2014 – Malcolm X

For Dudley Randall

Original.

Ragged-round.

Rich-robust.

He had the hawk-man’s eyes.

We gasped. We saw the maleness.

The maleness raking out and making guttural the air

and pushing us to walls.

And in a soft and fundamental hour

a sorcery devout and vertical

beguiled the world.

He opened us–

who was a key,

who was a man.

Not sure how/where it all sits in time, but I am seeing a thematic connection between three poems, “truth,” which we studied earlier, the Medgar Evers poem, and this one, about Malcolm X. I almost want to put them all one one page to check them out together, and I may do that if I get my LIS work done tonight…

Just looking at the structure, Medgar Evers has long flowing lines, well-developed thoughts, and is dedicated to his brother, who in many ways carried the baton forward in the race that Medgar started, and for which he was martyred. The lines of “Malcolm X,” on the other hand, are short, staccato-like bursts of energy, and is dedicated to a poet, Dudley Randall, who anthologized many poems celebrating the life and lamenting the death of the Muslim leader.

“truth” raises the questions and in some ways heralds the coming forth (and the going out) of both slain leaders…”How shall we greet him?” and “Shall we not flee?” followed by “The dark hangs heavily /Over our eyes.”

So “truth” has two responses, two branches of response to a single call, Medgar and Malcolm, equal, and equally dynamic.

Some have tried to paint one as being better or lesser than the other. Both are fair game, and both are equal to the call. In short, both are “truth” ‘s response.

p.s. I posted the Malcolm X poem to one of the ModPo Facebook groups, and someone pointed out that in Arabic, “open” and “key” come from the root word, suggesting that the poem, perhaps, ends with an identity (in the mathematical sense), i.e., open=key=man. Interesting…

A lot depends on perspective. When Medgar Evers was killed, I personally felt a “wave of fear” as a very young black boy who could read the papers and hear the TV news and whose parents were involved in the civil rights struggle in a small southern town. I actually thought my parents would be killed next, and I have vivid memories of that feeling of “terrorism.” And I frankly felt some of that fear when I read the poem. Malcolm X’s murder, on the other hand was a bit of an abstraction for me and my family at the time, and I only recall the abstraction when reading the poem. They were “others” for me, and it was the North. Perspective explains a lot regarding these strong reactions.

See attached. I wonder was Ms. Brooks experimenting with concrete poetry? http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Concrete_poetry

“truth” on its side, looks like an urban landscape, maybe even Chicago’s horizon, with tall buildings that include kitchenettes.

“Medgar Evers” on its side is quite square, uniform, each line of almost equal length (height).

“Malcolm X” on its side looks like a pyramid, something ancient, mystical. She even mentions a “vertical sorcerer” as a clue.

just some random thoughts…

truth

And if sun comes

How shall we greet him?

Shall we not dread him,

Shall we not fear him

After so lengthy a

Session with shade?

Though we have wept for him,

Though we have prayed

All through the night-years—

What if we wake one shimmering morning to

Hear the fierce hammering

Of his firm knuckles

Hard on the door?

Shall we not shudder?—

Shall we not flee

Into the shelter, the dear thick shelter

Of the familiar

Propitious haze?

Sweet is it, sweet is it

To sleep in the coolness

Of snug unawareness.

The dark hangs heavily

Over the eyes.

(1949)

Medgar Evers

For Charles Evers

The man whose height his fear improved he

arranged to fear no further. The raw

intoxicated time was time for better birth or

a final death.

Old styles, old tempos, all the engagement of

the day–the sedate, the regulated fray–

the antique light, the Moral rose, old gusts,

tight whistlings from the past, the mothballs

in the Love at last our man forswore.

Medgar Evers annoyed confetti and assorted

brands of businessmen’s eyes.

The shows came down: to maxims and surprise.

And palsy.

Roaring no rapt arise-ye to the dead, he

leaned across tomorrow. People said that

he was holding clean globes in his hands.

(1968)

Malcolm X

For Dudley Randall

Original.

Ragged-round.

Rich-robust.

He had the hawk-man’s eyes.

We gasped. We saw the maleness.

The maleness raking out and making guttural the air

and pushing us to walls.

And in a soft and fundamental hour

a sorcery devout and vertical

beguiled the world.

He opened us–

who was a key,

who was a man.

(1968)

I have often used verb tense as a channel for time travel in my own poetry.

But to expand just ever so slightly on Nadia’s observation, not only is “truth” written in the present tense, it is also a conditional present, maybe even a subjective present (if, maybe, probability), though we don’t always recognize the subjective in English as we do in other languages.

And the past tense in “Medgar” and “Malcolm” is not a tentative or imperfect past, it is action fully completed in the past, the preterite in every sense of the word. Not even auxiliary verbs. Just the simple past. It is over, it is done, the opportunity is lost, like old poems in letters lost in Hurricane Katrina, forever lost.

I met Ms. Brooks in 1990. She seemed very upbeat, optimistic, encouraging, expressive, a beautiful and loving smile. Maybe because it was in the rural south, where there was still some cause for hope. Maybe because I shared a name with her brother. Or maybe because my girlfriend was a pretty dark-skinned girl like some of the girls in her earlier poems. There is even a “flair” in her inscription in the book “Blacks” that I never noticed until today.

Paul Robeson

That time

we all heard it,

cool and clear,

cutting across the hot grit of the day.

The major Voice.

The adult Voice

forgoing Rolling River,

forgoing tearful tale of bale and barge

and other symptoms of an old despond.

Warning, in music-words

devout and large,

that we are each other’s

harvest:

we are each other’s

business:

we are each other’s

magnitude and bond.

That time we all heard it, cool and clear,

cutting across the hot grit of the day.

The major Voice.

The adult Voice

forgoing Rolling River,

forgoing tearful tale of bale and barge

and other symptoms of an old despond.

Warning, in music-words devout and large,

that we are each other’s harvest:

we are each other’s business:

we are each other’s magnitude and bond.

_

Here in the DC ModPo group, we have used a technique of sentence diagramming in our weekly close reads. We used it to great effect in unpacking the imagist poets, esp. WCW, and we are using it now as we do monthly close reads of translated poets (Neruda, Pessoa, Rilke, and this month, Sappho fragments).

So it may work here.

I’ll describe it here and try to get the graphics done before my second cup of coffee.

In this poem, a Voice has two characteristics (adult and major) and it does two things: it forgoes, and it warns. It uses music-words with two characteristics: devout and large. It forgoes three things, setting up an identity in the process, and it warns three things, setting up a second identity.

Voice: adult and major

Voice: forgoes and warns

Music-words: devout

Music-words: large

Forgoes: Rolling River

: tearful tales of bale and barge

: other symptoms of despond

Warns: we are each other’s: harvest

: business

: magnitude and bond

Outlined thusly, another set of correspondences emerges:

Rolling River: harvest

Tearful tales of bale and barge: business

other symptoms of despond: magnitude and bond

And another:

adult: forgoes: devout

major: warns: large

OK, enough for now.

Ray

to whbook74

Dear all:

Here’s an excerpt from Report from Part One, which collects Brooks’s autobiographical writings and interviews, on the 1967 ‘moment’ we have been reading through all this week. Note how much poetry there is in this passage on how her encounter at Fisk changed how she felt about her own identity – “shrill spelling of itself,” alliteration, etc.! Brooks published this piece in 1971-1972.

Report from Part One

Gwendolyn Brooks (1971-2)

Until 1967 my own blackness did not confront me with a shrill spelling of itself. I knew that I was what most people were calling “a Negro”; I called myself that, although always the word fell awkwardly on a poet’s ear; I had never liked the sound of it (Caucasian has an ugly sound, too, while the name Indian is beautiful to look at and to hear). And I knew that people of my coloration and distinctive history had been bolted to trees and sliced or burned or shredded; knocked to the back of the line; provided with separate toilets, schools, neighborhoods; denied, when possible, voting rights; hounded, hooted at, or shunned, or patronizingly patted (often the patting-hand was, I knew, surreptitiously wiped after the Kindness, so that unspeakable contamination might be avoided). America’s social climate, it seemed, was trying to tell me something. […] Yet, although almost secretly, I had always felt that to be black was good. Sometimes, there would be an approximate whisper around me: others felt, it seemed, that to be black was good. The translation would have been something like “Hey – our folks have got stuff to be proud of!” Or something like “Hey – since we are so good why aren’t we treated like the other ‘Americans’?”

Suddenly there was New Black to meet. In the spring of 1967 I met some of it at the Fisk University Writers’ Conference in Nashville. […] There is indeed a new black today. He is different from any the world has known. He’s a tall-walker. Almost firm. By many of his own brothers he is not understood. And he is understood by no white. Not the wise white; not the Schooled white; not the Kind white. Your least pre-requisite toward an understanding of the new black is an exceptional Doctorate which can be conferred only upon those with the proper properties of bitter birth and intrinsic sorrow. I know this is infuriating, especially to those professional Negro-understanders, some of them so very kind, with special portfolio, special savvy. But I cannot say anything other, because nothing other is the truth.

I – who have “gone the gamut” from an almost angry rejection of my dark skin by some of my brainwashed brothers and sisters to a surprised queenhood in the new black sun – am qualified to enter at least the kindergarten of new consciousness now. New consciousness and trudge-toward-progress.

I have hopes for myself.

(pages 83-86)

Elegy in a Rainbow

Moe Belle’s double love song.

When I was a little girl

Christmas was exquisite.

I didn’t touch it.

I didn’t look at it too closely.

To do that to do that

might nullify the shine.

Thus with a Love

that has to have a Home

like the Black Nation,

like the Black Nation

defining its own Roof

that no one else can see.

This poem brings to my mind, especially after reading Mandana’s thoughts, the theme song to the Wizard of Oz, “Somewhere Over a Rainbow.”

The second stanza is a realization, a maturation of a little girl’s dream, but a dream that has expanded to capture a community, a “Black Nation,” as the poet says. Of course, the Black Nationalism movement was very strong in Chicago in the early 70’s, The Black Muslims, The Blackstone Rangers, Black Capitalism being fed by Nixon and Daley to keep a tight lid on the “social garbage can” as they say in development circles. The matured dream/love must be housed, in its blackness, in its reality.

I think there is room/space for both/all interpretations. Brooks said at the end of one of her interviews, when asked about the black writer:

“…He has the American experience and he also has the black experience; so he’s very rich.”

Interesting comments by Gwendolyn Brooks at the Dickinson Electronic Archives:

http://www.emilydickinson.org/titanic-operas/folio-one/gwendolyn-brooks

It occurs to me that rainbows don’t really “exist,” they just appear to. Rainbows are an optical illusion. What does that say for a thing (elegy) in an optical illusion? A thing inside an optical illusion is also an optical illusion. But a “Love” in a “home” and a “Black Nation,” no optical illusions there.

Emily & I Are Absolutely Different In The Details Of Our Lives

http://www.emilydickinson.org/titanic-operas/folio-one/gwendolyn-brooks

Recording:

Download:* brooks.mp3

*I was told, “Ms. Brooks will be participating in a program with other woman poets celebrating Emily Dickinson.” And it certainly is my pride to be anywhere in the neighborhood of Adrienne Rich. I’m really proud to be included in such company.

My mother’s name was Keziah, Keziah. I always wished that she had named me Keziah instead of Gwendolyn, which is such a fancy-sounding name. I named my daughter “Nora.” N-O-R-A. Simple and clean and direct and easy and quick to say. I’m going to offer one, two, three, four woman-oriented poems. Then I’m afraid I’m going to mention a boy and then seven boys, and then all of us, and then I’ll be closing with a poem addressed to young people in general. Well, the first woman-oriented poem, or at least it was written by a woman, a woman of twelve, not myself, is by Aurelia Davidson, who entered this poem in my Illinois poet laureate competition in Chicago. I had to give this poem a prize because I felt it was such a clear note of warmth-oriented and honesty-oriented poetry. She called her poem “Trapped”:

I am trapped,

because I am black

“Let me out,” I say.

But the white man say

“NO.”

I turn, I turn,

but who am I?

I walk I walk

but who am I

I am a little black girl

trapped,

but will I get out?

“YES,”

I say.

I look, I learn, and I sing

and I dance and

out I come

from the past.

I would like to think that all of our little black women subscribe to that and I told Aurelia, “Aurelia, I wish I had written that poem.” So I thought it was a good way to begin. And I have my next offering called “Essential Black Women.” I was asked to write a little calendar celebrating black women and I wrote this to precede a poem I had already written called “To Black Women,” which will follow right after this prosy part:

Look at these women, they are clean-willed, they are adventurous, they are warm of heart, and clear of spirit. They are reasonable. They are sane. They subscribe to the beauty and nuturing potential of black family, and by black family I mean our entire range of categories. South Africa, the little babe just born in the South Bronx. These black women love us. They are not trying to wriggle out of our race. They do not decry nor revile new roads. They approve new roads of discovery, discovery founded on and referential to the nourishment of our past. And they understand that if we do not work with and warrent our black men, we are lost. These women know we cannot go into battle alone, no matter how muscular our weapons and our wit. They know we must review and respectfully remodel and extend our black men. These black women salute all that is rich and right and civil within us. And I salute them in my poem “To Black Women.”

TO BLACK WOMEN

Sisters,

where there is cold silence–

no hallelujahs, no hurrahs at all, no handshakes,

no neon red or blue, no smiling faces–

prevail.

Prevail across the editors of the world;

who are obsessed, self-honeying and self-crowned

in the seduced arena.

It has been a

hard trudge, with fainting, bandaging and death.

There have been startling confrontations.

There have been tramplings. Tramplings

of monarchs and of other men.

But there remain large countries in your eyes.

Shrewd sun.

The civil balance.

The listening secrets.

And you create and train your flowers still.

Thinking about Emily Dickinson, as I made up my little list of poems to offer, I said “You know, this is almost hopeless, because Emily and I are absolutely different in the details of our lives.” I would like to tell you how I met Emily. We had been having for many years in our textbooks of the various schools I went to selections of Emily Dickinson’s work, and I rarely cared for them. But when I was nineteen I went to the junior college library and found a collection of her work that had been discovered by that time. I was absolutely enchanted. And I began to really appreciate her way with common words and her way of putting common words together so they made new magic. But what would Emily have made out of the late sixties in which I found such help, lots of mistakes and clumsinesses, but a lot of help, too. That help helped form what I am today. So I just said I will offer her what I have to give. And if it is not a million, well, that’s unfortunate or fortunate. What comes next. I decided to include “The Mother.” People have been playing with this poem for decades. It was first published in ’45, and some strange things have been said about it. Of course, after people have read it or listened to it. They are positive–especially the critics, who wear crowns–they are positive that they know exactly how I feel on the subject, on this controversy. I should tell you those of you who do not know this poem, that the first word in it is “abortions,” and it’s called, it has been referred to so often as “her abortion poem.” In here I believe that there is a little catalog of the qualities of motherhood. And of course you’re free to take anything else from it that you need to use. That’s one of the richnesses of poetry, that we take from the poems we read what we need.

the mother

Abortions will not let you forget.

You remember the children you got that you did not

get,

The damp small pulps with a little or with no hair,

The singers and workers that never handled the air.

You will never neglect or beat

Them, or silence or buy with a sweet.

You will never wind up the sucking-thumb

Or scuttle off ghosts that come.

You will never leave them, controlling your luscious

sigh,

Return for a snack of them, with gobbling mother-eye.

I have heard in the voices of the wind the voices of my

dim killed children.

I have contracted. I have eased

My dim dears at the breasts they could never suck.

I have said, Sweets, if I sinned, if I seized

Your luck

And your lives from your unfinished reach,

If I stole your births and your names,

Your straight baby tears and your games,

Your stilted or lovely loves, your tumults, your mar-

riages, aches, and your deaths,

If I poisoned the beginnings of your breaths,

Believe that even in my deliberateness I was not de-

liberate.

Though why should I whine,

Whine that the crime was other than mine?–

Since anyhow you are dead.

Or rather, or instead,

You were never made.

But that too, I am afraid,

Is faulty: oh, what shall I say, how is the truth to be

said?

You were born, you had body, you died.

It is just that you never giggled or planned or cried.

Believe me, I loved you all.

Believe me, I knew you, though faintly, and I loved, I

loved you

All.

In honor of black men, I’m not going to offer “Ballad of Pearl May Lee” because black men have really been getting a pounding of late. And there have been features on T.V. directed at their villainy, their lax, their losses, their lunacy. I just decided not to add to it here. I want to say I had a wonderful black father and I grew up on a street of wonderful black families where the fathers worked and then came home and had dinner. I hope this doesn’t sound absolutely remarkable to you. But my father would come home and have dinner. It was about six o’clock, and we would sit down at the table–my brother, my mother, my father and I–and we would talk about what had happened during the day. My father had the sweetest smile and the warmest deep voice that I have ever heard. After dinner, he might recite poetry to us or we might group around (if you read the papers today, I know you’re not going to believe this), we might group around my mother, who would play the piano while the rest of us sang. And she sang too in her lovely soprano voice. It was a very happy black household, a very rich, black family life that I came from and I’m happy to salute it. Here’s a poem, a sonnet, in a series called “The Children of the Poor.” Five sonnets in that series, but I’m just going to offer the fourth one, the one that has resulted in many people considering me the Ma Barker of the late sixties. Anybody who knows anything about the late sixties in Chicago knows that is such a strange assumption. But this poem has frequently been called “militant.” That is a word that covers a variety of virtues and villainies.

First fight. Then fiddle. Ply the slipping string

With feathery sorcery; muzzle the note

With hurting love; the music that they wrote

Bewitch, bewilder. Qualify to sing

Threadwise. Devise no salt, no hempen thing

For the dear instrument to bear. Devote

The bow to silks and honey. Be remote

A while from malice and from murdering.

But first to arms, to armour. Carry hate

In front of you and harmony behind.

Be deaf to music and to beauty blind.

Win war. Rise bloody, maybe not too late

For having first to civilize a space

Wherein to play your violin with grace.

Now that’s my heroine, Annie Allen, thinking about her children and wondering what she can do to validate them, to send them out into the world enweaponed (of course that’s a bad word to use, enweaponed). And of course she’s probably going to do what my mother did, take them to the Art Institute and see that they have piano lessons. My mother saw that I had piano lessons until I had passed the third year, and she could tell not much was going to come of it, and she let me go. But still, there is that wonderment about how much any of this is doing to strengthen children. And I will read a nice happy woman-oriented poem. All of these things seem to, well not all, “To Black Women” might have been an exception, but the others do seem to speak for not just the woman but for the whole family unit, or in this case, for a couple. It’s a familiar poem to those of you who have been listening to me over the decades: “when you have forgotten Sunday, the love story.” I guess there’s still love in the world. Young people listening to me reading this poem start snickering, and they put their hands up, “Listen to that old woman up there talking about love, romantic love. She knows that’s all in the past.” Well, I must have been involved with that magic entity at one time in my life or I wouldn’t have a son, 45, or a daughter, 34:

—-And when you have forgotten the bright bedclothes

on a Wednesday and a Saturday,

And most especially when you have forgotten Sunday–

When you have forgotten Sunday halves in bed,

Or me sitting on the front-room radiator in the limping

afternoon

Looking off down the long street

To nowhere,

Hugged by my plain old wrapper of no-expectation

And nothing-I-have-to-do and I’m-happy-why?

And if-Monday-never-had-to-come–

When you have forgotten that, I say,

And how you swore, if somebody beeped the bell,

And how my heart played hopscotch if the telephone

rang;

And how we finally went in to Sunday dinner,

that is to say, went across the front room floor to the

ink-spotted table in the southwest corner

To Sunday dinner, which was always chicken and

noodles

Or chicken and rice

And salad and rye bread and tea

And chocolate chip cookies–

I say, when you have forgotten that,

When you have forgotten my little presentiment

That the war would be over before they got to you;

And how we finally undressed and whipped out the

light and flowed into bed,

And lay loose-limbed for a moment in the week-end

Bright bedclothes,

Then gently folded into each other–

When you have, I say, forgotten all that,

Then you may tell,

Then I may believe

You have forgotten me well.

I want to share with you a poem called “The Near Johannesburg Boy.” The titling of this poem is strategic. This boy can’t live in Johannesburg. I decided to write this poem when I found myself hearing on T.V. that little black children in South Africa were meeting in the road and saying to each other, “Have you been detained yet?” I thought that was truly appalling. It meant, I believe, that they are feeling now that being imprisoned is equivalent to playing ball or whatever games they have time for over there. So I decided to empathize with one of those young blacks. And I was really rewarded, I don’t know how some of you poets feel about being rewarded. It’s not necessary. You don’t have to be rewarded for writing a poem, but I was very pleased in a kind of grim way when I read this poem at the James Madison University and a young fellow from South Africa said that his brother was imprisoned waiting to be executed and his father had been killed, and shortly after that, his mother had died, and he was quite tearful, as he said to me about the boy in this poem, “I am that boy.”

My way is from woe to wonder.

A Black by near Johannesburg, hot

in the Hot Time.

Those people

do not like Black among the colors.

They do not like our

calling our country ours.

They say our country is not ours.

Those people.

Visiting the world as I visit the world.

Those people.

Their bleach is puckered and cruel.

It is work to speak of my Father. My Father.

His body was whole till they Stopped it.

Suddenly.

With a short shot.

But, before that, physically tall and among us,

he died every day. Every moment.

My Father….

First was the crumpling.

No. First was the Fist-and-the-Fury.

Last was the crumpling. It is

a little used rag that is Under, it is not,

it is not my Father gone down.

About my Mother. My Mother

was this loud laugher

below the sunshine, below the starlight at festival.

My Mother is still this loud laugher!

Still straight in the Getting-It-Done (as she names

it.)

Oh a strong eye is my Mother.

Except when it seems we are lax in our looking.

Well, enough of slump, enough of Old Story.

Like a clean spear of fire

I am moving. I am not still. I am ready

to be ready.

I shall flail

in the Hot Time.

Tonight I walk with

a hundred of playmates to where

the hurt Black of our skin is forbidden.

There, in the dark that is our dark, there,

a-pulse across earth that is our earth, there,

there exulting, there Exactly, there redeeming, there

Roaring Up

(oh my Father)

we shall forge with the Fist-and-the-Fury:

we shall flail in the Hot Time:

we shall

we shall

There’s no punctuation at the end. “We Real Cool”:

We real cool. We

Left school. We

Lurk late. We

Strike straight. We

Sing sin. We

Thin gin. We

Jazz June. We

Die soon.

Oh, it’s been banned here and there because, because somebody wrote to the library and asked that I find books with poems featuring handicapped people for a conference that was going to feature handicapped people. So I decided I was going to try to write such a poem myself. I have a certain way of feeling about handicapped people. I feel that we’re all handicapped to some degree and some dimension, so under the title I wrote “For handicapped all”:

Everbody here

is infirm.

Everybody here is infirm.

Oh. Mend me. Mend me. Lord.

Today I

say to them

say to them

say to them, Lord:

look! I am beautiful, beautiful with

my wing that is wounded

my eye that is bonded

or my ear not funded

or my walk all a-wobble.

I’m enough to be beautiful.

You are

beautiful too.

And I hope that every last of you believes that about yourself. I’m going to offer a poem called “The Contemplation of Suicide: The Temptation of Timothy.” I saw a television film about a year ago, I’m sure many of you saw it, too. It was much heralded, very nicely crafted. It was about a young couple in their late teens who loved each other, loved each other very much. Nobody understood. Their parents didn’t understand, other elders didn’t understand, so they decided to kill themselves so they could be together forever. And I hope I don’t sound cruel, or cold, or mean. And I know that there are many varieties of reasons for this act. I’m not fitted to deal with this phenomenon. I’m not a psychiatrist. I felt, however, as I looked at that picture, “Such a waste.” Their reasons didn’t seem to have any quality at all. I’d just like to say, this is preaching, of course, I’d just like to say to young people who might be think about doing away with themselves, feeling they’re not important, that they have nothing to give. Well, you do have something to give, so just stay here and smile. People are always saying, “You don’t have to talk about your poems so much.” But see, if all you want to do is read them, then you can do that for yourselves. You can get a book, one without any commentary from me, one with just the poems and no prosy part, and read what I’ve written. But I feel you go to the trouble of inviting me to do this, so you ought to get a little something extra. And I am only too happy to give it.

I wrote this out as a kind of sauce for the poem, perhaps. In addition to other things I wanted to say on this subject of the young killing themselves is, “You’re going to die soon, soon enough.” And I wrote here “Soon enough you’ll begin to notice the rapid passing of time, especially when you get married and start a family. Certainly those little children are not the same two days in a row.” About that time I believe many women become conscious that time really is moving. Suddenly, too, you observe that your little quick- trotting mother begins to wobble and wain. I was at a hotel recently and I sat down for room service and a young waiter came up and he looked rather tense, and I said “Good morning.” And he said, “Oh, thank you, thank you.” Already life early in the morning had begun to deal with him and he was grateful for just a smile so that is something that we can all do to make life different and bearable. So here is that poem I wrote some years ago, but after seeing that show it took on a whole new meaning. “The Contemplation of Suicide”:

One poises, poses at track, or range, or river,

Saying, What is the fact of my life, to what do I tend?–

And is it assured and sweet that I have come, after mazes

and robins, after the foodless swallowings and snatchings

at fog, to this foppish end?

(Knowing that downtown the sluggish shrug their shoul-

ders, slink, talk.)

Then, though one can think of no fact, no path, no ground,

Some little thing, remarkless and daily, relates

Its common cliche. One lunges or lags on, prates.–

Too selfish to be nothing while beams break, surf’s epi-

leptic, chicken reeks or squalls.

And I’m going to close with a children’s poem, and it’s subtly called “Speech to the Young / Speech to the Progress-Toward.” And I’m sure that Emily would have felt this way if she had lived into this most challenging time.

SPEECH TO THE YOUNG

SPEECH TO THE PROGRESS-TOWARD

(Among them Nora and Henry III)

Say to them,

say to the down-keepers,

the sun-slappers,

the self-soilers,

the harmony-hushers,

“Even if you are not ready for day

it cannot always be night.”

You will be right.

For that is the hard home-run.

Live not for battles won.

Live not for the-end-of-the-song.

Live in the along.

I feel we’re all little girls and boys in that case. Thank you.

Gwendolyn Brooks Bio

Read more from Gwendolyn Brooks

‹ Wendy Barker up Amy Clampitt ›

Sent from my iPad

Ella Fitzgerald Ev’ry time we say goodbye (with lyrics)

to whbook74

Dear all:

Here is a new poem for today: “Elegy in a Rainbow,” from Brooks’s 1975 collection Beckonings. The name under the title, Moe Belle, refers to a persona who appears in a sequence Brooks included in A Street in Bronzeville. In “Elegy in a Rainbow,” from the 1970s, Brooks is returning to a character she fashioned in the 1940s.

I’m curious to hear what you think of this poem after the elegies we’ve been reading this week. What do you make of Love in the second stanza? What sort of thing is it being compared to?

Elegy in a Rainbow

Moe Belle’s double love song.

When I was a little girl

Christmas was exquisite.

I didn’t touch it.

I didn’t look at it too closely.

To do that to do that

might nullify the shine.

Thus with a Love

that has to have a Home

like the Black Nation,

like the Black Nation

defining its own Roof

that no one else can see.


I think there is room/space for both/all interpretations. Brooks said at the end of one of her interviews, when asked about the black writer:

“…He has the American experience and he also has the black experience; so he’s very rich.”


Dear all:

Here is a poem from The Near-Johannesburg Boy, a book Brooks published in 1986.

The Near-Johannesburg Boy

In South Africa the Black children ask each other: “Have you been
detained yet? How many times have you been detained?”

The herein boy does not live in Johannesburg. He is not allowed to

live there. Perhaps he lives in Soweto.

My way is from woe to wonder.

A Black boy near Johannesburg, hot

in the Hot Time.

Those people

do not like Black among the colors.

They do not like our

calling our country ours.

They say our country is not ours.

Those people.

Visiting the world as I visit the world.

Those people.

Their bleach is puckered and cruel.

It is work to speak of my Father. My Father.

His body was whole till they Stopped it.

Suddenly.

With a short shot.

But, before that, physically tall and among us,

he died every day. Every moment.

My Father . . . .

First was the crumpling.

No. First was the Fist-and-the-Fury.

Last was the crumpling. It is

a little used rag that is Under, it is not,

it is not my Father gone down.

About my Mother. My Mother

was this loud laughter

below the sunshine, below the starlight at festival.

My Mother is still this loud laughter!

Still moving straight in the Getting-It-Done (as she names it.)

Oh a strong eye is my Mother.

Except when it seems we are lax in our looking.

Well, enough of slump, enough of Old Story.

Like a clean spear of fire

I am moving. I am not still. I am ready

to be ready.

I shall flail

in the Hot Time.

Tonight I walk with

a hundred of playmates to where

the hurt Black of our skin is forbidden.

There, in the dark that is our dark, there,

a-pulse across earth that is our earth, there,

there exulting, there Exactly, there redeeming, there Roaring Up

(oh my Father)

we shall forge with the Fist-and-the-Fury:

we shall flail in the Hot Time:

we shall

we shall


to Susan, whbook74

The genius of this poem, the sad, unfortunate genius, is its utter and simple substitutabilty. Replace “South Africa” with “Israel,” replace “black” with “Palestinian,” replace “Johannesburg” with “Tel Aviv,” replace “Soweto” with the name of any one of the Palestinian ghettos and everything fits today. And that is a tragedy from which we may surmise that evil in the world is always with us. Permanently. And yet, “we shall forge / we shall/ we shall…”

Sent from my iPad

Dear all:

Hard to believe it, but this is the last Brooks poem I had planned to send to our group this month. It’s called “Nineteen Cows in a Slow Line Walking,” and it comes from Brooks’s 1991 collection Children Coming Home. Brooks published these poems as a series of children’s monologues, and the volume is even designed to look like a student’s composition book (you can see an image here: http://img0.etsystatic.com/019/0/5978702/il_570xN.475171444_wdys.jpg).

The name under the title, Jamal, refers to one of the children characters who make up the monologues in the book.

So, this is the last poem we will read together during our book group – but we’ll continue the conversation here until Monday, when we’ll share final words.

I’m curious to hear what you make of this poem. What is its tone?

February 28, 2013 – Nineteen Cows in a Slow Line Walking

Jamal

When I was five years old
I was on a train.
From a train window I saw
nineteen cows in a slow line walking.

Each cow was behind a friend.
Except for the first cow,
who was God.

I smiled until
one cow near the end
jumped in front of a friend.

That reminded me of my mother and of my father.
It spelled what is their Together.
I was sorry for the spelling lesson.
I turned my face from the glass.


I saw this as a child walking in on its parents during an “intimate” moment and not really understanding what was going on. Later, the parents explained to the bewildered child that they were “loving’ each other, hence “their Together.” But it was still a mystery and possibly a traumatizing experience for the child, so when the image of the cows, perhaps copulating, we don’t know, reminded her of it, she felt the same bewilderment and turned her head away from the window.

Mathematics[edit]

19 is a centered triangular number

19 is the 8th smallest prime number. The sequence continues 23, 29, 31, 37…

19 is the seventh Mersenne prime exponent.

19 is the aliquot sum of two odd discrete semiprimes, 65 and 77 and is the base of the 19-aliquot tree.

19 is a centered triangular number, centered hexagonal number and a Heegner number.

The only non-trivial normal magic hexagon contains 19 hexagons (the other being 1).

19 is the first number with more than one digit that can be written from base 2 to base 19 using only the digits 0 to 9; the other number is 20.[1]

Technology[edit]

19 is The TCP/IP port used for chargen.

Science[edit]

The atomic number of potassium

Religion[edit]

Islam[edit]

The number of angels guarding Hell (“Hellfire”) (“Saqar”) according to the Qur’an: “Over it are nineteen” (74:30).


The Number of Verse and Sura together in the Qur’an which announces Jesus son of Maryam’s (Mary’s) birth (Qur’an 19:19).


Some people have claimed that patterns of the number 19 are present an unusual number of times in the Qur’an.[1][2]

Baha’i faith[edit]

In the Bábí and Bahá’í faiths, a group of 19 is called a Váhid, a Unity (Arabic: واحد wāhid, “one”). The numerical value of this word in the Abjad numeral system is 19.

The Bahá’í calendar is structured such that a year contains 19 months of 19 days each (along with the intercalary period of Ayyám-i-Há), as well as a 19-year cycle and a 361-year (19×19) supercycle.


The Báb and his disciples formed a group of 19.


There were 19 Apostles of Bahá’u’lláh.

Doesn’t really add any meat to the discussion (no pun intended), but this talk about the 19 cows reminds me of something we used to do in cross-country practice. Maybe once a week, the coach would have us (and would often join us)​ run in a line, all 14-15 of us, along a 4-6 mile training course (favorites were Arrowpoint (4miles) and Chicken Ridge (6 miles). In a single file, we would run, with the last guy always responsible for sprinting up to the front. It was a type of interval training, long distance with sprints interspersed. Once the last guy made it up to the front, the new last guy would start his kick, and on and on we’d go until we completed the run. Coach said it built teamwork. Cross country and track were a HUGE part of my high school education.

Raymond D. Maxwell

Great experience, made even better by Julia’s gentle steering and the resourcefulness of so many, establishing firmly the concept that “the community is the curriculum.” No great farewell, hope to see everyone again in new activities between now and the start of ModPo 2014.

I learned, we learned just yesterday at our DC Poetica group get-together (another ModPo spin-off) that one of our numbers was at the Library of Congress when Ms. Brooks was the library consultant (now known as Poet Laureate of the U.S.). James said the employees had a poetry group that met weekly in the cafeteria at the Library and that Ms. Brooks would visit with them periodically and run her current poetry passed them for comments and idea. How cool must that have been? She was such a gentle lady and a person, we now know, of so much depth and breadth and warmth. I can only speak for myself, but reading these poems, many of which have set in my bookcase for years unread, have altered my perspective on so many things, and inspired me, and challenged me to think more deeply and at different levels.

The approach, free-wheeling and rather unstructured, almost open-ended, has been the thing that kept me coming back for more, even when there were louder if not more pressing promises to keep. But when we get to Brooks in ModPo 2014, we will definitely be “the smartest kids in the class,” and hopefully we’ll be able to contribute these February insights we have developed. I noticed an interesting continuity in the late elegies we read. Among others, Brooks also elegized Langston Hughes, and Hughes elegized Walt Whitman, and Whitman, in two separate poems, elegized Abraham Lincoln, himself a bit of a poet. I think it is significant when poets elegize fellow poets, significant and meaningful. Almost as if they are establishing a thread of connectivity. Whitman, we have learned in the Iowa course, gave the nod (props) to the great poetry traditionalists, esp. Shakespeare, by opening Song of Myself with two lines of perfect iambic pentameter, then proceeding to shatter the mould into a thousand pieces. Too cool.

Am joining forces with Madeline to start/do the writer’s group. Hope to see you there!

Ray

Author: Raymond Maxwell

https://raymmaxx.wordpress.com/ Librarian, retired foreign service manager and former naval officer. Strong interests in information architecture, instructional design, critical pedagogy, taxonomies and metadata management, information governance, and cultural heritage preservation.

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