Hello. Come on in. The daddy writes about current events, literature, music and, once in a while, drops something on you from back in the day to make you pause and ponder, stop and stare, and begin to wonder. Who knows? You may start to pace the floor, shake your head from side to side, then fall down on bended knees in a praying position and cry, "Lawd, have mercy! What is this world coming to?" Check yourself! But this blog is NOT about the daddy. It's about you: your boos, your fam, your hood, your country...our hopes and dreams of a better tomorrow. So let's make a pact: the daddy will put it on the track if you'll chase it down and hit him back. Together, we can definitely take it to another level. Shall we?"

Tuesday, July 1, 2008

Black Poetry: Feel It and Never Forget It

"We write because we believe the human spirit cannot be tamed and should not be trained."

--Nikki Giovanni, poet

"The Events which transpired five thousand years ago; five years ago or five minutes ago, have determined what will happen five minutes from now; five years from now or five thousand years from now. All history is a current event."
--John Henrik Clarke, historian

In Part I, we said that poetry drops knowledge and sings truth, wherever it leads, whomever it helps or hurts. We said that, because it is often painful, the truth business can be harrowing and is not for the faint of heart. Nonetheless, the poet continues to seek it. But the poet seeks something else: remembrance-- remembrance of people as individuals, as part of a collective, as connected to the rest of the world. Why is remembrance important?

In "The Language of Life," journalist Bill Moyer's book about 34 poets, Nobel-prizewinning poet Czeslaw Milosz said a people should always know its history. However, they should be especially careful to know and remember it today. "Our planet is getting smaller ever year, and with its fantastic proliferation of mass media is witnessing a process that defies definition, characterized by a refusal to remember." So the poet not only seeks the truth. The poet seeks but to have us remember the truth for today and tomorrow.

To help us remember, the poet drops knowledge but-- just as importantly--communicates truth in a way that we are more likely to remember it. The poet writes to have us feel it through the core of our being. To paraphrase singer Wilson Picket, the poet says, "Don't fight it. You got to feel it." For example, Walt Whitman, the father of American, or New World, poetry, could have described a slave auction and opined that it was immoral. Instead, he made a poetic skit of it to make us feel that it was wrong:

Gentleman, look on this wonder
Whatever the bids of the bidders they cannot be high
Enough for it…

This is not only one, this the father of those who
Shall be fathers in their turns
In him the start of populous states and rich republics, Of
Him countless immortal lives with countless embodi-
ments and enjoyments (from “I Sing the Body Electric” by Walt Whitman).

Whitman doesn't ponder or debate the morality of slave auctions. He makes us feel the inhumanity of one human being selling another human being, the horror of slavery itself.

Remembrance of things big and small

But the poet seeks not only truth about big events or heroic figures but remembrance of the power in the little things. For example, poet Robert Hayden could have just informed us that, when he was young, he didn't appreciate his father as much as he should have. Instead, he puts us in a time capsule and takes us back to his childhood, into his home to see his father in a different and more unforgettable way. He lets us watch as his dad warms the room for Robert and then tells him to get dressed.

I’ I'd wake and hear the cold splintering, breaking.
When the rooms were warm, he’d call,
And slowly I would rise and dress,

caring the chronic angers of that house,
speaking indifferently to him,
who had driven out the cold
and polished my good shoes as well.
what did I know, what did I know
of love’s austere and lonely offices?

T Through Hayden, we learn that sometimes a father’s love may be expressed best by the little things done everyday in silence.

B But Hayden sought not only to make us feel. He sought to have us never forget. Never forget, he said, the slaves who died in route to foreign shores, during the Middle Passage. Never forget, he said, Frederick Douglas, the most committed, the most passionate abolitionist of all. And never forget the sons of slaves who made it over and the trials and tribulations they went through-- sons like El Hajj Malik El-Shabazz. Never forget what Malcolm Little went through before he became Malcolm X, before he became Malik El Shabazz, before he reached the Upas trees, before the fall:

T"The icy evil that struck his father down
and ravished his mother into madness
trapped him in violence of a punished self
struggling to break free.

As Home Boy, as Dee-troit Red,
he fled his name, became the quarry of
his own obsessed pursuit.

He conked his hair and Lindy-hopped,
zoot-suited jiver, swinging those chicks
in the hot rose and reefer glow.

His injured childhood bullied him.
He skirmished in the Upas trees
and cannibal flowers of the American Dream--
but could not hurt the enemy
powered against him there

G Poet Gwendolyn Brooks wants us to remember Malcolm too. But she wants us to remember not the tragedy of his upbringing or the failure of his mission. Never forget, she said, the impact of his intelligence, courage, and fierce militancy on his people, black people:

O Original.
Hence ragged-round
Hence rich-robust.

H 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 wall.

A And in a soft and fundamental hour
A sorcery devout and vertical
Beguiled the world.

H He opened us--
Who was a key.

Who was a man.

P Poet Nikki Giovonni said remember with feeling civil rights organizer Fannie Lou Hamer. White jailers arrested her for registering black people to vote, forced two black men to beat her until their arms got tired; and they took over. Never forget, said Nikki, her down-to-earth sweetness, her printed dress...and her okra smile.

Remember with feeling, the Rosa Parks. But remember, with feeling, those who may not have marched in the streets but who contributed in a myriad of other ways. Nikki said remember, with feeling, Nina Simone, who performed countless numbers of concerts to raise funds for Dr. King's organization to get nonviolent marchers out of jail, who was an activist in her own way, because...

N Nina Simone

w Was a beacon against the stormy sea of bigotry and hatred
Was a quilt against the cold of indifference
Was courage to the cowardly

Was boldness to the timid
Was love to the lonely
Was Home to the lonely
Is ours for now
And evermore

A Amen

T The importance of people's history

P People's historian John Henrik Clarke said that a people who don't know their history are lost. Because they don't know what happened in the past, they don't know where they are today and have little knowledge of what they must do to survive in the future. He put it this way:

"History is not everything, but it is a starting point. History is a clock that people use to tell their political and cultural time of day. It is a compass they use to find themselves on the map of human geography. It tells them where they are, but more importantly, what they must be."

So here's to history and its ultimate historians, the poets, who not only document our lives, but who plunge deep into our souls, uncover truths, and give it back to us so passionately than we cannot help but remember.


SagaciousHillbilly said...

So much poetry, so little time.
Perhaps I need to look at my priorities.

Anonymous said...

Poetry isn't black or white. It's either good or bad. It doesn't have a color.

MacDaddy said...

sagacious: So true. I'm way behind!
anon: Welcome. And you're right. It's not black or white. But it is cultural; culture involves class, sexuality,and other aspects of people's lives.

And poetry is honest. Speaking of honesty, is your concept of poetry inclusive? Does it include Rumi as well as Shakespeare, Whitman as well as Hopkins, Lorde as well as Dickinson, Neruda as well as Yeats, Brooks as well as Rich?

I'm just asking

quakerjew said...

A poem can be a path, and sometimes - Gwen Brooks, for example, those written roots will take me down, knock the breath out of me.
The poet takes a risk with such exposure, strangely mixed with the need for others to travel his language path.
Thanks for enriching my evening.

rainywalker said...

We may not know whence an inspiration comes, but it will not tarry. In honesty poets shed their skin, look as one and spill their souls.

New Black Woman said...

I really liked that Malcolm X poem. I would love to read poetry more, but I can barely finish reading a book.

I think it's the Internets:-)

sdg1844 said...

Good stuff. My cup runneth over. I'm enjoying this series and will be back for more. :-)

PattiT said...

Hello Macdaddy,
I have not been to the blog for a bit...but it's not because what you have going is not's all good. I just read the two parts on Black Poetry and realize that I have not taken the time to enjoy poetry in awhile--and yet poetry can be all around what we see, what we hear, what we read, what we imagine. Poetry, whether it be a simple writing from a child or a soulful piece by macdaddy, can tell a story or paint a picture that can change a feeling, a perspective, or maybe even a life. It can move one to smile, to laugh, to cry, to believe, and to ponder. I think I need to find me some poetry to ponder with...

MacDaddy said...

newblackwoman: The Malcolm X poem is one of my favorites.
sdj: There's a Part III and a Part IV coming.
Pattit: Where have you been? Glad to hear from you. And, yes, poetry is everywhere. I have a teacher friend who thinks of poetry as music; and she says she hears poetry all the time.

SagaciousHillbilly said...

Wow, love the Frederick Douglas quote! Yes, the leaders of the 19th century were few, but those who did emerge were truly great. . . lessee, Douglas, Lincoln,. . . ok, the couple, not the few, but that's a couple more than we had in the 20th century.

Anonymous said...

Beautiful. You are so generous about giving up thoughtful, beautiful words to us on your blog. Thank you MacDaddy!

MacDaddy said...

QuakerJew: Lovely. Spoken like a poet. Are you one?
rainywalker: "In honesty poets shed their skin, look as one and spill their souls." I love that. I read a speech by Eldridge Cleaver (Author of "Soul on Ice." Yes, that's the one). Though it was a political speech, he talked about how he was not going to allow the government to keep him from "taking a U-turn from the truth...from stripping himself naked and baring his soul." A few later, he left the U.S.
sdg: Wait til you read the next post about this great black poet that people don't talk about.