TALK TO THE DADDY

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?"

Wednesday, April 29, 2009

The daddy's first year of blogging: "Celebration time. Come on!"

Listen up. The daddy is
celebrating his first year of
blogg
ing. He began posting on
April 26, 2008. Since then
, he's penned over 320 posts in 356 days. Like Holifield fighting for a meal, Malcolm making it plain, Aretha, the true Diva (sorry Beyonce), soaring into the stratosphere with nothin' but God's pipes and soul for fuel, the daddy, from day one, sought to lay it down in the field then string up a flag pole to show the real deal: to kick it from the bottom, to run it ghetto/project/taco barrio/trailer park style--to give you straight talk from a straight-up and most times fed up, crazy-ass black man! And tell the daddy true, would you really want anything less?

Evidently not. Because, from day one, you've been coming to daddyBstrong to read and comment and conversate with the daddy about all kinds of issues, expressing what's on your mind; and he wants to thank you. Check it:

1. From the moment you somehow found daddyBstrong, you saw it was no raw deal: no ideology-conscious blog with jive talking points, spin or ready cliches' to rationalize foolish behavior (black or any other color), outdated ideology (liberal, conservative or sorry right-wing), to curry favor with people in power or influence. You saw the daddy kick it from a black perspective but, nonetheless, stand with working people and folks trying to live some semblance of the American dream in this hell-hole we like to think as the greatest country in the world; and the daddy wants to thank you.

2. Though some of his homies at the coffee shop said you wouldn't listen to "all that serious mess," you got it. You knew you wanted to hear a brotha from another mother hit it like Sweet Sweetback about the things that most affect your lives. In less than a year's time, the daddy's got almost 50,000 hits. That's a lot of you coming to daddyBstrong in a year. And you keep coming.

3. Though the brothas at the coffee shop said you weren't interested in poetry, though a few said even reading is "just not manly," the daddy posted a series on poetry called "Poets You Should Know."
These were great African American poets who deserve more attention for their work not only as great poets but committed social activists as well. You kept coming.

4. Though all the brothas believed that you hate talking about economics "cause they don't know nothin' about it anyways," the daddy wrote a series of posts on the economy. You kept coming.

5. Though most of his friends don't practice Kwanzaa as a holiday or live its principles throughout the year, the daddy wrote a series on it from December 26 to January 1, 2008. You kept coming.

6. Though most of his homies aren't interested in history, though they can't see its relevance to their lives today and didn't think you would either, the daddy did an entire series on history during Black History Month with the expressed purpose of showing that what happened yesterday still affects us today. In fact, the daddy penned stories about sheroes and heroes of the civil rights and black power movement; and he suggested that, if they hadn't consciously acted to make history, many African Americans, including the daddy, may not be here today. You still kept coming.

So, for finding the daddy, sticking with him, believing in him, and for showing that you believe in yourselves by making comments of your own on daddyBstrong, a brotha wants to thank you.

In the future, the daddy will continue to write posts. However, he will also offer several books that he has written. One book will include posts from the daddyBstrong blog. Another will be a book of poetry about heroes and sheroes like Rosa Parks, Fannie Lou Hamer, Bayard Rustin and Dr. Martin Luther King and Angela Davis. Another will be on black men and what it will take for them to heal.

The daddy will be putting these books on his sidebar to be purchased for two reasons: First, many of you email the daddy asking him to re-post articles, especially about music and history. By putting the best of his posts into book form, you will have them at your finger tips to read at your leisure. And, if you missed a post or two, you'll get to read them as well. Second, and the most important, the daddy has friends (teachers and former teachers) who believe that many of these posts can be used as supplementary sources in public or private schools. So, in a few months, you, teachers and book buyers for schools and community agencies and others will be able to look on daddyBstrong's sidebar and see several books available for less than $10.00 each.

But tonight, the daddy's gonna make his wine glass rise like the Phoenix in honor of his first year of blogging, say "Thank you, Lawd," then ask you to sing along with him, "Celebration time/come on!..."

Sunday, April 26, 2009

James Weldon Johnson, a poet you should know


"I will not allow one prejudiced person or one million or one hundred million to blight my life. I will not let prejudice or any of its attendant humiliations and injustices bear me down to spiritual defeat. My inner life is mine, and I shall defend and maintain its integrity against all the powers of hell."
--James Weldon Johnson (1871-1938)

Today, this Sunday, the daddy feels he needs a spark, some inspiration. He's feeling a poem from James Weldon Johnson.
Author, politician, diplomat, critic, journalist, poet, anthologist, educator, lawyer, songwriter, civil rights activists, Johnson was multi-talented in life and art. He wrote "Lift Every Voice and Sing, " considered the black national anthem. He was one of the first African-American professors at New York University. And he was a professor of literature at Fisk University.

The daddy appreciates Johnson's talents but thinks of him as a poet. Of his poetry, many know of his work "The Creation," a sermon in verse taken from "God's Trombone," a book of black sermons.
The daddy likes the last two verses at the end, where he writes:

"Up from the bed of the river
God scooped the clay;
And by the bank of the river
He kneeled him down;
And there the great God Almighty
Who lit the sun and fixed it in the sky,
Who flung the stars to the most far corner of the night,
Who rounded the earth in the middle of his hand;
This Great God,
Like a mammy bending over her baby,
Kneeled down in the dust
Toiling over a lump of clay
Till he shaped it in his own image;

Then into it he blew the breath of life,
And man became a living soul.
Amen. Amen."

But the daddy's favorite is the poem where he marvels at the ability of slaves to compose such bittersweet spirituals and gospel songs in a minor key, where he extols their ability to create in both, in content and tone, music that reaches deep down into the recesses of the soul. In "O Black and Unknown Bards," taken from "The Book of American Negro Poetry, a book he edited, Johnson writes:

O BLACK AND UNKNOWN BARDS

      BLACK and unknown bards of long ago,
      How came your lips to touch the sacred fire?
      How, in your darkness, did you come to know
      The power and beauty of the minstrel's lyre?
      Who first from midst his bonds lifted his eyes?
      Who first from out the still watch, lone and long,
      Feeling the ancient faith of prophets rise
      Within his dark-kept soul, burst into song?

      Heart of what slave poured out such melody
      As "Steal away to Jesus"? On its strains
      His spirit must have nightly floated free,
      Though still about his hands he felt his chains.
      Who heard great "Jordan roll"? Whose starward eye
      Saw chariot "swing low"? And who was he
      That breathed that comforting, melodic sigh,
      "Nobody knows de trouble I see"?

      What merely living clod, what captive thing,
      Could up toward God through all its darkness grope,
      And find within its deadened heart to sing
      These songs of sorrow, love and faith, and hope?
      How did it catch that subtle undertone,
      That note in music heard not with the ears?
      How sound the elusive reed so seldom blown,
      Which stirs the soul or melts the heart to tears.

      Not that great German master in his dream
      Of harmonies that thundered amongst the stars
      At the creation, ever heard a theme
      Nobler than "Go down, Moses." Mark its bars
      How like a mighty trumpet-call they stir
      The blood. Such are the notes that men have sung
      Going to valorous deeds; such tones there were
      That helped make history when Time was young.

      There is a wide, wide wonder in it all,
      That from degraded rest and servile toil
      The fiery spirit of the seer should call
      These simple children of the sun and soil.
      O black slave singers, gone, forgot, unfamed,
      You -- you alone, of all the long, long line
      Of those who've sung untaught, unknown, unnamed,
      Have stretched out upward, seeking the divine.

      You sang not deeds of heroes or of kings;
      No chant of bloody war, no exulting pean
      Of arms-won triumphs; but your humble strings
      You touched in chord with music empyrean.
      You sting far better than you knew; the songs
      That for your listeners' hungry hearts sufficed
      Still live, -- but more than this to you belongs:
      You sang a race from wood and stone to Christ.
Drink from the cup of poetry. Go ahead. Have some James Weldon Johnson, a poet you should know.
--------------------------

Primary Writings of James Weldon Johnson:

1. The Autobiography of an Ex-Coloured Man, 1912.
2. (Translator) Fernando Periquet, Goyescas; or, The Rival Lovers (opera libretto), 1915.
Fifty Years and Other Poems , 1917
3. (Editor) The Book of American Negro Poetry , 1922
4. (Editor) The Book of American Negro Spirituals , 1925
5. (Editor) The Second Book of Negro Spirituals , 1926
6. God's Trombones: Seven Negro Sermons in Verse (poetry), 1927
7. Black Manhattan (nonfiction) 1930
8. Along This Way: The Autobiography of James Weldon Johnson, 1933
9. Contributed articles and poems to the Chicago Defender, Times-Union, New York Age, New York Times, Pittsburgh Courier, Savannah Tribune, The Century, The Crisis, The Nation, The Independent, Harper's, The Bookman, Forum, and Scholastic.

Friday, April 24, 2009

Rita Dove, a poet you should know

"In recent years writers such as Toni Morrison, Rita Dove and Philip Roth have all included African American World War I veterans in their work; even the 2005 remake of King Kong added in a black former Great War sergeant. The Great War experiences of African American soldiers in 1917 and 1918 did have a thorough and long-lasting effect on African American culture; they made it more alive to cosmopolitan exchanges, provided models of manhood for the next generation, and raised important questions about the relation of black Americans to national history and memorial. DuBois’s soldiers of democracy’ may not have won the fight against racial injustice in the USA, but they left a powerful legacy to an African American culture which played such a crucial role in that fight in the years to come."
--Dr. Mark Whalin

Listen up. The daddy knows that some of you may have seen this post, but the daddy didn't want to close National Poetry Month without you considering adding to your list of master poets the name of Rita Dove, the first African American poet laureate of the United States (1993 and 1995), author of more than a dozen books, and professor of English at the University of Virginia, the house that Thomas Jefferson built.

Today, the daddy's feeling Rita's American Smooth, one of Dove’s more recent works. In this work, she speaks of African Americans surviving, dancing around ballrooms and through minefields of racial bigotry with style and grace: The freedom and exhilaration one feels twirling around the dance floor; the stir a black woman causes when she enters a room (that grand entrance!); Hattie McDaniel's arrival at the Coconut Grove; the determined dignity of the Billie Holidays. But what attracted the daddy were the poems under the title “Not Welcome Here.” These are poems about black soldiers from World War I and World War II and their treatment by an “impertinent nation” once they returned home. Dove lets the black soldier speak:

You didn't want us when we left
but we went.
You didn't want us coming back
but here we are.


In "Alfonzo Prepares To Go Over The Top," Dove puts us on the front lines, showing
us war in all of its horror ("moves ass and balls, over tearing twigs and crushed
faces") and a soldier's life ("hear the le
aves? I am already memory") as pawn
in
a bigger game and temporary at best:


Alfonzo Prepares To Go Over The Top

A soldier waits until he's called- then
moves ass and balls, over
tearing twigs and crushed faces,
swinging his bayonet like a pitchfork
and thinking anything's better
than a trench, ratshit
and the tender hairs of chickweed.
A soldier is smoke
waiting for wind: he's a long corridor
clanging to the back of a house
where a child sings
in its ruined nursery...
and beauty is the
gleam of my eye on this gunstock and my spit
drying on the blade of this knife
before it warms itself in the gut of a kraut.
Mother, forgive me. Hear the leaves? I am
already memory.
In Bill Moyer's The Language of Life, Dove said of poetry:

"By making us stop for a moment, poetry gives us the opportunity to think about ourselves
on this planet and what we mean to each other...Equally important is the connection poetry
emphasizes of human being to human being: What are we doing to make everyone's lives
better, and not materially, but spiritually as well? I think that why poetry has often been
considered dangerous."

Drink from the cup of poetry. Go ahead. Have some Rita Dove, a poet you should know.

Thursday, April 23, 2009

Hey! Hey! Hey! The daddy gets the Splash Award!

"All labor that uplifts humanity has dignity, importance and should be undertaken with painstaking excellence."

-- Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. "What makes humility so desirable is the marvelous thing it does to us; it creates in us a capacity for the closest possible intimacy with
God." -- Monica Baldwin

Listen up. The daddy is honored to receive The Splash Award for 2009. According to the folks over at Electronic Village (http://electronicvillage.blogspot.com/), the award is given
to blogs that are "...alluring, amusing,
bewitching, impressive and inspiring." They said the daddy's "Poets you should know" series, which was written in honor of National Poetry Month, was inspiring. Thank you, Wayne. Thank you, villagers.

The daddy wants to add that the comment section is a very important component of the daddyBstrong blog. Readers who comment in this section speak in their own voices and with keen insight. They may or may not agree with the daddy, but what they always do is speak honestly and intelligently. To the daddy, these qualities are the most important of all. So, when you come to check out the daddy's post, don't forget to check the comments. And make a comment of your own.

For accepting The Splash award, the rules are:
  • Put the logo on your blog post.
  • Nominate up to 9 blogs which allure, amuse, bewitch, impress or inspire you.
  • Be sure to link to your nominees within your post.
  • Let them know that they have been splashed by commenting on their blog.
  • Remember to link to the person from whom your received your Splash award.
The daddy could name a number of great blogs that you would probably name as well. But the daddy is leaning toward some of those "diamonds in the rough," those good blogs you may not have heard of. With that in mind, the daddy wants to nominate the following for the Splash Award:

1. From the Left. Christopher over at From the Left (http://fromtheleft.wordpress.com/) lays it down form the perspective of a gay guy who is also a political geek. The guy seems to think politics 24/7. But in so doing, he provides a valuable niche in the blogosphere.

2 . illkeep you posted. Cory over at ill keepyouposted (http://illkeepyouposted.typepad.com/ill_keep_you_posted) writes very thoughtful posts about everything. But he seems to be at his best when he talks about music or movies. And when it comes to jazz or R&B from the back in the day, a brotha kicks it like Einstein on the chalkboard or Chuck D on the mike Public Enemy style. Love it.

3. Big Man over at Raving Black Lunatic (http://ravingblacklunatic.blogspot.com) lays it down on all the issues pertinent to black folks. Not only that, a brotha finds time to lay something on you to let you know, without preaching, that he writes in the spirit of God, the ultimate blogger of us all.

4. Rippa over at the Intersection of Madness and Realtity (http://rippdemup.blogspot.com/) hits it with a vengeance. Writing like a mad man with mad plans running out of time, a brotha wants to school you, not try to fool you; So a brotha hits it hard but makes it plain on every issue, every post. Before you know it, you hear yourself saying, "Now that's real!" Check him out.

5. Sistah over at New Black Woman (http://www.thenewblackwoman.com/) breaks a favorite. Her posts not only possess strong content; they are varied as well. One day, she is talking about Karzai in Afghanistan, on another day the abuse of latinos in the American South, on yet another a crazy black man running for mayor in Mississippi who wants to bring back the rope to hang black so-called criminals. This blog expands your knowledge as well as make you think. Check out The New Black Woman.


Don't forget to put the Splash Award logo on your blog and follow the other rules above. Again, congratulations.

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Another child commits suicide after gay bullying

Listen up. This morning, the daddy is feeling the loss of Jaheem Herrera, a beautiful, smart, 11-year old kid who came home from school and hanged himself. He had been constantly bullied, constantly called "gay" and a "snitch." You know: it seems that American youth of color are dying either from being tasered by police or from suicide as a result of the constant and, seemingly, unending stress of being bullied. Jaheem is only the most recent.

The daddy will be posting about America as a homophobic nation, a nation that villfies gay people then labels people, gay or not, as gay, causing them to be attacked, to be killed. And sometimes, like Jaheem, they are driven to kill themselves. But right now, the daddy is just thinking of Jaheem: of
his stepfather, Norman Keene, 35, sitting and embracing his daughter Ny'itsa Keene, 5, while discussing Jaheem's death at the family's apartment-- thinking what a smart, beautiful kid Jaheem was; thinking of him being bullied time and time again; thinking of him telling school officials about it; thinking of Jaheem getting little help from school officials but getting labeled by his bullying peers as "gay" and a "snitch" for his efforts; thinking what bright lights, what bright promise, the Jaheems of this world represent to their families and this nation; and what a great loss once those bright lights are turned off.

Here is the story.

Family says bullying led boy, 11, to hang himself

The Atlanta Journal-Constitution

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

The free spirit of Jaheem Herrera is evident in the family portraits in his DeKalb County apartment.

The 11-year-old enjoyed dancing and drawing, and the easy smile he flashed for the photographers was genuine, his stepfather said Monday night.


A photograph of Jaheem Herrera, 11, hangs above a poster on the front door of the family’s Dekalb apartment, all part of a makeshift shrine to the dead boy.

On Thursday afternoon, after returning home from Dunaire Elementary School, Jaheem quietly went into his room and hanged himself. His 10-year-old sister, Yerralis, also a fifth-grader, discovered Jaheem’s dead body.

“His sister was screaming, ‘Get him down, get him down,’” said Norman Keene, who helped raise Jaheem since the boy was two years old.

When Keene got to the room, he saw Yerralis holding her brother, trying to remove the pressure of the noose her brother had fashioned with a fabric belt.

Jaheem was bullied relentlessly, his family said. Keene said the family knew the boy was a target, but until his death they didn’t understand the scope.

“We’d ask him, ‘Jaheem, what’s wrong with you?’” Keene recalled. “He’d never tell us.”

He didn’t want his sister to tell, either. She witnessed much of the bullying, and many times rose to her brother’s defense, Keene said.

“They called him gay and a snitch,” his stepfather said. “All the time they’d call him this.”

In an interview with WSB-TV, the boy’s mother, Masika Bermudez, also said her son was being bullied at school. She said she had complained to the school.

She said she asked him about the bullying Thursday when he came home from school and he denied it. She sent him to his room to calm down. It was the last time she would see him alive.

Bermudez told WSB she talked to Jaheem’s best friend about the situation last week.

“He said, ‘Yes ma’am. He told me that he’s tired of everybody always messing with him in school. He is tired of telling the teachers and the staff, and they never do anything about the problems. So, the only way out is by killing himself,’” Bermudez told WSB.

Earlier this month the suicide of a Massachusetts boy, Carl Joseph Walker-Hoover — who suffered taunts that he was gay — attracted national attention.

He was also 11. His mother found him hanging from an extension cord in the family’s home.

Jaheem was excelling academically, Keene said, adapting quickly to his new home. The family moved to the Avondale Estates area less than a year ago from St. Croix in the U.S. Virgin Islands. Last winter, his grandmother died from cancer. She was living with the family at the time.

His grandfather returned to St. Croix after his wife’s passing. He’s taking Jaheem’s death especially hard.

“He says he has nothing to live for now,” Keene said. The family had planned a trip home in June. They’ll be returning next Monday instead to bury their 11-year-old son.

Sunday, April 19, 2009

The shame of the military: harassment, assaults, rapes, and murder to cover it up

Listen up. This is serious, as serious as serious gets. This is hot, rapid-fire stress atop the harrowing, heart-pounding frenzy of war.

These are words that shoot to the heart and remain as a deep, painful wound over a lifetime. These are taunts; This is intimidation; These are sexual assaults; these are attempted rapes; These are rapes; and these are murders to cover up assaults and rapes by "good ole boys" masquerading as men, by fellow soldiers turned monsters, knowing that hurting, maiming, even killing our mothers, sisters and daughters probably will never be reported, and if so, will get them little more than a slap on the wrist. This is the shame of the U.S. military.

The daddy was over at the blog The Intersection of Madness and Reality, where brotha Rippa hits it with a vengeance every day. In a recent post, Rippa says he is against women serving in the military. Yeah: it sounds sexist. Yeah: in a free and democratic society, women should have the same option to serve their country as men. Like men, they should "be all they can be." Ugh huh.

Well, Rippa is against women going into the military as it is presently constituted and cultured, and so is the daddy-- and for the same reason: The way the military treats women who have been , harassed, sexually assaulted, raped or killed by our soldiers is a low-down, murdering shame. In fact, it's the shame of our military. A recent report found that 70% of women in the military are assaulted and 90% of assaults go unreported.

But here's another reason the daddy is against women going into the military: These crimes and further crimes to cover it up have been going on forever, it seems, and the military has done little to stop them. Yeah, they say they provide "sensitivity" training for men. But you know what? They don't say they are not doing the main thing they should do; prosecute to the hilt the soldiers who commit these crimes. Check it out for yourself and you'll find that, for the most part, the military brass either looks the other way or slaps these slimy, arrogant criminals on the wrist.

These guys, these criminals, know this. They know that, first, the crime will probably not be reported and, second, if reported, they will get little more than a demotion or a transfer.
He doesn't know about you, but here's what the daddy is going to do:





1. Get the facts;
2. Find out who the people are on committees that are looking into these crimes;
3.Write to them;
4. Blog about them, promoting those who do something, criticizing those who continue to do nothing; and
5. Write to the Obama administration (I've written them before and they've always responded).

We can't take this sitting down. The daddy is ashamed of the U.S. military. What about you?

Meanwhile, here is an article from BBC news where military women speak for themselves about the horrific nature of these crimes within one of our most important institutions, women who had to fight two wars: one against men shooting bullets at them and another against "men" seeking to sexually assault or rape them.
---------------------------------------------------------------------------------

Women at war face sexual violence

Female US soldier (file picture)
Over 206,000 US women have served in the Middle East since March 2003

In her new book, The Lonely Soldier: The Private War of Women Serving in Iraq, Helen Benedict examines the experience of female soldiers serving in the US military in Iraq and elsewhere.

Here, in an article adapted from her book, she outlines the threat of sexual violence that women face from their fellow soldiers while on the frontline, and provides testimony from three of the women she interviewed for her book.

More American women have fought and died in Iraq than in any war since World War II.

Over 206,000 have served in the Middle East since March 2003, most of them in Iraq. Some 600 have been wounded, and 104 have died.

Yet, even as their numbers increase, women soldiers are painfully alone.

In Iraq, women still only make up one in 10 troops, and because they are not evenly distributed, they often serve in a platoon with few other women or none at all.

This isolation, along with the military's traditional and deep-seated hostility towards women, can cause problems that many female soldiers find as hard to cope with as war itself - degradation and sexual persecution by their comrades, and loneliness instead of the camaraderie that every soldier depends on for comfort and survival.

Between 2006 and 2008, some 40 women who served in the Iraq War spoke to me of their experiences at war. Twenty-eight of them had been sexually harassed, assaulted or raped while serving.

They were not exceptions. According to several studies of the US military funded by the Department of Veteran Affairs, 30% of military women are raped while serving, 71% are sexually assaulted, and 90% are sexually harassed.

The Department of Defense acknowledges the problem, estimating in its 2009 annual report on sexual assault (issued last month) that some 90% of military sexual assaults are never reported.

The department claims that since 2005, its updated rape reporting options have created a "climate of confidentiality" that allows women to report without fear of being disbelieved, blamed, or punished, but the fact remains that most of the cases I describe in my book happened after the reforms of 2005.

CHANTELLE HENNEBERRY

Army specialist Chantelle Henneberry served in Iraq from 2005-6, with the 172nd Stryker Brigade out of Alaska.

I was the only female in my platoon of 50 to 60 men. I was also the youngest, 17.

Because I was the only female, men would forget in front of me and say these terrible derogatory things about women all the time.

I had to hear these things every day. I'd have to say 'Hey!' Then they'd look at me, all surprised, and say, 'Oh we don't mean you.'

I was less scared of the mortar rounds that came in every day than I was of the men who shared my food
Chantelle Henneberry

One of the guys I thought was my friend tried to rape me. Two of my sergeants wouldn't stop making passes at me.

Everybody's supposed to have a battle buddy in the army, and females are supposed to have one to go to the latrines with, or to the showers - that's so you don't get raped by one of the men on your own side.

But because I was the only female there, I didn't have a battle buddy. My battle buddy was my gun and my knife.

During my first few months in Iraq, my sergeant assaulted and harassed me so much I couldn't take it any more. So I decided to report him.

But when I turned him in, they said, 'The one common factor in all these problems is you. Don't see this as a punishment, but we're going to have you transferred.'

Then that same sergeant was promoted right away. I didn't get my promotion for six months.

They transferred me from Mosul to Rawah. There were over 1,500 men in the camp and less than 18 women, so it wasn't any better there than the first platoon I was in. I was fresh meat to the hungry men there.

I was less scared of the mortar rounds that came in every day than I was of the men who shared my food.

I never would drink late in the day, even though it was so hot, because the Port-a-Johns were so far away it was dangerous.

So I'd go for 16 hours in 140-degree heat and not drink. I just ate Skittles to keep my mouth from being too dry.

I collapsed from dehydration so often I have IV track lines from all the times they had to re-hydrate me.

MICKIELA MONTOYA

Army specialist Mickiela Montoya served in Iraq for 11 months from 2005-6, with the California National Guard. She was 19 years old.

The whole time I was in Iraq I was in a daze the whole time I was there 'cause I worked nights and I was shot at every night.

Mortars were coming in - and mortars is death! When they say only men are allowed on the front lines, that's the biggest crock of shit! I was a gunner! But when I say I was in the war, nobody listens. Nobody believes I was a soldier. And you know why? Because I'm a female.

There are only three things the guys let you be if you're a girl in the military - a bitch, a ho, or a dyke. You're a bitch if you won't sleep with them. A ho if you've even got one boyfriend. A dyke if they don't like you. So you can't win.

Mickiela Montoya (Picture Credit: Emma O'Connor)
I wasn't carrying the knife for the enemy, I was carrying it for the guys on my own side
Mickiela Montoya

A lot of the men didn't want us there. One guy told me the military sends women soldiers over to give the guys eye-candy to keep them sane.

He told me in Vietnam they had prostitutes, but they don't have those in Iraq, so they have women soldiers instead.

At the end of my shift one night, I was walking back to my trailer with this guy who was supposed to be my battle buddy when he said: 'You know, if I was to rape you right now nobody could hear you scream, nobody would see you. What would you do?'

'I'd stab you.'

'You don't have a knife,' he said to me.

'Oh yes I do.'

Actually I didn't have one, but after that, I always carried one.

I practiced how to take it out of my pocket and swing it out fast. But I wasn't carrying the knife for the enemy, I was carrying it for the guys on my own side.

MARTI RIBEIRO

Air Force Sergeant Marti Ribeiro was assaulted by a fellow serviceman while she was on duty in Afghanistan in 2006.

It's taken me more than a year to realise that it wasn't my fault, so I didn't tell anyone about it.

The military has a way of making females believe they brought this upon themselves. That's wrong.

There's an unwritten code of silence when it comes to sexual assault in the military.

But if this happened to me and nobody knew about it, I know it's happening to other females as well.

Adapted from The Lonely Soldier: The Private War of Women Serving in Iraq by Helen Benedict, just released from Beacon Press.

Thursday, April 16, 2009

June Jordan, a poet you should know

"I am a feminist, and what that means to me is much the same as the meaning of the fact that I am Black: it means that I must undertake to love myself and to respect myself as though my very life depends upon self-love and self-respect. "
--June Jordan
"As a Black poet and writer, I am proud our Black, verbally bonding system born of our struggle to avoid annihilation...and so I work, as a poet and a writer, against the eradication of this system, this language, the carrier of Black-survivor consciousness."
--June Jordan

Listen up. Today, the daddy is gonna be honest: he's hatin' on June Jordan; and she's dead! Check it: She was a poet who was cherished by many of her peers, by other great poets and writers like Toni Cade Bambara, Nikki Giovanni, and Mari Evans, to name only a few, written an opera with John Adams and Peter Sellers, helped plan a new Harlem, co-starred in some movie with Angela Davis (whom the daddy used to have a crush on); and-- worst of all--she's sipped coffee with Malcolm X, his all-time hero. But wait. There's more.

The Sistah has written more than two dozen books; she's been anthologized all over the place. It's rare to read a contemporary American poetry book edited by some black male or female professor and not see a poem by Jun Jordan. So, like a teenager angry at her mom for not letting her go out on some weeknight, the daddy-- just before slamming a bedroom door-- is saying, "I hate you!"

Okay. Maybe it's more like admiration and respect than hate. After all, the Sistah has written more than two dozen books; and written for The Progressive, one of his favorite magazines. And check this: her books include not only poetry but political essays, memoirs and novels. Now, the political essays and the politics, which Jordan infuses neary all of her writing, is what sets her apart from most writers. Not only is the writing is superb; the politics is radical, militant, and working class.

She was unashamedly and irreversibly a radical political critic and social activist. For Jordan, political convictions stood on the same universe as love. So her political essays seemed to merge with poems about love, passion and commitment on both a personal and the political level.


Context

Jordan was born in 1936, in Harlem, New York. She found her poetic voice in high school and continued to write poetry at Barnard College. While at Barnard College, she married Michael Meyer, a student. While Michael attended graduate school, she remained at Barnard. She was there until 1957. She had her first child in 1958; and she divorced Michael in 1965. Negotiating life as a single, working mother and a black woman helped shape her identify and inform her writing.

In 1971, she published her first novel, "His Own Where" which seemed an autobiographical story about her relationship with her parents. It was nominated for the National Book Award.

In 1981, Jordan wrote "Civil Wars." It consisted of essays, letters, and speeches about the hot issues of the day, including Black feminism to racism, violence, and homosexuality. But what attracted the daddy was another book of essays entitled "On Call," which was published in 1985.

In "For the sake of people's poetry," the first chapter of On Call, Jordan admits that she is loathe to give props to a white dude for anything. But Walt Whitman was a different white guy altogether. Marveling at his writing, she wrote:


"As Shakespeare is to England, Dante to Italy, Tolstoy to Russia, Goethe to Germany, Agostino Neto to Angola, Pablo Neruda to Chile, Mao-Tse-Tung to China, Ho Chi Minh to Vietnam, who is the great American writer, the distinctively American poet, the giant American "literatus"? Undoubtedly, the answer is Walt Whitman." Indeed, she paints Neruda as a Whitman descendant and people's poet, a poet who writes on behalf of the people, and almost with the people in mind."

She reminds the reader of the conclusion of Neruda's brilliant "Heights of the Macchu Picchu," where he states, "Arise and birth with me, my brother." Using some earlier lines from the same work, she notes the perspective and context of Neruda, which comes from the working and oppressed from below, not the insensitive and avaricious elite from above:

"I came by another river, river by river, street after street,
city by city, one bed and another,
forcing the salt of my mask through a wilderness;
and there, in the shame of ultimate hovels, lampless
and tireless,
lacking bread or a stone or a stillness, alone in myself,
I whirled at my will, dying the death that was mine."

Poetic genius

Jordan, another poetic genius, another descendant of Whitman, another "people's poet," was best known for her poetry. And it's an urgent poetry, a poetry reaching out to working people, poor people, political activists, and progressives saying, " Let's come together; Let's organize ; Let's fight for change." In "these poems," she writes:

"These poems
they are things that I do
in the dark
reaching for you
whoever you are
and
are you ready?"

Jordan may be best known for poetry that criticizes police brutality against black men, especially black male youth. It's a criticism that is as relevant today as it was in the 1960's and 1970's. In "Poem about Police Violence," she is clear and unwavering:

Tell me something
what you think would happen if
everytime they kill a black boy
then we kill a cop
everytime they kill a black man
then we kill a cop

you think the accident rate would lower subsequently?
sometimes the feeling like amaze me baby
comes back to my mouth and I am quiet
like Olympian pools from the running
mountainous snows under the sun

sometimes thinking about the 12th House of the Cosmos
or the way your ear ensnares the tip
of my tongue or signs that I have never seen
like DANGER WOMEN WORKING

I lose consciousness of ugly bestial rapid
and repetitive affront as when they tell me
18 cops in order to subdue one man
18 strangled him to death in the ensuing scuffle
(don't you idolize the diction of the powerful: subdue
and scuffle my oh my) and that the murder
that the killing of Arthur Miller on a Brooklyn
street was just a "justifiable accident" again
(Again)

People been having accidents all over the globe
so long like that I reckon that the only
suitable insurance is a gun
I'm saying war is not to understand or rerun
war is to be fought and won

sometimes the feeling like amaze me baby
blots it out/the bestial but
not too often tell me something
what you think would happen if
everytime they kill a black boy
then we kill a cop
everytime they kill a black man
then we kill a cop

you think the accident rate would lower subsequently?"

In "Poem for South African Women," from her book "Passion," she seeks not only understanding and sensibility but action in dealing with the plight of South African women. And she asks, "Who will join this standing up?"

Our own shadows disappear as the feet of thousands
by the tens of thousands pound the fallow land
into new dust that
rising like a marvelous pollen will be
fertile
even as the first woman whispering
imagination to the trees around her made
for righteous fruit
from such deliberate defense of life
as no other still
will claim inferior to any other safety
in the world

The whispers too they
intimate to the inmost ear of every spirit
now aroused they
carousing in ferocious affirmation
of all peaceable and loving amplitude
sound a certainly unbounded heat
from a baptismal smoke where yes
there will be fire

And the babies cease alarm as mothers
raising arms
and heart high as the stars so far unseen
nevertheless hurl into the universe
a moving force
irreversible as light years
traveling to the open eye

And who will join this standing up
and the ones who stood without sweet company
will sing and sing
back into the mountains and
if necessary
even under the sea:

we are the ones we have been waiting for."

The great novelist and essayist Toni Morrison said of Jordan:

"In political journalism that cuts like razors in essays that blast the darkness of confusion with relentless light; in poetry that looks as closely into lilac buds as into death's mouth...she has comforted, explained, described, wrestled with, taught and made us laugh out loud before we wept...I am talking about a span of forty years of tireless activism coupled with and fueled by flawless art."

Pick up a book by June Jordan. She's a people's poet you should know.

-------------------------------------------------

Works by June Jordan

  • Some of Us Did Not Die: New and Selected Essays of June Jordan (2002)
  • Soldier: A Poet's Childhood (2001) (Review in VG Critiques)
  • Poetry for the People: Finding a Voice Through Verse (1996)
  • I Was Looking at the Ceiling and Then I Saw the Sky (1995)
  • June Jordan's Poetry for the People: A Revolutionary Blueprint (1995)
  • Haruko Love Poems (1994)
  • Technical Difficulties (1992)
  • Lyrical Campaigns (1989)
  • Moving Towards Home (1989)
  • Naming Our Destiny (1989)
  • Living Room (1985)
  • On Call (1985)
  • Civil Wars (1981)
  • Kimako's (1981)
  • Some Changes (1981)
  • Passion: New Poems (1980)
  • Things in the Dark (1977)
  • New Life: New Room (1975)
  • New Days (1974)
  • Dry Victories (1972)
  • Fannie Lou Hamer (1972)
  • His Own Where (1971)

Works about the Author

  • Allen, F. "Jordan, June Poetry for the People-A Revolutionary Blueprint." Library Journal. Dec 1995: 120, 115.
  • Carpenter, Humphrey and Prichard, Mari. Oxford Companion to Children's Literature. New York: Oxford University Press, 1984.
  • Contemporary Literary Criticism. (2 vols.) Detroit: Gale Research Co., 1976, 1983.
  • Deveaux, Alexis. "Creating Soul Food: June Jordan." Essence 11 Apr 1981: 82, 138-150.
  • Dictionary of Literary Biography. Afro-American Writers After 1955: Dramatists and Prose Writers. Detroit: Gale Research Co., 1985.
  • Gaster, A. et al. The International Authors and Writers Who's Who. 8th ed. Cambridge: International Biographical Centre, 1977, 1982.
  • Kinloch, Valerie and Margaret Grebowicz, eds. Still Seeking an Attitude: Critical Reflections on the Work of June Jordan. Lanham, MD: Lexington Books, 2004.
  • Kirkpatrick, D.L. Twentieth-Century Children's Writers. New York: St. Martin's Press, 1978, 1983.
  • Madison, D.S., ed. The Woman That I Am: The Literature and Culture of Contemporary Women of Color. New York: St. Martin's Press, 1994.
  • Rothschild, Matthew. "A Feast of Poetry." The Progressive. May 1994: 58, 48-50.
  • Rowe, Monica D. "Kissing God Goodbye: Poems 1991-1997." American Visions Feb/Mar 1998: 13, 30-32.
  • Rush, Theresa Gunnels, et al. Black American Writers Past and Present: A Biographical and Bibliographical Dictionary. 2 vols. Metuchen: Scarecrow Press, 1975.
  • Ward, Martha and Dorothy Marquardt. Authors of Books for Young People. 2nd ed. Metuchen: Scarecrow Press, 1975.

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Langston Hughes' Weary Blues


"The poem is a fitting opening not only to this volume, but to all of Hughes's volumes. It combines traditional blues stanzas that emphasize the roots of African-American experience, touches of vaudeville blues as the roots were being "refined," pride in African-American creativity and forms of expression, and a sense of the weariness that ties together generations of African-Americans. With the words "Sweet Blues," Hughes strikes upon the central paradox with which the poem attempts to come to terms. It is one of his central themes."
--Trace Stevens


"The younger Negro artists who create now intend to express our individual dark-skinned selves without fear or shame. If white people are pleased we are glad. If they are not, it doesn't matter. We know we are beautiful. And ugly, too. The tom-tom cries, and the tom-tom laughs. If colored people are pleased we are glad. If they are not, their displeasure doesn't matter either. We build our temples for tomorrow,strong as we know how, and we stand
on top of the mountain free within ourselves."

--Langston Hughes


Listen up. The daddy knows that Langston Hughes is a poet you already know and appreciate. But you know what? The daddy just couldn't celebrate National Poetry Month without saying something about one of America's greatest poets.

Langston was a baad brotha; and today he is celebrated not only for his great poetry but for the courageous stands he took on controversial issues in his time : from the 1920's all the way up to the 1960's. The brotha wrote on revolution, communism, poverty, racism, anti-semitism, the war in Spain, the black militancy of the 1960's, Hitler-- all of the issues. And he wrote with clarity and style. This is why Langston Hughes continues to be read and celebrated by people all over the world-- because many of the issues of his time are still issues of our time today.


In his essay, "The Negro Artist and the Racial Mountain," first printed in The Nation magazine in 1926, Hughes drew the line, saying literature should be used as a tool to better understand and improve the conditions of African Americans.


Hughes took his stance at a time when some black writers, usually those who came from middle or upper-income families, took the position that they didn't want to become black writers but writers or artists. The black press, also from the upper-crust and light-skinned, sided with these writers and that viewpoint. These were the "Black Republicans" of their day, the shoe shining Michael Steeles and handkerchief headed Aunt Jemimas of the "Negro Elite." But Langston was different.

True, other writers such as novelist Charles W. Chestnutt and Laurence Dunb
ar had developed this principle and written with this principle in mind. But Hughes was the first to clearly state this principle and declare it as a kind of manifesto for black writers and black artists of his time.

Hughes made this declaration at a time (the 1920's and the 1930's) when many Americans, black and white, saw poetry as lyrical, speaking of romance, love and beauty in nature. However, Hughes saw poetry as social as well, speaking to the individual in relation to the society in which he or she lived. He focused specifically on the state of black Americans within the so-called American democracy.
The book "The Weary Blues" was divided between lyrical and social poetry. However, his next book of poety, "Fine Clothes to the Jew," was all social poetry, much of it written in black dialect. But as Stevens suggests, "The Weary Blues" signaled where a young Langston Hughes was going with his writing. "Fine Clothes to the Jew" cemented the deal. It said in so many words what "The Weary Blues" had already concluded:

that this young artist was going to speak to the conditions of black people as an oppressed people in white nation-state that, ironically, prided itself on being a democratic republic.

And there would be no turning back.

-----------------------------------------------------------------

The Weary Blues



by Langston Hughes




Droning a drowsy syncopated tune,
Rocking back and forth to a mellow croon,
I heard a Negro play.
Down on Lenox Avenue the other night
By the pale dull pallor of an old gas light
He did a lazy sway . . .
He did a lazy sway . . .
To the tune o' those Weary Blues.
With his ebony hands on each ivory key
He made that poor piano moan with melody.
O Blues!
Swaying to and fro on his rickety stool
He played that sad raggy tune like a musical fool.
Sweet Blues!
Coming from a black man's soul.
O Blues!
In a deep song voice with a melancholy tone
I heard that Negro sing, that old piano moan--
"Ain't got nobody in all this world,
Ain't got nobody but ma self.
I's gwine to quit ma frownin'
And put ma troubles on the shelf."

Thump, thump, thump, went his foot on the floor.
He played a few chords then he sang some more--
"I got the Weary Blues
And I can't be satisfied.
Got the Weary Blues
And can't be satisfied--
I ain't happy no mo'
And I wish that I had died."
And far into the night he crooned that tune.
The stars went out and so did the moon.
The singer stopped playing and went to bed,
While the Weary Blues echoed through his head.
He slept like a rock or a man that's dead.


Monday, April 13, 2009

Nikki Giovanni & Audre Lorde, two poets you should know

Today, the daddy is feeling good. He has already awaken, had a cup of java, lingered in his backyard a bit then strolled a few blocks up and down the street near the front of his house.

Still in his brown housecoat, he's sitting now in his kitchen, sipping a cup of coffee from his "Mickey's Diner" cup (named after a famous cafe in St. Paul, Minnesota. The cafe is actually a train car, small and intimate. Sometimes, the daddy goes there and talks to the customers, many of whom are homeless, including veterans of Vietnam and Iraqi war). And he's listening to Mahalia Jackson sing "Precious Lord" and "We shall overcome" and blogging.


Having had a restful weekend and feeling no desire to do any work at all, the daddy is chilling. In fact, he is thinking about the things that help him to relax: Listening to Mahalia Jackson, Aretha Franklin, The Five Blind Boys and The Soul Stirrers sing gospel on Sundays; walking by the Mississippi river on weekends; and reading by the fireplace until he goes to sleep during week nights.

The daddy especially loves to read poems about relaxation, meditation, restfulness and calm. He loves poems about water, work and play on farms (the type of stuff Seamus Heaney writes) or simple things around a house like gardening, bathing or cooking. Poet Nikki Giovanni may be better known for fiery poems she wrote about revolution and black militancy in the sixties, but this is vastly overstated. The truth? She wrote then-- and still writes now-- about herself, her relationships, her family and the world around her. In "A Certain Peace," Giovanni (photo on the right) speaks of the importance of making time to be alone. After many years, Giovanni continues to astound with her mastery of her craft and her tremendous imagination.

The late Audre Lorde was more than a poet. She was a social activists for many causes, including the cause of research to conquer breast cancer. Like Giovanni, she was mistakenly stereotyped as a person who wrote poetry that's too political and/or didactic. But she also wrote poetry that was bittersweet and grounded in black history, the missing pages of world history. In "The Day They Eulogized Mahalia," Lorde (photo on the left) puts Mahalia Jackson's death within the context of black life in Chicago.


A Certain Peace
by Nikki Giovanni


it was very pleasant
not having you around
this afternoon
not that i don't love you
and want you and need you
and love loving and wanting and needing you

but there was a certain peace
when you walked out the door
and i knew you would do something
you wanted to do
and i could run
a tub full of water
and not worry about answering the phone
for your call
and soak in bubbles
and not worry whether you would want something
special for dinner
and rub lotion all over me
for as long as i wanted
and not worry if you had a good idea
or wanted to use the bathroom

and there was a certain excitement
when after midnight you came home
and we had coffee
and i had a day of mine
that made me as happy
as yours did you

The Day They Eulogized Mahalia
by Audre Lorde

The day they eulogized Mahalia
the echoes of her big voice were stilled
and the mourners found her
singing out from their sisters mouths
from their mothers toughness
from the funky dust in the corners
of Sunday church pews
sweet and dry and simple
and that hated Sunday morning fussed over feeling
the songs
singing out from their mothers toughness
would never threaten the lord's retribution
any more.

Now she was safe
acceptable
that big Mahalia
Chicago turned all out
to show her that they cared
but her eyes were closed
And although Mahalia loved our music
nobody sang her favorite song
and while we talked about
what a hard life she had known
and wasn't it too bad Sister Mahalia
didn't have it easier
earlier
Six Black children
burned to death in a day care center
on the South Side
kept in a condemned house
for lack of funds
firemen found their bodies

The daddy thinks he'll take a long, hot bath and think about Nikki Giovanni and Audre Lorde-- two poets you should know.

Sunday, April 12, 2009

Paul Laurence Dunbar and Georgia Douglas Johnson, two poets you should know

"Your world is as big as you make it."
--Georgia Douglas Johnson

"
“I know why the caged bird sings, ah me, when his wing is bruised and his bosom sore; when he beats his bars and he would be free, it is not a carol of joy or glee, but a prayer that he sends from his heart's deep core.”
--Paul Laurene Dunbar

Today, the daddy is
feeling tow great poets, two poets you should know: Georgia Douglas Johnson and Paul Laurence Dunbar. Many poets wrote positive poems about America. They marveled at the great American frontier and expanse. They celebrated the American spirit that was full of opportunity and promise. Walt Whitman's "I Sing America" is a good example of such poetry. But not all poets wrote from this perspective.

Many African American poets spoke to the failure of America to live up to its glorified principles of democracy and enticing promises to "the least of these," its African American citizens.

But these poets also celebrated those African Americans who fought to make the American dream come true for African Americans and, by doing so, challenged America to make its principles and promises a living reality for all Americans. By continuing to challenge America to live up to its principles and to be the best that it can be, they held those principles high as goals and kept them in the forefront as American grew and became a more diverse nation in ethnicity, religion and politics. In this sense, they fought not only for African Americans, but for all Americans, for all times.

Best known for the poem "I Want to Die While You Love Me," Georgia Douglas Johnson wrote poems that were personal, very honest. In the poem "Black Woman," she speaks to the failure of American to live up to its promise for many African Americans-- so much so that she questioned whether a woman should give birth to a back child and have him or her live in such a "cruel" world of white oppression.


Paul Laurence Dunbar is one of America's greatest poets. He may be best known for the poem "We Wear the Mask." But he wrote many great poems that were not viewed highly because they were written in black dialect.

The poem "Frederick Douglas" was written shortly after the death of Frederick Douglas. It was not a eulogy so much as a celebration of Douglas courageous and consistent advocacy for African Americans, his untiring effort to make America a land of liberation and freedom for all Americans.


Black Woman
by Georgia Douglas Johnson

Don’t knock at the door, little child,
I cannot let you in,
You know not what a world this is
Of cruelty and sin.
Wait in the still eternity
Until I come to you,
The world is cruel, cruel, child,
I cannot let you in!

Don’t knock at my heart, little one,
I cannot bear the pain
Of turning deaf-ear to your call
Time and time again!
You do not know the monster men
Inhabiting the earth,
Be still, be still, my precious child,
I must not give you birth!
Frederick Douglass
by Paul Laurence Dunbar

A hush is over all the teeming lists,
And there is pause, a breath-space in the strife;
A spirit brave has passed beyond the mists
And vapors that obscure the sun of life.
And Ethiopia, with bosom torn,
Laments the passing of her noblest born.

She weeps for him a mother's burning tears--
She loved him with a mother's deepest love.
He was her champion thro' direful years,
And held her weal all other ends above.
When Bondage held her bleeding in the dust,
He raised her up and whispered, "Hope and Trust."

For her his voice, a fearless clarion, rung
That broke in warning on the ears of men;
For her the strong bow of his power he strung,
And sent his arrows to the very den
Where grim Oppression held his bloody place
And gloated o'er the mis'ries of a race.

And he was no soft-tongued apologist;
He spoke straightforward, fearlessly uncowed;
The sunlight of his truth dispelled the mist,
And set in bold relief each dark hued cloud;
To sin and crime he gave their proper hue,
And hurled at evil what was evil's due.

Through good and ill report he cleaved his way.
Right onward, with his face set toward the heights,
Nor feared to face the foeman's dread array,--
The lash of scorn, the sting of petty spites.
He dared the lightning in the lightning's track,
And answered thunder with his thunder back.

When men maligned him, and their torrent wrath
In furious imprecations o'er him broke,
He kept his counsel as he kept his path;
'Twas for his race, not for himself he spoke.
He knew the import of his Master's call,
And felt himself too mighty to be small.

No miser in the good he held was he,--
His kindness followed his horizon's rim.
His heart, his talents, and his hands were free
To all who truly needed aught of him.
Where poverty and ignorance were rife,
He gave his bounty as he gave his life.

The place and cause that first aroused his might
Still proved its power until his latest day.
In Freedom's lists and for the aid of Right
Still in the foremost rank he waged the fray;
Wrong lived; his occupation was not gone.
He died in action with his armor on!

We weep for him, but we have touched his hand,
And felt the magic of his presence nigh,
The current that he sent throughout the land,
The kindling spirit of his battle-cry.
O'er all that holds us we shall triumph yet,
And place our banner where his hopes were set!

Oh, Douglass, thou hast passed beyond the shore,
But still thy voice is ringing o'er the gale!
Thou'st taught thy race how high her hopes may soar,
And bade her seek the heights, nor faint, nor fail.
She will not fail, she heeds thy stirring cry,
She knows thy guardian spirit will be nigh,
And, rising from beneath the chast'ning rod,
She stretches out her bleeding hands to God!