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?"

Friday, April 10, 2009

Sterling Plumpp, a poet you should know

"Poems are bridges, neon
reaches across worlds
where language seeks
a voice for itself. where words
are step up towers
of perceptions. I exist
in language. I invent
out of ruins .
Out of namesakes sand wind
scatters my soul."

-- Sterling Plumpp

Listen up. Today, the daddy is feeling Sterling Plumpp, definitely a brotha you should know. You should know him if for no other reason than the fact that he wrote, The Mojo Hand Calls, I Must Go. Now, before this work, Plumpp had written four other books of poetry and Black Rituals, a prose about the social psychology that supports oppression in black communities. In 1975, he won an award for the book Clinton. But the The Mojo Hands Call, I Must Go was his most comprehensive and his best.

For this book, the brotha got props from all over the place. He won the Illinois Arts Council Award for Poetry and the Carl Sandburg Literary Award for Poetry from the Friends of the Chicago Public Library in 1983.Everyone talked about the poem "Fractured Dreams," a poem about the self-doubt and self-damning that is a part of the collective identity which Plumpp feels is best expressed in the blues tradition. And they talk about the poem of him returning to his roots, but not physically but more historically and psychically, by reconnecting to those rural rituals and beliefs, the life force, the Mojo hands, that sustained him and his people in the past.

The early years

Yes, Plumpp eventually became successful. Hey, he even won a million bucks from the Illinois lottery. But don't get it twisted. From the very beginning, Plumpp had a tough life. He lived with grandparents in Clinton, Mississippi, Mattie and Victor Emmanuel. They were sharecroppers. Both Sterling and his brother worked the fields. His grandparents lived 10 miles from the school; so Sterling and brotha often never made it there. In fact, he didn't really start school until they were 8 or 9 years old. Still, he graduated as valedictorian in 1960. Still, Sterling had a difficult time at St. Benedict College, and an even worse time in the military.

Things didn't seem to get better until he became Professor of English and African American Studies at The University of Illinois in Chicago. This is where he earned two Amoco-Silver Circle Awards for excellence in teaching. This is also where he won the Carl Sandburg Literary Prize for poetry for his writing of "The Mojo Hands Call, I Must Go" in 1983.

But those tough times for Sterling seemed to make him sensitive to the concerns of black communities and the blues tradition. That's why the daddy's favorite book of Plumpp is not The Mojo Hands Call, I Must Go but BLUES: The Story Always Untold. It's in BLUES where Plumpp writes:

"...It is the blues/crawling
over evening for a
feast. Nobody hears
my dungeon screams
as loneliness tapdances
inside my skull.
The windmill of moans
churns and the long gulf
of pain stretches in veins.
It is the blues. The grassy
head of anxiety/coughing
up dues/The under ache
drowning my name. The crackling
hurt sizzling in pots
of memories. Loss and troubles
boiling in my heart. It is
the blues/lowdown in evil."

But the daddy's favorite poems of Plumpp is about Howlin Wolf and Chicago's great guitarist Lurrie Bell. When Bell plays, says Plump,

"He speaks scared chords
a guitar screams in his
eyes. Because he is some
one shot out of a shot
gun house by white
lightning that makes him
a.c.h.a. high
rise resident...
He is a part of speech
therapy we master
to speak sanity"

And his Howlin Wolf poem is about the healing and redemptive powers of the blues in the face of hard times and letting the good times roll, not matter what other people think:

Howlin Wolf

annoints the sun: lingering
spells of its appreciation.
their tales round night's confined spirit.
Let it
out into urges
lonely the unfree memorize
In shacks
and stereotypes covering faces like quilts.
Let it
out into nocturnal transformations
in the bottom.
Where evil going on
flees the superstition of light.
His voice,
a meteor, hurled from distances
in depths of tribulations,
howls willingness in slaves.
They meet
at the cross
roads in memory:
steal three hundred ounds of heavenly joy
from kitchenettes, kitchens, scrubbing floors
and memories of long rows
and broken men.
ritual he revives preachers
condemned in downcast eyes.
all the love blues
didn't steal.

to touch hands.
to kiss lips.
myths in his throat and
bellows vaults of dust from longings
hardtimes imprisoned.
gates in his voice and drains
his pain to moods of celebration.
on the love
light. Lowers
his pain to moods of celebration.
on the love
light. Changing
like a natural baptism.
Changing evil's face
like a natural healing
lordy, lordy
evil like a healing
found man

Always a teacher, Plumpp continues to write and nurture the talents of young
African American writers. He's a poet you should know and never forget.
Major works by Steling Plumpp:
  • Hornman, 1996
  • Harriet Tubman, Adjoa J. Burrowes (Illustrator), Published 1996
  • Ornate With Smoke, 1997
  • Paul Robeson (a children's book), Adjoa J. Burrowes (Illustrator), 1998
  • Blues: The Story Always Untold, 1989
  • Half Black, Half Blacker, 1970
  • Johannesburg and Other Poems, 1993
  • Mojo Hands Call, I Must Go, 1982
  • Somehow We Survive: An Anthology of South African Writing, 1982
  • Steps to Break the Circle (to be published)
  • Development Arrested: Race, Power and the Blues in the Mississippi Delta by Clyde Woods, Sterling Plumpp (Contributor)


Anonymous said...

This is a good one.

Destruction said...


I popped over here after reading your comment on UBM's site.....Did not expect to come across the treasure trove of material you're stockpiling here. Out-freaking-standing. Will carve out an hour this Holy Weekend to soak this all in. Never thought I find 2 of my all-time faves, Howling Wolf and Lucille Clifton, in the same venue. Nicely Done.

Mac Daddy Tribute Blog said...

anon: Good to know you're pleased.

Destruction: Thanks for the compliment and for coming.Your first time at this blog? Hey, sign up as a follower at the top of the sidebar and visit regularly. It would be great to have your input. Blessings.

SjP said...

What a great post - but, I've come to expect nothing less here. You are certainly sharing the knowledge and shedding light! Much Obliged!

Mac Daddy Tribute Blog said...

SJP:Thank you, sistah. And keep up the good work over at Sojourner's Place.

Christopher said...

Plumpp's bank account was plump after he won the lottery!

FOFLMAO! Oh Daddy, I love this detail! I just smile a smile of happiness when I hear something like this.

Good. For. Him!

Mac Daddy Tribute Blog said...

Christopher: Being a music lover, I thought you would appreciate his poetry...

Thanks, my man, for continuing to come by and be a part of the daddy's crew. And keep up the good work over at From the Left.