More from the Weekend Literary LoveFest
(Lyrae Van Clief Stefanon, Your Humble Co-Respondent, Prof. Herman Beavers, and Christian Campbell. Photo by the beautiful, talented, and ubiquitous Tayari Jones)
In the Maryland Building (Engineering) on the campus of Johns Hopkins University, under the sign of the Interrobang, the 'next generation' of African-American poetry stars --
Major Jackson, A. Van Jordan, Terrance Hayes, Dawn Lundy Martin, and Tracy K. Smith -- pulled out the stops with a Saturday morning reading, introduced by The Man who made it ALL happen, Kyle Dargan. In addition to being a 'peer' or 'contemporary' of these folks (and friends in a couple of cases) I also confess to being a member of the fan clubs for all of these folks, so this was an extra extraordinary morning for me. Their talent and success inspires me, figuratively and literally: After not writing a poem since July, I've written three since the weekend -- thanks ya'll!:)
And nickname it the "Now and Later" reading, as Major read two poems which name checked the candy, causing Van to read a poem that did the same as well.
Here are samples of the works of all six poets with photos by the glorious Rachel Eliza Griffiths:
Urban Renewal ix.
To Afaa Michael S. Weaver
Bless your gnarled hands, Sir, and their paternal blues.
Tonight Kala grazes a palm over a battered face,
feeling his new-born features in a Correctional zoo.
The shock is permanent like the caged primate
who suddenly detects he's human. A Homo Erectus
stands upright on guard outside his cell.
For the record, good friend, tropes are brutal,
relentless, miraculous as a son—s birth. King Kong—s
memoir gets repeated on the evening news
like a horror flick, and everywhere dark men
are savagely ambushed. So, when a woman strolls
towards a homeless Bigger, the audience
tenses up involuntarily beneath a cone of light.
This is the work of blockbusters: Kala—s groan
twisting on a steel cot, and by morning—s sunlight,
your cramped hand. Pages pile to a tome
on a kitchen table; its defense is three-fifths
human, two-fifths man. I await its world premiere;
till then, when the soul hears of black guards who strike
harder, the brain goes arthritic, tropes proliferate,
and a wide screen blooms with images of heavy-weights
whose gloved-hands struggle to balance a pen.
-- Major Jackson
Einstein Ruminates on Relativity
INT. Theater. 1931—NIGHT
Premiere of City Lights starring CHARLES CHAPLIN, New York City, Albert Einstein is Chaplin's invited guest. They sit together and the audience stands to applaud them.
Charlie Chaplin tells me
that the world loves him
because they understand him
and the world loves me
because they don't, which doesn't seem fair
but it's true: This is relativity.
Journalists ask for a definition,
but the answers are all around:
a woman loves you for a lifetime
and it feels like a day; she tells you
she's leaving, breaking it off,
and that day feels like a lifetime,
passing slowly. I listen to Armstrong
play his cornet and it sounds
like a Wednesday afternoon in heaven;
some hear Armstrong play
and it sounds like a Monday morning
in Manhattan. Some hear the war on the radio
and they hear acts of love; some
hear details of the war and it sounds
futile. Outside my window
people decry the rain;
somewhere else people pray
for rain to run down their faces.
-- A. Van Jordan
The Blue Terrance
If you subtract the minor losses,
you can return to your childhood too:
the blackboard chalked with crosses,
the math teacher's toe ring. You
can be the black boy not even the buck-
toothed girls took a liking to:
the match box, these bones in their funk
machine, this thumb worn smooth
as the belly of a shovel. Thump. Thump.
Thump. Everything I hold takes root.
I remember what the world was like before
I heard the tide humping the shore smooth,
and the lyrics asking: How long has your door
been closed? I remember a garter belt wrung
like a snake around a thigh in the shadows
of a wedding gown before it was flung
out into the bluest part of the night.
Suppose you were nothing but a song
in a busted speaker? Suppose you had to wipe
sweat from the brow of a righteous woman,
but all you owned was a dirty rag? That's why
the blues will never go out of fashion:
their half rotten aroma, their bloodshot octaves of
consequence; that's why when they call, Boy, you're in
trouble. Especially if you love as I love
falling to the earth. Especially if you're a little bit
high strung and a little bit gutted balloon. I love
watching the sky regret nothing but its
self, though only my lover knows it to be so,
and only after watching me sit
and stare off past Heaven. I love the word No
for its prudence, but I love the romantic
who submits finally to sex in a burning row-
house more. That's why nothing's more romantic
than working your teeth through
the muscle. Nothing's more romantic
than the way good love can take leave of you.
That's why I'm so doggone lonesome, Baby,
yes, I'm lonesome and I'm blue.
-- Terrance Hayes
Zero as the translation of O. The circle a mouth makes in pronouncing. O. I have never told anyone this before. It is ruby. Rubbed. Spot that throbs and gapes. Sound of the O. On my skin (it has a surface) I inscribe with a hot clip the letters of a puncture. Deserted carousel. Headless horse.
The fit is tight. Splitting into—stiff cup. A dark mouth moves, enters the tremor of a voiced, Uh. But, all this is not love, not love in the way one milks the center. Instead, chronic terror stripped to bone grating upon bone. Of down home, twang twang, and promise. My knees pressed behind ears.
Between poundings, the body Uhs. Cracked R. Cracker, crack her. Laughing: you ain’t nothing but a black maid. The process is a patient body, waiting for discovery, hovering, crissed, saying Christ. This is raw data. Standing broken the udders flap. He grunts: Is this what you want, whore?
Swimmingly. Neck drooped. One attempt. Another. This is a very private moment. Zero as the incarceration of a theme. Uh, and Uh again. Peels the pink inside of the cheek. As if hollowing out. Hollering a big giant O. There is the saw sawing and the needle pinning. I wait. Unspeaking.
[Signal] [A black thought] [Black as in a tunnel darkening] [A secret] [Cranked] [Red] [Sense of unmoving] [Pleasure of seeing a dead thing] [Female as in floating, floating] [Whispering] [Muh]
-- Dawn Lundy Martin
The woman in a blouse
The color of daylight
Motions to her daughter not to slouch.
They wait without luggage.
They have been waiting
Since before the station smelled
Of cigarettes. Shadows
Fill the doorway and fade
One by one
Into bloated faces.
She’d like to swat at them
Like the lazy flies
That swarm her kitchen.
She considers her hands, at rest
Like pale fruits in her lap. Should she
Gather them in her skirt and hurry
Down the tree in reverse, greedy
For a vivid mouthful of something
Sweet? The sun gets brighter
As it drops low. Soon the room
Will glow gold with late afternoon.
Still no husband, face creased from sleep,
His one bag across his chest. Soon
The windows will grow black. Still
No one with his hand always returning
To the hollow below her back.
Desire is a city of yellow houses
As it surrenders its drunks to the night.
It is the drunks on ancient bicycles
Warbling into motionless air,
And the pigeons, alseep in branches,
That will repeat the same songs tomorrow
Believing them new. Desire is the woman
Awake now over a bowl of ashes
That flutter and drop like abandoned feathers.
It’s the word widow spelled slowly in air
With a cigarette that burns
On its own going.
-- Tracy K. Smith
Stone John wasn't prone to ruckus,
just running—letters branded on his cheeks
from his first flight. Soft jewels,
toes, and an ear lopped clean off and mounted
on the stable posts after a second, a third.
Fourth try, he gimped his way past the limits,
stood there, inhaled faux free air to know
it could be done, and floated on back. So was John—
kindling angst within his family, keeping the slavers
honest as scripture. Fifth time, pateroller
caught John amongst the pines and there
he refused to give the hunter any more flesh
or weather his family's salty tongues.
He straightened up and turned to rock—
jagged skin tearing chunks from the whip,
form too heavy for men or mules to haul. In
the woods, winds made John hum sweetly
and people brought ears. Stone John stands
in a museum up south now. He is loved
—his glass quarters kept so clean.
-- Kyle Dargan
Big HUGE Bravos and thanks to all!