22 October 2007
I've not posted poems here for a while, and so to correct that:
I'm always impressed when 'non-poets' recite poems from memory (I'm also impressed when POETS recite from memory as well, particularly when they're doing one that they themselves didn't write). Here's the poem that Garrison Keillor closed his recent library appearance with, "A Blessing" by his former teacher, James Wright
Just off the highway to Rochester, Minnesota,
Twilight bounds softly forth on the grass.
And the eyes of those two Indian ponies
Darken with kindness.
They have come gladly out of the willows
To welcome my friend and me.
We step over the barbed wire into the pasture
Where they have been grazing all day, alone.
They ripple tensely, they can hardly contain their happiness
That we have come.
They bow shyly as wet swans. They love each other.
There is no loneliness like theirs.
At home once more, they begin munching the young tufts of spring in the darkness.
I would like to hold the slenderer one in my arms,
For she has walked over to me
And nuzzled my left hand.
She is black and white,
Her mane falls wild on her forehead,
And the light breeze moves me to caress her long ear
That is delicate as the skin over a girl's wrist.
Suddenly I realize
That if I stepped out of my body I would break
This poem appears in Keillor's collection Good Poems, an anthology which former US Poet Laureate and frequent Prairie Home Companion guest Rita Dove objected to, on the grounds that so few black poets appeared in the selection
For those readers who might have missed it... let me point out that in Keillor's entire book, all two hundred and ninety-four poems of it, I could find only three Black poets—all of them dead, no less, and the one woman actually a blues singer. Now, I may be missing someone—poems can be blessedly color-blind—but by any standard, this is an abysmal percentage. (Nor is there a Hispanic or Asian-American or Native American presence to speak of.) In his foreword, Keillor claims to have merely collected poems America—real America, good America!— wants to read; one can only conclude that his America never reads work by living African-American poets...
Although her comments were not meant to rail against her own absence from the volume, it is with interest that I note that in his followup book, Good Poems for Hard Times, Keillor or the editors included this Dove poem from the Writer's Almanac:
Imagine you wake up
with a second chance: The blue jay
hawks his pretty wares
and the oak still stands, spreading
glorious shade. If you don't look back,
the future never happens.
How good to rise in sunlight,
in the prodigal smell of biscuits—
eggs and sausage on the grill.
The whole sky is yours
to write on, blown open
to a blank page. Come on,
shake a leg! You'll never know
who's down there, frying those eggs,
if you don't get up and see.
My admittedly quick survey of the contents of that volume, however, seems to indicate that she is the only black poet in that collection. The more things change...???
Full Disclosure note: I 'sampled' (with proper credit, of course!) a few lines from "Dawn Revisited" for a poem of my own, On The Road (for James Byrd), that appears in the Ringing Ear: Black Poets Lean South anthology. And no, I'm no where near big-headed enough to include my own work in the same post with Dove and Wright!