Wednesday, April 29, 2009
My mother kept torn photographs of her and my father behind her bed frame. When I was three years old I found them and gathered the broken village of them into my hands. She caught me one clumsy evening trying to put their pieces together, hoping to find an image that resembled a man with my face. I imagine some God kept her from whooping the skin off my backside. She simply stared at me like some fresh-born creature, some ghost of their past. I remember through the creases and wrinkles of ripped parts, her smile sprinkled across her body in his presence. It made me wonder of that man, the one she rarely spoke of, only when she cried and her lips would turn into a maroon crescent while her face spread like the night’s arms gathering me up into lullaby. Her sobs taught me womanhood too young.
When I was six years old, I sat on a subway bench next to the man whose face remains a distorted portrait of my DNA. I have spent the rest of my life searching for the joy I felt sitting next to him under flinching fluorescent light. I wanted to know the simplest things about him: his favorite color, food, smell…and I remember wondering where he worked, what type of magic he made of the world. He smiled and told me he was a construction worker, said he built things—playgrounds. I felt a tiny wiggle of pride sprout in my belly, pretending my daddy made great things. Of course by this time he was my daddy, again. Suddenly, it did not matter to me where he was, when he was gone, or why he rarely ever seemed to miss me, the way I sat by the windowsill beneath the dust of night, speaking to him through the lit eyes of some God in the sky. I was with him then-- imagining my father a glorious conductor of light furling in his hands. And the next day when he dropped me off at school I entered the halls, a sparkling gold star singing from the throat of a fragile pride--there is no dance like the dance of a daughter twirling on the thought of a father’s love, to be a princess of this kingdom. It is no wonder I became a shattering fairy tale when I later learned the language of liar, of tales and myth.
The first letter I wrote to my father while he was in prison was more like a suicide note. The words were scarred wrists and a strange freedom was born there. The small reach of light rusted in my body, grew in my eyes like a last breath. I had grown into a self-righteous teenager, and I learned of the” street medicine” my father sold, more explicitly of the several habits he couldn’t kick. There was no childhood magic beautiful enough to ignore the emptiness in his mouth. The eleven or so teeth that had fought to be there, survivors of war, resembling soldiers with horrifying stories—poor, unappreciated veterans sitting in his gums, mourning the loss of their friends. Last time we saw each other, I remember most, the smell of alcohol on the laughter of his breath, the sillyness in his drunk stumble. And it was then, that I saw him tear into the pieces--photographs my mother kept around the corner of her bedpost.
Thursday, April 23, 2009
by Sharon Olds
A week later, I said to a friend: I don't
think I could ever write about it.
Maybe in a year I could write something.
There is something in me maybe someday
to be written; now it is folded, and folded,
and folded, like a note in school. And in my dream
someone was playing jacks, and in the air there was a
huge, thrown, tilted jack
on fire. And when I woke up, I found myself
counting the days since I had last seen
my husband-only two years, and some weeks,
and hours. We had signed the papers and come down to the
ground floor of the Chrysler Building,
the intact beauty of its lobby around us
like a king's tomb, on the ceiling the little
painted plane, in the mural, flying. And it
entered my strictured heart, this morning,
slightly, shyly as if warily,
untamed, a greater sense of the sweetness
and plenty of his ongoing life,
unknown to me, unseen by me,
unheard, untouched-but known, seen,
heard, touched. And it came to me,
for moments at a time, moment after moment,
to be glad for him that he is with the one
he feels was meant for him. And I thought of my
mother, minutes from her death, eighty-five
years from her birth, the almost warbler
bones of her shoulder under my hand, the
eggshell skull, as she lay in some peace
in the clean sheets, and I could tell her the best
of my poor, partial love, I could sing her
out with it, I saw the luck
and luxury of that hour.
I feel like I must share this essay of all essays.
"How it Feels to Be Colored Me"
by Zora Neale Hurston (1891 - 1960)
I am colored but I offer nothing in the way of extenuating circumstances except the fact that I am the only Negro in the United States whose grandfather on the mother's side was not an Indian chief.
I remember the very day that I became colored. Up to my thirteenth year I lived in the little Negro town of Eatonville, Florida. It is exclusively a colored town. The only white people I knew passed through the town going to or coming from Orlando. The native whites rode dusty horses, the Northern tourists chugged down the sandy village road in automobiles. The town knew the Southerners and never stopped cane chewing when they passed. But the Northerners were something else again. They were peered at cautiously from behind curtains by the timid. The more venturesome would come out on the porch to watch them go past and got just as much pleasure out of the tourists as the tourists got out of the village.
The front porch might seem a daring place for the rest of the town, but it was a gallery seat for me. My favorite place was atop the gatepost. Proscenium box for a born first-nighter. Not only did I enjoy the show, but I didn't mind the actors knowing that I liked it. I usually spoke to them in passing. I'd wave at them and when they returned my salute, I would say something like this: "Howdy-do-well-I-thank-you-where-you-goin'?" Usually automobile or the horse paused at this, and after a queer exchange of compliments, I would probably "go a piece of the way" with them, as we say in farthest Florida. If one of my family happened to come to the front in time to see me, of course negotiations would be rudely broken off. But even so, it is clear that I was the first "welcome-to-our-state" Floridian, and I hope the Miami Chamber of Commerce will please take notice.
During this period, white people differed from colored to me only in that they rode through town and never lived there. They liked to hear me "speak pieces" and sing and wanted to see me dance the parse-me-la, and gave me generously of their small silver for doing these things, which seemed strange to me for I wanted to do them so much that I needed bribing to stop, only they didn't know it. The colored people gave no dimes. They deplored any joyful tendencies in me, but I was their Zora nevertheless. I belonged to them, to the nearby hotels, to the county--everybody's Zora.
But changes came in the family when I was thirteen, and I was sent to school in Jacksonville. I left Eatonville, the town of the oleanders, a Zora. When I disembarked from the river-boat at Jacksonville, she was no more. It seemed that I had suffered a sea change. I was not Zora of Orange County any more, I was now a little colored girl. I found it out in certain ways. In my heart as well as in the mirror, I became a fast brown--warranted not to rub nor run.
But I am not tragically colored. There is no great sorrow dammed up in my soul, nor lurking behind my eyes. I do not mind at all. I do not belong to the sobbing school of Negrohood who hold that nature somehow has given them a lowdown dirty deal and whose feelings are all but about it. Even in the helter-skelter skirmish that is my life, I have seen that the world is to the strong regardless of a little pigmentation more of less. No, I do not weep at the world--I am too busy sharpening my oyster knife.
Someone is always at my elbow reminding me that I am the granddaughter of slaves. It fails to register depression with me. Slavery is sixty years in the past. The operation was successful and the patient is doing well, thank you. The terrible struggle that made me an American out of a potential slave said "On the line!" The Reconstruction said "Get set!" and the generation before said "Go!" I am off to a flying start and I must not halt in the stretch to look behind and weep. Slavery is the price I paid for civilization, and the choice was not with me. It is a bully adventure and worth all that I have paid through my ancestors for it. No one on earth ever had a greater chance for glory. The world to be won and nothing to be lost. It is thrilling to think--to know that for any act of mine, I shall get twice as much praise or twice as much blame. It is quite exciting to hold the center of the national stage, with the spectators not knowing whether to laugh or to weep.
The position of my white neighbor is much more difficult. No brown specter pulls up a chair beside me when I sit down to eat. No dark ghost thrusts its leg against mine in bed. The game of keeping what one has is never so exciting as the game of getting.
I do not always feel colored. Even now I often achieve the unconscious Zora of Eatonville before the Hegira. I feel most colored when I am thrown against a sharp white background.
For instance at Barnard. "Beside the waters of the Hudson" I feel my race. Among the thousand white persons, I am a dark rock surged upon, and overswept, but through it all, I remain myself. When covered by the waters, I am; and the ebb but reveals me again.
Sometimes it is the other way around. A white person is set down in our midst, but the contrast is just as sharp for me. For instance, when I sit in the drafty basement that is The New World Cabaret with a white person, my color comes. We enter chatting about any little nothing that we have in common and are seated by the jazz waiters. In the abrupt way that jazz orchestras have, this one plunges into a number. It loses no time in circumlocutions, but gets right down to business. It constricts the thorax and splits the heart with its tempo and narcotic harmonies. This orchestra grows rambunctious, rears on its hind legs and attacks the tonal veil with primitive fury, rending it, clawing it until it breaks through to the jungle beyond. I follow those heathen--follow them exultingly. I dance wildly inside myself; I yell within, I whoop; I shake my assegai above my head, I hurl it true to the mark yeeeeooww! I am in the jungle and living in the jungle way. My face is painted red and yellow and my body is painted blue. My pulse is throbbing like a war drum. I want to slaughter something--give pain, give death to what, I do not know. But the piece ends. The men of the orchestra wipe their lips and rest their fingers. I creep back slowly to the veneer we call civilization with the last tone and find the white friend sitting motionless in his seat, smoking calmly.
"Good music they have here," he remarks, drumming the table with his fingertips.
Music. The great blobs of purple and red emotion have not touched him. He has only heard what I felt. He is far away and I see him but dimly across the ocean and the continent that have fallen between us. He is so pale with his whiteness then and I am so colored.
At certain times I have no race, I am me. When I set my hat at a certain angle and saunter down Seventh Avenue, Harlem City, feeling as snooty as the lions in front of the Forty-Second Street Library, for instance. So far as my feelings are concerned, Peggy Hopkins Joyce on the Boule Mich with her gorgeous raiment, stately carriage, knees knocking together in a most aristocratic manner, has nothing on me. The cosmic Zora emerges. I belong to no race nor time. I am the eternal feminine with its string of beads.
I have no separate feeling about being an American citizen and colored. I am merely a fragment of the Great Soul that surges within the boundaries. My country, right or wrong.
Sometimes, I feel discriminated against, but it does not make me angry. It merely astonishes me. How can any deny themselves the pleasure of my company? It's beyond me.
But in the main, I feel like a brown bag of miscellany propped against a wall. Against a wall in company with other bags, white, red and yellow. Pour out the contents, and there is discovered a jumble of small, things priceless and worthless. A first-water diamond, an empty spool, bits of broken glass, lengths of string, a key to a door long since crumbled away, a rusty knife-blade, old shoes saved for a road that never was and never will be, a nail bent under the weight of things too heavy for any nail, a dried flower or two still a little fragrant. In your hand is the brown bag. On the ground before you is the jumble it held--so much like the jumble in the bags, could they be emptied, that all might be dumped in a single heap and the bags refilled without altering the content of any greatly. A bit of colored glass more or less would not matter. Perhaps that is how the Great Stuffer of Bags filled them in the first place--who knows?
Tuesday, April 21, 2009
Mr. William Stanley Hoole Birmingham-Southern College Birmingham, Alabama
Dear Mr. Hoole,
I think I must be God's left-hand mule, because I have to work so hard. Thats very funny too, because no lazier mortal ever cried for breath. But the press of new things, plus the press of old things yet unfished keep me on the treadmill all the time. Thats how come I havent answered your most kind and flattering letter before now.
My next book is to be a novel about a woman who was from childhood hungry for life and the earth, but because she had beautiful hair, was always being skotched upon a flag-pole by the men who loved her and forced to sit there. At forty she got her chance at mud. Mud, lush and fecund with a buck Negro called Teacake. He took her down into the Everglades where people worked and sweated and loved and died violently, where no such thing as flag-poles for women existed. Since I narrate mostly in dialogue, I can give you no feeling in these few lines of the life of this brown woman with her plentiful hair. But this is the barest statement of the story.
I am glad in a way to see my beloved southland coming into so much prominence in literature. I wish some of it was more considered. I observe that some writers are playing to the gallery. That is, certain notions have gotten in circulation about conditions in the south and so these writers take this formula and work out so-called true stories. For instance, one Russian lady got hot under the collar and walked out of a party because I wouldn't say that I had suffered terribly down home. It seems that she had helped arrange the party for me to expose my suffering and the "real" conditions in the south and when I said I lived pretty much the same in New York and Florida, she used that back-house word and walked out. Being poor myself I am heartily in favor of poor people getting hold of money but I fail to see the difference between an under-paid cotton-picker and an under paid factory hand. So why stress Alabama? The under dog catches heck everywhere. Nobody would love to see ideal living conditions for everyone more than I, but I sense insincerity when only one section of the country is held up for example. But I do feel that the south is taking a new high place in American literature. Caldwell, Peterkin, and that new-comer David C. Cohen (God Shakes Creation) and Bliss Carmen?(Stars Fell on Alabama)are definite contributors to life. Not to mention Sherwood Anderson, whom I think is almost equal to Caldwell, if not equal. T.S. STribling is a monnyark, thats something like a king you know, only bigger and better. I love him.
You asked for a paragraph and this is a pretty long one that I have on this page. But I was trying to give you a peep into my mind. I thought hard and tried to make a statment about the literature in a sentence, but I couldnt make it.
Sincerely, Zora Neale Hurston
P.S. I come of an Alabama family. Macon County.
Monday, April 13, 2009
this past weekend was the infamous soundbites poetry festival hosted by Mahogany L Browne and Jive Poetic. It was a weekend of raw inspiration and soul riveting metaphors. In particular there was a beautiful firefly of a singer featured on sunday. Her voice is something to witness, like catching the holy ghost of love, pure possession. I wanted to share her info with you guys and encourage you to support her music. Her name is Grace Kalambay. I actually have known her for a while, at least two years and have never heard her sing until this weekend. I bet you can imagine my surprise when I heard her blow like the sweet wind. You can find her working at the lovely Bowery Poetry Club somedays or at a local venue playing her guitar. Check her out HERE
Friday, April 03, 2009
Poetry has been a movement long before this show but what this show unveils is its depth and ability to express what only emotion endures and these young people are willing and open to the possibility of exploring their repressed emotions which then makes the educational process rather accessible. Spoken word and performance poetry has its own internal logic as with many arts. In light of this, I hope it helps to look at the art form as a means of healing. Surely, that is what it has been for me and countless other young people. I grew up before many people, performing and sharing my experiences as openly as I possibly could through language and stage presence and it has proven to save my life and at times to even explain a small part of my purpose and existence. I truly believe we all long to be understood and maybe simply, only to relate, to engage with each other. This series will hopefully open a small door where Def Poetry did not to the people behind poems, behind the audience and stage, to the growth and process of development.
Coming up through organizations such as Urban Word NYC has fostered a type of creative and work ethic in me that has made attaining my dreams and goals seem tangible. With mentors that give often so much of themselves it is incredibly magical to witness. Shout out to Queen Godis, she is truly a gift from some heaven where we store our hearts. Also, shout out to Celena Glenn, my personal inspiration and the reason why till this day the Urban Word NYC 2005 slam team is the only reigning NYC team to win Brave New Voices nationals (hopefully that changes this year ;-)
Some people may not know how necessary it is to be validated when you are young let alone period where often you are made to feel as though your voice does not matter and has no relevance to the adult realm but what I hope this series will do is invite people to see a bit of what has been taking place at Brave New Voices competitions with young people for years now...Be weary, the teller at your local bank, the teacher at your local public school, the student at your private college, the man sitting next to you on the train, and even the prison mate at your neighborhood facility... they may have all very well been a youth poet participating in competitions much like Brave New Voices, stirring souls of thousands and these voices may never get the recognition they deserve but they have inspired some life changing experiences. They are the real people that made Obama possible and even an expectation. Change did not simply occur overnight, no, it was a long before written poem scribbled in the notebook of some kid you never even thought twice to pay attention to... May we learn to listen to our youth differently and to read our spirits through their stories. With all that being said, check out the series. In spite of all the beauracracy behind the series and the commercial realm of things, I think this can be something positive for us to look to. I have my issues with certain individuals who have made it a point to monopolize off these young people's stories but let you be the judge and hopefully you will remember us not for our emotional vulnerability but for the fire it has ignited and the passion we have made with its embers...
Brave New Voices
A 7-episode series highlighting the voices of 21st Century America
Airing on HBO ll PM ET/PT Beginning Sunday, April 5th
"Without language, we are nothing." -Jamaica Osorio & Ittai Wong
All over the United States, a new generation of poets is emerging. This new HBO series captures teenagers picking up the pen and taking hold of the microphone with passion, intelligence, creativity, honesty and power. These voices of 21st Century America transcend race, class, gender, orientation, and red state/blue state politics as they show us all what the next generation of leaders looks and sounds like.
Brave New Voices is a new seven-part series that features teenage poets and their mentors from San Francisco, Philadelphia, New York, Santa Fe, Ft. Lauderdale, Honolulu and Ann Arbor as they prepare for Youth Speaks' 2008 Brave New Voices International Youth Poetry Slam Finals.
These young poets represent a growing national movement featuring thousands and thousands of teenagers writing and performing spoken word as a way to have voice in their communities and in the nation as a whole. These are the Brave New Voices and the organizations that support them.
The youth represent an amazing blend of spoken word, hip-hop, poetry, music, power, voice, imagination, and more. Brave New Voices sheds light onto this largely unseen world, putting an honest spotlight on some of the most dynamic young adults in the country.
The 2008 Brave New Voices Festival (BNV) was held in Washington, D, just three months before the presidential election. In the shadow of the White House, America's youth challenged each other with words and ideas.
For five outspoken days in July 2008, over 500 talented teen poets and spoken word artists from teams around the country joined together for workshops, poetry readings, late-night cyphers, political organizing, and of course, to vie for top honors at the National Youth Poetry Slam. They came from urban, rural and suburban areas, from the Deep South, Native American reservations, Hawaii, college towns and even from across oceans. Their backgrounds were diverse, yet they shared a passion for opening minds and hearts - starting with their own..
For many of the poets, the BNV festival was an eye-opening, life-changing experience. They left their family, got on a plane, performed in front of a crowd of thousands and found new opportunities for growth and friendship beyond borders. Equally life-changing was the four-month journey to get ready for the festival.
Eventually, one team rose above the rest to become the 2008 National Youth Slam Poetry Champion. But all were winners.
Join us for this unique four-month journey and listen to the Brave New Voices of today.