Tag Archives: Black Poetry

The M(N)STRY: Phillis Wheatley and Fugitive Imagination


quote-imagination-who-can-sing-thy-force-or-who-describe-the-swiftness-of-thy-course-soaring-through-phillis-wheatley-311699

What happens when an enslaved person is given the tools to express her desire for freedom after being captured? When a young child taken from Senegal to Boston and renamed after the slave ship on which she was brought is then taught to read and write in not her own language and history, but in the language and history of Europeans? You get what the first black person to publish a book of poetry in America, Phillis Wheatley, wrote in “On Imagination.” Written a few years before she was granted her freedom, her poem, filled with allusions to Greek mythology and personifying Imagination as if it is a goddess of fertile creativity, is reminiscent of Fred Moten’s concept of the “fantasy in the hold.” This dream or possibility of movement while still in bondage, while still held back where you currently are. But also the tensions between exploration in a ship (whether on water or space) to other places and being shipped as a commodity. Is it the awe of coming to a new world, or is it violent abduction? Maybe both, like being raptured by a god common in Greco-Roman myths.

Wheatley’s poem portrays Imagination as a powerfully creative guiding spirit that breaks boundaries and hybridizes a particular experience of the world with the alien world it encounters to discover new meaning. Her use of Winter throughout the poem clearly shows her awareness of oppression of her mobility as an enslaved person and imagination is her muse for liberation. At a time (she wrote it in 1773) when Enlightenment principles taught that reason, often attributes to white, hetero-masculine power, governed over all other faculties of human expression, Wheatley celebrates the Imagination as a feminine, fertile power moving as part of a spacecraft traveling beyond limits placed on it. In the quote above and the rest of the same stanza (From star to star the mental optics rove,/Measure the skies, and range the realms above./There in one view we grasp the mighty whole,/Or with new worlds amaze th’ unbounded soul.), she describes Imagination exploring beyond the sky to different stars and even different worlds in what she calls, “the mental optics.” Remember this is 1773 and she is an enslaved black woman and yet she is imagining traveling in a spaceship. If that isn’t Afrofuturistic and the mind of a Black speculative writer, I don’t know what is.

Imagination, like her, is a genius in bondage and struggles to be free. Imagination was what allowed Wheatley to see and be aware of the fullness of the cosmos and through which she could envision new spaces.

Below is the complete poem:

 

On Imagination

Continue reading The M(N)STRY: Phillis Wheatley and Fugitive Imagination

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Basic Instructions Before Leaving Earth: “The Guide and The Guided”


photo1-5Update:

I took a picture of this poem while I was visiting a cousin of mine and I thought it was fitting for the theme of my blog and afrofuturism that is emphasized with the the images of Saturn and stars in the background, the procession of black people with flames over their heads, and the object behind them that looks like either a rocket ship or a monument. The work is a collaboration between poet Daniel Marks and artist Bobby Moore.

You can see this and other photos I take on my instagram.

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Basic Instructions Before Leaving Earth: Langston and Lucille’s Magic of Simple


This month, I attended two poetry events, David Mills’ dramatic performance of Langston Hughes’ works and Elizabeth Alexander’s conversation on Lucille Clifton’s mystical, shaman-like poetry, reminded me that so much magic can condensed into few and sometimes simple words; they made magic out of the ordinary. Below are some poems from Hughes and Clifton as well as notes from Alexander’s lecture and the exhibition at the Poet’s House, which will close in March.

Hughes:

Hughes was often criticized by modernist poets who saw his poems as old-fashioned or lacking the supposed complexity of modern poetry. But Hughes was not writing for them, who were usually white male critics; he was writing for the people he came from and you see it in his short works, plays and poetry, including standardizing the form of blues poetry. The veneer of simplicity and rhyming sentimentality often hid within his work a complexity of culture and wisdom that was often not respected or seen in high-regard, if at all.

“Sun is his grave,/Moon is, stars are,/Space is his grave.” – “Lumumba’s Grave”

“Drum”

Bear in mind
that death is a drum
beating on forever,
till the last worms come
to answer its call,
till the last stars fall,
until the last atom
is no atom at all,
until time is past
and there is no air
and space itself
is nothing, nowhere.
Death is a drum,
a signal drum,
calling life
to come!
Come!
Come!

Continue reading Basic Instructions Before Leaving Earth: Langston and Lucille’s Magic of Simple

Basic Instructions Before Leaving Earth: Sekou Sundiata


Starting this month until October, there will be several events celebrating poet, playwright, educator and activist Sekou Sundiata, all part of Blink Your Eyes: Sekou Sundiata Revisited, a New York City-wide retrospective. There have been a few events this month already, including one with Tracie Morris, and during next two weeks will be events at The Apollo Theater and The Poets House. All the events will include a wide variety of artists and creatives, including Amiri Baraka, Nona Hendryx , Vernon Reid, and Greg Tate. Below are a few of his memorable poems (I love the musicality and cultural awareness of his poetry), and you can read more on his website:

Philosophy of the Kool

a blues for poets

I been swimming since water,

learning to sing like the songs.

The oldest one I know goes like this:

Some people came from the trees,

I remember coming out of the undertow: the ocean

of seas: the electricity the explosions

billlions of us crashing with the waves,

then blown away into memory.

You can still hear us in the piece of a beat

or in that music made from scratch.

The first words still had roots,

like a James Brown syllable.

It was a single cell one minute, a slam dunk the next.

Speed was our need.

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