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Celebrate Black Poetry Day

 

Today we celebrate Black Poetry Day in honor of Jupiter Hammon, who is believed to be the first African American to publish poetry in the United States. He was born into slavery in Long Island, New York on October 17, 1711.

His poem “An Evening Thought” was first published on Christmas Day at the age of 49. Hammon is considered one of the founders of African-American literature.

In honor of Hammon’s birth, we celebrate the contributions of all African Americans to the world of poetry. Some of the most notable are Langston Hughes, Phyllis Wheatley, Paul Laurence Dunbar and Maya Angelou.


[Langston Hughes recites his poem “I,Too”, often called “I Am America”]

 

It’s no surprise that many of the early poems by African Americans spoke of overcoming struggles and hardship, often with encouragement and a look to a brighter future.

One of my favorites is by Langston Hughes, “I Too Am America,” brought back to modern attention in The Great Debaters, starring Denzel Washington. [See the scene from the movie below] I’ve posted a video above where you can hear Langston Hughes himself reciting the poem.

I, Too

by Langston Hughes
written in 1932

I, too, sing America.

I am the darker brother.
They send me to eat in the kitchen
When company comes,
But I laugh,
And eat well,
And grow strong.

Tomorrow,
I’ll be at the table
When company comes.
Nobody’ll dare
Say to me,
“Eat in the kitchen,”
Then.

Besides,
They’ll see how beautiful I am
And be ashamed—

I, too, am America.

How will you celebrate this day?

1. Look up and reflect on the meaning of poems written by African Americans. See a list of a few at http://famouspoetsandpoems.com/poets_african_american.html and at http://www.ehow.com/list_5842906_famous-black-poets-authors.html

2. You don’t have to be an African American to write a poem of encouragement, telling how you overcame something in your life or celebrating freedom. Try your hand at a poem now. Share it in the Comments link above the post.

3. Learn about the Harlem Renaissance, a period after World War I when many Blacks migrated North. During this period,  Black poet and writers openly celebrated their history and contributions and opened the doors for many other Black writers to share and be recognized for their work. Learn about this period at http://www.jcu.edu/harlem/index.htm

Writing Poetry is a Way of Figuring Things Out

Sarah Kay,  spoken word poet and founder of Project V.O.I.C.E. says that she writes poetry to help her figure things out.

Do you write poetry? Does it help you figure things out?

I’m not sure what I figured out with the poems I wrote throughout my life, but I’m so happy I wrote them. Thanks to my mother, I still have the originals of my childhood poems. As I grew up I wrote about the mundane and the profane. Occasionally I was reflective. I’m sure that my poems won’t win any awards or be etched on monuments, but no matter how corny or fractured they may be, they are precious to me. This week I will share some of my own poems and those of others.

Here’s a poem that came to me after my first child was born. Following it, an inspiring video of the amazing poet and teacher of poetry, Sarah Kay, who could coax a poem from a rock.

SUMMARY

 

Once little Sally Walker sat in her saucer
And Miss Muffet ate curds and whey,
But no matter how hurriedly I lapped,
My ice cream cone melted away.

It melted into a fireside chant,
“Rise up, oh flame!” we’d implore.
Green-clad girls awed by the night,
Watched the star-sprinkled canopy hang o’er.

My eyelids weary from swimming and hikes
Closed for no more than a wink,
But when I awoke and wiped my eyes,
I was slurping a cherry Coke drink.

Seventeen Magazine lay by my side,
I was sprawled by a blaring TV.
Then the telephone rang, “Could I go?”
Sophomore prom? Who’d believe it? Me!

Oh-h-h!
What will I wear?
What of my hair?
How much does he care?
Will we make a good pair?
Who’ll be there?
Do I dare?  Do I dare?

Blue lace!
Flowers in place!
Happy face!

Oh-h-h!  I’m floating on air.
Yes, I was floating on air for awhile,
My airy raft lifted me high.
When suddenly the steady “War March of Priests”
Brought me down, tassle dangling in eye.

Goodbye, giggling teens and teachers so dear.
Goodbye Drama club, Majorettes.
Goodbye my first love, so tall and suave.

Hello my first cigarette. (Cough),
Hello lecture notes scribbled in haste.
Calm down sorority girl!
Be wise on those frequent walks through the park,
Your future has joys to unfurl.

One day I bent to scrape mud from my shoes
But when I rose back to full view
There stood a stranger, white cake, pretty lace,
And me, vowing “I do”.

“I do what?” I wanted to ask,
But the stranger whisked me high.
Mother in tears and friends bearing gifts
All happily sobbed their goodbyes.

I wanted to question the stranger
But he was excitedly babbling then.
So I waited, but when I opened my mouth
Out dropped a pink diaper pin!

Lullaby little fluff, an image of him.
Wait, don’t crawl away!  What’d you say?
“Little Sally Walker sitting in her saucer….
Mommy, what are curds and whey?”

 

Flora Morris Brown
January 1972

 

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Do you have poems you’ve stashed away? I would love to be your partner in bringing them out of hiding. If you are ready to begin, pop me an email right now with “READY” in the subject line at flora@florabrown.com . Be sure to include your phone number and I’ll call you within 24 hours.

I’m going over to check for your email right now.