Red Summer: Text and meaning in Claude McKay’s “If We Must Die” (part 1 of 4)

The summer of 2015 marks the 96th anniversary of the publication of Harlem Renaissance poet Claude McKay’s masterful poem, “If We Must Die.” This essay is presented in commemoration of that literary milestone and in remembrance of the extraordinary Red Summer of 1919 that inspired it.

There were many good reasons to believe America had entered––or at least was about to enter––a golden era of post-racialism following the election of Barack Obama in 2008. Among them was the election of the country’s first African-American president itself, an increasingly diverse American population, and a sociopolitical landscape made more democratic (in appearance at least) by the various influences of technological innovation.

Unfortunately, none of those good noble reasons were able to withstand the onslaught of reality as the number of hate groups in the country began to increase almost immediately, even while the Black prison population and Black unemployment rates continued to do the same. In a word, the country was nowhere near “there” yet.

Red Summers of Yesterday and Today

The growing number of cities where protest demonstrations have occurred over the past few years in response to extreme uses of force by policemen against African Americans, and the very oppressive conditions under which many African Americans continue to live, is eerily similar to another riot-filled time in U.S. history. The period which might first come to mind for most people is the 1960s, a decade in which “race riots” flared up every other year in places such as Greensboro, N.C. (1960), Los Angeles (Watts), Calif. (1964), Detroit, Michigan (1967), and Baltimore (1968).

However, the historical moment which possibly resembles the current intense state of racial affairs the most is that of the period leading up to the Red Summer of 1919. As pointed out in Facts on File’s Encyclopedia of the Harlem Renaissance:

To enjoy this complete article by Aberjhani with accompanying video please click below:

Red Summer: Text and meaning in Claude McKay’s “If We Must Die” (part 1 of 4) – National African-American Art | Examiner.com.

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‘Tis the Season for the Magic of Poetry: Black Gold | Aberjhani Author-Poet-Literary-Consultant | LinkedIn

'Tis the Season for the Magic of Poetry: Black Gold | Aberjhani Author-Poet-Literary-Consultant | LinkedIn
Cover of new anthology: Black Gold, edited by Ja A. Jahannes.

When contemplating such issues as the current protests against the trend of white policemen killing unarmed black men (or boys in the case of 12-year-old Tamir Rice) and the unceasing escalation of war and terrorism across the globe, some might consider poetry an insignificant subject to address as the year 2015 approaches. Others, however, might contend that just like black lives in the past, present, and future–– poetry matters, enough in fact to be placed among Big Ideas 2015 .

One important reason poetry matters is because it often helps to expand humanity’s capacity for putting brutal and sublime experiences alike into usable, meaningful, contexts. What may be the oldest known Christmas poem, A Visit from Saint Nicholas (often referred to as “Twas the Night Before Christmas”) was first published anonymously on December 23, 1823, and later attributed to Clement Clark Moore. The year was a relatively peaceful one compared to the year before and that which followed. The poem, then, in addition to celebrating the holiday spirit of giving, could have been the poet’s way of affirming grace in a world too often overrun by grief.

Black Gold

The forthcoming poetry anthology entitled Black Gold, edited by playwright and composer Ja A. Jahannes, is not a collection of holiday verse. But it does offer a powerful counterbalance to the current mainstream images documenting what it does or does not mean to be a person of African or Latin descent in these still-early years of the 21st century.

With its mixture of multigenerational, gender inclusive, and intercontinental voices, Black Gold in some ways accomplishes through poetry what various government, educational, and community institutions have not. That is to say it successfully replicates the principle of unity, or Umoja, which many celebrate on the first day of Kwanzaa (December) and then generally ignore throughout the rest of the year. This should not be taken to mean the poets presented in the book are without their own brand of diversity.

To check out the full post with video and quotes please click the link:

‘Tis the Season for the Magic of Poetry: Black Gold | Aberjhani Author-Poet-Literary-Consultant | LinkedIn.

Song of the Black Skylark: Poem in the American Literary Halloween Tradition

Song of the Black Skylark (poem) by Aberjhani on AuthorsDen

                    (Black Skylark title art graphic by Postered Poetics for Aberjhani)

Does the enigmatic figure of the Black Skylark referenced in this blog title have anything to do with Edgar Allen Poe’s “The Raven” (1845), with Walt Whitman’s “The Mystic Trumpeter” (1872), or Abram Joseph Ryan’s “Song of the Deathless Voice” (1880)? It shares with Poe’s classic poem the image of a dark mystical bird. On the other hand, the presence of an eerie beguiling melody establishes a strong link to Whitman’s and Ryan’s poems.

Obviously, the poem Song of the Black Skylark is from the book Visions of a Skylark Dressed in Black. It was not until the first edition of the book was about to be published that I began to understand the origins of the Black Skylark. The following is what I noted as my understanding grew deeper:

It dawned on me that the book was actually conceived many many years before…In fact, it began as part of a writing assignment in a class taught by Wendy Parrish at Macalester College in St. Paul, Minnesota, way back in the day before people used the phrase “back in the day”…. That was when I wrote a poem called The Dark Bird, describing a creature that was frightfully heroic in life while being somehow oddly connected to death.

At that time, the word “metaphysics” was unknown to me so I was more driven by a feeling than a concept. The central image that formed around that feeling disappeared for two decades before re-emerging and evolving into the Black Skylark that not only soars through the pages of Visions, but through those of a novel also [now] completed.

The poem is set in the city of Savannah, Georgia, but its themes are universal. Readers are cordially invited to decide for themselves how well it fits into the tradition of the American Halloween poem pioneered by Poe, Whitman, and Ryan:
Song of the Black Skylark (poem) by Aberjhani on AuthorsDen.

by Aberjhani

Dancing with Genius, Dancing with Madness (in Honor of Jalaluddin Rumi)

                                                           (Rumi Visions II CD cover art by  Marvin Mattelson)

I think of Genius and Madness as being very much like a twin brother and sister.  And it doesn’t really matter which one we call the brother, or which we describe as the sister, for one simple reason.  Within the universe of the extraordinary, those qualities we designate to human concepts of gender are often shared, exchanged, or even completely obliterated. Because of this mixture of traits, these twins called Genius and Madness often appear to be the same thing.

They both have a tendency to blur the lines of what we call norms, or established reality.  They both, when we study that grand tapestry known as history and modern-day society, tend to stand out in much bolder relief than other figures. Neither Genius nor Madness ever look upon the world as a finished product. Both tend to view it as a kind of work in progress subject to their peculiarly mesmerizing influence.

Nevertheless: despite their similarities we are talking about twins with pronounced and distinct characteristics. If they at moments appear identical, in the end there’s rarely any difficulty telling them apart. For we recognize True Genius and True Madness most accurately by their legacies. Madness has a fondness for leaving the world filled with confusion and atrocity: such as the assassination of humanitarian leaders; the systematic rape and oppression of women and children; or the deliberate destruction of social and individual harmony. Genius, on the other hand, prefers to reserve its passions for clarity and the joys of intellectual possibility. It bestows upon the world such gifts as the angelic compositions of a Mozart; the enabling spiritual vision of a Martin Luther King, Jr.; the creative brilliance of a Leonardo da Vinci; or the Nobel-winning literary excellence of a Toni Morrison.

To check out the full post by Aberjhani please click the link:
Dancing with Genius, Dancing with Madness in Honor of Rumi article by Aberjhani on AuthorsDen.

Text and Meaning in Elemental The Power of Illuminated Love (part 1 of 3)


Angles of Ascents Anthology featuring the works of contemporary poets. (Cover image features poets Nikki Giovanni and the late Amiri Baraka)

Success for the creatively-inclined individual can be defined in many ways. Certainly there are those who necessarily measure their triumphs in terms of monetary gains. There are others for whom success means the refinement of a process, participation in a unique endeavor, the achievement of a level of personal mastery, or the realization of a rare kind of vision. 

For some, it is all of the above. 

Upon agreeing to work with the artist Luther E. Vann on a book showcasing contemporary art, ekphrastic poems, and short essays in 1991, there was little reason to believe it would ever see publication much less gain recognition as a “success.” It was not the kind of work on which publishers preferred to take chances. Neither the artist nor this author at the time commanded such compelling presences in the marketplace as to make a victorious outcome likely or inevitable in 2008. Whether or not it would have moved the hearts of judges making and breaking aspiring entrepreneurs during Shark Tank Week is debatable. 

Please click the link to check out the full post by Aberjhani:
Text and Meaning in Elemental The Power of Illuminated Love (part 1 of 3) – National African-American Art | Examiner.com.

King of Pop Michael Jackson and the World Community – The Journey and the Rainbow

          Michael Jackson with Spanish translation of quote from article by Aberjhani.
(graphic art poster courtesy of Facebook Group Blues Away)

The book Journey through the Power of the Rainbow, Quotations from a Life Made Out of Poetry, contains a full chapter of quotes on Michael Jackson as well as the short essay which follows. Anyone interested in winning a free copy of the book is encouraged to check out the Goodreads widget at the end of the essay.

At least part of worldwide reading audiences’ growing familiarity with my work has to be attributed to the late “King of Pop” Michael Jackson. Although I started writing about Mr. Jackson’s life and legacy after in his death in 2009, I did not understand just how many people around the world had been taking note of those writings. Then it was brought to my attention that several full articles had turned up on multiple websites in the form of unauthorized translations into German, Italian, French, Spanish, Greek, Portuguese, and other languages. Given the ease with which Internet technology makes it possible to accomplish such linguistic feats––precision of the translation notwithstanding––I told myself it had been inevitable.

Technological ease was only part of the reason. Another very significant part was what I had sensed myself and what author and Minister Barbara Kaufmann had identified as the “spiritual emergency” into which Jackson’s fans around the globe had found themselves plunged upon his death. They had discovered little to no consolation within a mainstream media and sideline tabloid press that continued to employ guerrilla decontextualization to sensationalize and capitalize off distortions of the megastar’s image even as the worldwide community he left behind flailed about in a tsunami of unrelenting grief. 

Please enjoy the full post by Aberjhani at this link:

King of Pop Michael Jackson and the World Community – The Journey and the Rainbow.

Poets of the Past and Present in 2014 Spotlight (part 1 of 2)

Cover of Enoh Meyomesse's

“Sometimes: the struggle and willingness to say the unsayable –– has cost poets and artists their lives.”––from Journey through the Power of the Rainbow

Each year the value, presence, and volume of poetry in the world intensifies after spring arrives largely because the international community celebrates March 21 as World Poetry Day and people in the United States celebrate National Poetry Month in April. Both of these events since their establishment––National Poetry Month by the Academy of American Poets in 1996 and World Poetry Day by UNESCO in 1999––have served to magnify the focus on, and respect for, poetry as a universal cultural legacy.

People around the globe felt World Poetry Day significant enough that they celebrated it (some are still doing so) in a number of notable ways, from individual blog posts and the publication of new books to poetry festivals and extended open mic nights. In Ghana, for example, theater groups, members of writers’ workshops, and spoken word artists worked with the Goethe Institute and G3 Channels to stage presentations. At the Customs House in Sydney, Australia, multilingual poets presented recitals in indigenous Aboriginal dialects as well as in English.

Poetry and Freedom: the Case of Enoh Meyomesse

One of the more powerful observations of the day came from English Pen, the original hub for the PEN International collective of literary affiliates (which includes PEN American Center) dedicated to advocating freedom of expression in literature and journalism. True to its mission, prior to World Poetry Day, PEN sent out a call asking “our supporters to help translate imprisoned poet Enoh Meyomesse’s work into as many different languages as possible…”    

For the complete article by Aberjhani please click the link:
Poets of the past and present in 2014 spotlight (part 1 of 2) – National African-American Art | Examiner.com.