Reflections on Ode to the Good Black Boots that Served My Soul So Well (poem) by Aberjhani

“But why exactly were these shoes so important to Vincent? Why had he carried them with him for so long, beaten and worn as they were?” – Ken Wilber, from the essay A Pair of Worn Shoes (“A Pair of Shoes” painting by Vincent Van Gogh from Southern Review.org)

The story and intent behind my poem, Ode to the Good Black Boots that Served My Soul So Well, is not extremely different from the story and likely intent behind Vincent Van Gogh’s painting, A Pair of Shoes (see image above). In philosopher Ken Wilber’s book, The Eye of the Spirit – An Integral Vision of a World Gone Slightly Mad, the author retells a story first shared by the painter Paul Gauguin (1848–1903) about a pair of “enormous worn out misshapen shoes” painted by his friend Vincent.

The now-iconic Van Gogh (1853–1890) created the image after serving as a caregiver for 40 days and nights to a miner who had been so badly burned that doctors gave him up for dead. Vincent Van Gogh could not accept that prognosis. He had not gone to the mines to paint but had traveled there in well-made boots as a young pastor intent on ministering to whoever might have need of him. 

After laboring with love to nurse the man back to some degree of health, the scars that remained on the miner’s brow and face looked to Van Gogh like scars from a crown made of thorns.

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Reflections on Ode to the Good Black Boots that Served My Soul So Well (poem) by Aberjhani on AuthorsDen.

Gifts of the Poets: Eugene B. Redmond and Coleman Barks (part 1)

 

Cover of

Cover of Visible Man: The Life of Henry Dumas by Jeffrey B. Leak

Among the greatest gifts that poets bestow upon each other’s lives are those of identity and validation. It is often through the mirror of words, meaning, and soul created by one poet that another begins to recognize the true significance of his or her nature. It is also, sometimes, by virtue of the labors of one poet that the stylized reverberations of another is amplified and takes its rightful place within the larger chorus of such voices.

When considering the last scenario, the following are but two notable examples: the first is that of author, editor, and photographer Eugene Redmond, whose efforts to preserve the literary legacy of poet and fiction writer Henry Dumas made it possible for many to enjoy Dumas’ formidable works after he was shot to death in 1968. The second is Coleman Barks, the well-known educator and author whose translated interpretations of the life and work of Jalalludin Rumi have placed Rumi’s name among the most famous either living or dead.

 

Eugene B. Redmond

Redmond has authored some seven volumes of poetry, most of which were published from 1969 to 1974 during the Black Arts Movement. He has edited many more and in 1976 was named Poet Laureate of East St. Louis, Illinois. His numerous awards and distinctions include a Pushcart Prize, a National Endowment for the Humanities Grant, an American Book Award in 1993 for The Eye in the Ceiling: Selected Poems, and the St. Louis American Foundation’s Lifetime Achievement Award.

 

Please click the link to enjoy the full article by Aberjhani: Gifts of the poets: Eugene B. Redmond and Coleman Barks (part 1) – National African-American Art | Examiner.com.

On Gratitude and the Poets Who Re-Empowered My Pen – Bright Skylark Literary Productions

                                           (Digital art graphic courtesy of Bright Skylark Literary Productions)

One of the greatest triumphs of the human spirit is the ability to exercise gratitude in the face of grievous adversity. Cultivation of a sense of gratitude under any conditions is advantageous in general because it tames impulses toward delusion-inducing arrogance, soul-numbing indifference, and corruptive malice.

During this National Poetry Month 2013, I have found myself considering all the reasons I am grateful for the presence of poetry in my life and in this world. Among those reasons is the fact that there was a time, in years not so long ago, when I struggled inside a kind of “dark night of the soul”––one that in many ways appeared to reflect an eclipse of the world’s collective soul–– and it was the voices of living poets that called to me from unknown distances and took it upon themselves through their own brilliant writings to reaffirm my purpose and efforts. By doing so, they helped to re-empower the same. Their writings played no small role in motivating the labors required for me to move forward as one chapter of my life ended and another began.

It may be that poetry’s real beauty and elegance is not its finely-chiseled lines or smoothly-rounded ideological concepts at all. The crown of its significance might be––or possibly should be?––its expansive capacity to embrace with equal passion the deadliest failings and the most splendid victories that define human existence. Poetry is less a respecter of individual persons than it is a compassionate witness to the meanings of the secret language that beats inside human hearts, the music that pulses through human cries, and the divinity that shines love beyond the veils of human limitations.

Communities of Present-day Poets

Please enjoy the full special National Poetry Month post by Aberjhani by clicking here:

On Gratitude and the Poets Who Re-empowered My Pen – Bright Skylark Literary Productions.

Dimensions of Time and Creative Vision

Cover story on ELEMENTAL, the Power of Illuminated Loved  

Cover story on ELEMENTAL, the Power of Illuminated Loved

After receiving an invitation from Amazon to add an author’s note to the site’s product pages for my books, I accepted and found myself having quite a bit of fun looking back on the experiences of writing different books. The following reflections are on ELEMENTAL, the Power of Illuminated Love (which btw is on sale right now):

Dimensions of Time and Creative Vision

If we accept the description of painting as a form of language, then it should be said that Luther E. Vann began composing ELEMENTAL, the Power of Illuminated Love with the oldest images in the book, which date back to 1970 and 1972. My pen started the process of catching up with his brush strokes in 1991, when I attended an exhibit of his work at the Beach Institute in Savannah, Georgia, and almost immediately started scribbling descriptions of the images that seemed to glow, shout, and sing at me from the canvases.

A little later, a chance encounter with the artist himself led to discussions about the possibility of creating a book together, one in which my writings-poetry and essays-would strive to articulate the essence of the paintings. Visually, Luther’s work already spoke very powerfully for itself and I had doubts about being able to match in words what he so masterfully had already accomplished with painting and sculpture. How would I even begin such a formidable task?

The idea of such a book itself went all the way back to Bohemian Paris, if not further, when artists such as Pablo Picasso and Marc Chagall joined in creative partnerships with poets like Guillaume Apollinaire and Blaise Cendrars.  Who was I to fail to live up to such a noble tradition without at least giving it all the best shots I could muster?

I started by first borrowing small prints of the artist’s work and studying them. It would be a mistake, I knew, to simply describe the images. So I meditated instead on the creative and spiritual energies that inspired the artist himself and led to the works’ composition. Then I took the pressure off myself by writing only when struck by an impulse to do so as opposed to sitting in front of a blank page and trying to force a flow of words that were not there. With that point settled, the poems then seemed to arrive of their own accord, dropping out of the night sky like message-bearing meteor showers or greeting me with entire stanzas as I woke up in the morning.

Creative work has a way of unfolding in one dimension of time while everyday life progresses in another. My fateful beginning on ELEMENTAL evolved into a journey that took all of some seventeen years. While ELEMENTAL continued to grow and mature at its own pace, my first three books were completed and published. Periodicals on a national level, like ESSENCE Magazine, as well as those on more regional levels, like the Savannah Literary Journal, began to publish poems from the work in progress. Likewise, Vann continued to produce award-winning paintings which eventually made their way into the book as well.

The most phenomenal part of the journey came when members of the community banded together to champion the publication of the book and in May 2008, almost seventeen years to the day from the first time I saw Vann’s exhibit, actually made it happen.  What follows is an excerpt from a letter (first published in Connect Savannah, January 2, 2008) that I wrote to thank the people of Savannah for their support of the celebrated work:

…This is, after all, the same city that gave the world such stellar talents as poet Conrad Aiken, rapper and actor Big Boi, photographer Jack Leigh, author James Alan McPherson, lyricist Johnny Mercer, author Flannery O’Connor, actress Diana Scarwid, and many other gifted men and women.

At a time when war and various forms of violent discontent are so much a part of our daily consciousness, I believe it crucial to engage creative alternatives. This is not to say that ELEMENTAL is nothing more than an aesthetic indulgence to appease the sensibilities of two artists. It is in a fact a work that speaks very much to the heart and soul of our times: to the need for global political agendas that anchor humanity in peace rather than ensure its demise with war; and to the power of individuals to persist in exercising love in a world where people no longer seem certain of love’s meaning or value.

We are as grateful as we are honored for the support being provided. We hope that in time the book comes to represent more than just the achievement of one creative team, but a collective contribution towards the triumph of art and a spirit of community devoted to [celebrations of] life over the chaos and intolerance that so often ends in life’s tragic destruction.

Aberjhani

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Michael Jackson and summertime from this point on – by Aberjhani

A 52nd birthday note for the "King of Pop"

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Michael Jackson and summertime from this point on – National African-American Art | Examiner.com.

Evolution of a Vision: from Songs of the Angelic Gaze to The River of Winged Dreams

Hardback edition of The River of Winged Dreams

Hardback edition of The River of Winged Dreams

The notion of one powerful dream dying and another rising amidst its ashes was new to me until the life and energy of a dream that for years had empowered my creative endeavors came to an end. I was stunned because while I had accepted the reality of dreamers dying, I had never even considered the possibility that a dream itself could die. After all, it had not collapsed like a physical human body or dried up like an abused rose. It had simply gone from a recognized state of existence to an unrecognized non-existence and left me baffled in the wake of a sudden terror-filled inertia.


I accepted that the end of the dream must in some ways mean the end of me and prepared myself for whatever exactly that might mean. But although dreams are always specific to individuals they are not always respecters of persons and I found myself wrestling for a while with interpretations of a dream-informed life that was still very much in progress.


Then something which previously had eluded me became suddenly apparent: the death of a dream can in fact serve as the vehicle that endows it with new form, with reinvigorated substance, a fresh flow of ideas, and splendidly revitalized color. In short, the power of a certain kind of dream is such that death need not indicate finality at all but rather signify a metaphysical and metaphorical leap forward.

Had I not been so panicked by the notion of my beloved life-enhancing dream coming to an end, I would have realized sooner that, from the very beginning, a major part of its pattern had always been change and adaptability. It had in fact started out as a manifestation of literary visions entitled Songs of the Angelic Gaze, so named because in a season of visions of angels (during the summer of 2006) I found myself transcribing what I saw into short and long chains of poetry.  At one point there came an image in which I stood with my father looking at a bridge teeming with angels––this sighting produced two editions of a book called The Bridge of Silver Wings. The second edition included works on ancestors, the newly-elected President of the United States Barack Obama, and a new suite of angel-inspired stanzas. Just as this second edition was titled The Bridge of Silver Wings 2009, I was fully prepared to produce a 2010 edition when the noted evolution occurred and the book now titled The River of Winged Dreams was born.


Four major poem additions to The River of Winged Dreams set it apart from its predecessors: “Sounds Scribbled Mixed-Media Platinum”; “Notes for an Elegy in the Key of Michael (I)”;  “Notes for an Elegy in the Key of Michael (II)”; and the title poem. Each of these stands out in its own right and light. “Sounds Scribbled Mixed-Media Platinum” was written during a sound painting performance, featuring Savannah’s Creative Force Artist Collective and jazzman saxophonist Jody Espina, at the Jepson Center for the Arts. My purpose for attending the event was to write a news article about it but as the painters and sculptors created their extraordinary works, while Espina and his ensemble exploded jazz throughout the atrium of the Jepson Center, my pen insisted on dancing to their creative beat and the poem wrote itself in the space intended for my notes.

The two “Elegies in the Key of Michael” are among the most surprising additions to the book, first because of the unexpected death of the great Michael Jackson in June 2009, and because of the haiku-influenced form assumed by the elegies.  The title poem arrived to announce the possibility I had failed to acknowledge: that built within the conclusion of a certain kind of dream were the beginnings of another capable of simultaneously redefining and extending the previous dream. It could even be that the whole purpose of the construction of The Bridge of Silver Wings was to provide a path leading to The River of Winged Dreams, or to serve as a resting place until the river’s deeper and truer nature revealed itself.


Once that deeper more true nature became clear, I had to smile at the perfect sense it made. A river is nearly the ultimate symbol for the very essence of change itself. It flows unceasing from one point of being to another, yet continuously occupying the same bed or pathway, and accommodating life’s endings with the same musical grace with which it accommodates life’s beginnings, along with all the muted and explosive moments that surface between the two extremes. The gift of this awareness did two wonderful things: the first was that it confirmed my growing conviction about the power of a given dream.  The second was that it extended, magnified, and clarified those Songs of the Angelic Gaze that first enchanted readers, listeners, and this author with the bold brilliance of their strength and the cool shimmer of their unsettling humility.

by Aberjhani
Savannah, Georgia

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Living Art, Living Poetry: Essay on the Second Anniversary of ELEMENTAL, The Power of Illuminated Love

ELEMENTAL artist Luther E. Vann.

ELEMENTAL artist Luther E. Vann.

“Painting is poetry that is seen rather than felt, and poetry is painting that is felt rather than seen.”
–Leonardo da Vinci

There’s nothing surprising in the observation that literary artists and visual artists often combine their talents to create works which, when joined together, allow each to transcend possible limitations of the other. The literary artist lends verbal depth to the visual. The visual artist provides visible articulation for the literary.

The goal of each has generally been the same: to fashion out of the raw material of creativity a symbol-or an image-capable of communicating some significant experience of truth, beauty, life, or death, to the observer. And there have been in fact any number of successful partnerships between such creatively charged intellects. Artist Romare Bearden and playwright Ntozake Shange’s I Live in Music comes to mind; as does various works by Salvador Dali and Federico Garcia Lorca; the visual style of Aaron Douglas and the literary voices of the Harlem Renaissance; the French poet and critic Apollinaire Guillaume, whose literary loyalty empowered the bohemians of Picasso’s early days; and more recently, poet Coleman Barks’ interpretations of Jalal Al-Din Rumi “illuminated” by Michael Green.

I meditate upon these creative artists’ subtle yet titanic achievements at this time for two reasons: one is because the ear-drum shattering booms of war and the soul-numbing cracklings of human discontent that continue to echo across planet Earth remind us of how painted and verbalized visions help people retain a sense of context and harmony in an era that too often seems to make such notions-like black and white TVs– utterly obsolete. The second reason is because May 29, 2010, marks the second anniversary of the publication celebration for the art and poetry gift book, ELEMENTAL, The Power of Illuminated Love, held at the Jepson Center for the Arts in Savannah, Georgia. A third less official reason is because recently ELEMENTAL was added to the Google Book search engine, which means those unfamiliar with it may now enjoy an extended preview .

Considering the legacies of visual art in partnership with literary art, in general, reinforces the powerful resources they still provide. Contemplating the anniversary of ELEMENTAL in particular renews appreciation for the extraordinary milestone it continues to represent.

Until the advent of the modern self-publishing and “author services” industry, getting any book published by an author who had yet to establish him- or herself as a viable commodity within the literary marketplace was much like running, at first one decade-long marathon to build up enough courage to call oneself an author, and then a second to convince a bona fide publishing house that you were not delusional by making such a claim.  This meant books of poetry published outside the academic arena were considered foolishly frivolous investments, and books of art extravagant pleasures afforded the few but not the many. Yet at how many graduation ceremonies, political functions, funerals, weddings, conventions, and other life-defining events are the words of poets evoked to clarify the spirit and substance of the occasion at hand? On how many rainy days and in how many hours of stifled desperation has an individual made her way into a museum or gallery and took healing refuge in an image that bore witness to their heart’s challenging journey?


“A Widow Remembers” by Luther E. Vann
(from ELEMENTAL, The Power of Illuminated Love)

There is much that could be said about ELEMENTAL as an extraordinary gift of manifested vision in the lives and works of two creative artists. We can note the still amazing fact of how I first came across Luther E. Vann’s work on exhibit at the Beach Institute on May 30, 1991, and found myself transcribing his painted worlds into notes for poems and essays long before considering the possibility they might one day serve as the foundation for a book.  Or we may consider how the journey started on that day took another 17 years–almost to the day!– before arriving at the destination of publication. From the writer-poet’s perspective, I remain humbled by the history accumulated along the way and which in times of doubt helped renew motivation and creative energy.  That the poems eventually included in ELEMENTAL contained value far beyond  kudos for an individual author was made evident when audiences at coffee house open mics expressed their enthusiasm and readers of those poems published in ESSENCE Magazine did so as well.

The greatest testimony, however, came when the story of the struggle to publish ELEMENTAL reached members of the Telfair Museum Friends of African-American Art and they in turn shared it with the city of Savannah. Members of the community (SEE “Thank You Gracious Contributors” page in Google book preview) then chose to have their say by contributing funds to raise the monies necessary to get the book published. They succeeded in a spectacular way that remains profoundly inspiring.

Whereas the great historian and humanitarian W.E.B. Du Bois once observed that “the cause of war is preparation for war,” the actions of those who made ELEMENTAL possible led me to consider that the cause of beauty and grace in the world is humanity’s empowerment of beauty and grace in the world.  While it is unlikely that poetry or art shall eliminate the reality of war in the twenty-first century, it is thrilling to know there remain individuals, and even entire communities, still willing to invest in art and poetry’s own uniquely explosive contributions to the great, and small, dramas of human history.

by Aberjhani

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