Tuesday, January 29, 2008

The Other Side Of Satchmo

I just finished reading a great collection of writings and essays by someone whom I would have never associated with as being a writer, especially one as brutally honest as he was in the detailing of his life, his career, and his relationships. That person is Louis Armstrong, the famed jazz trumpeter and pioneer. We all know the gravelly voice, the perpetual smile he always wore, and his amazing way with a horn, but in "Louis Armstrong:In His Own Words", you get to see a side of the man that was rarely visible in my lifetime or awareness of him as a performer. And it made him that much more human and accessible. He shared a love of writing--he speaks of always carrying a typewriter with him everywhere he travelled, so that he was always typing in between sets and shows, whether it was his thoughts, an essay or two, a review, or responding to the scores of letters that he got from friends and fans alike. He spoke of his youth, growing up in New Orleans with his mother, May Ann, and his sister, "Mama Lucy", and his evolution as a musician; his appreciation of his mentor and "father figure", the great Joe "King" Oliver; his sojourn to Chicago, along with many other fellow musicians of his time; his marriages and relationships with women; his estimation of other musicians that he worked with and who came after him during the bebop era; and the love and adoration of his fans over the years that he so deeply appreciated. You also get to read his reactions to some of the negative feelings towards him as it pertained to his involvement in race relations in this country.

Like Charles Bukowski and James Baldwin, two writers who I strongly admired and strive to be like in terms of speaking the truth, he spoke plainly and honestly, sometimes bluntly so, about whatever was on his mind or was going on in his life at the time, over the course of his 71 years. Like Martin Luther King, Jr., he was more than the images we are used to seeing. A flesh-and-blood human being--flawed and contradictory, yet talented and profound in ways innumerable to mention. His life would definitely make for a great film, which with the plethora of biopics that are prevalent these days, should be strongly considered. He represented and represents everything I love about jazz and black history and what it means to be a man, a black man, a human. If you are a fan of jazz or even a fan of Louis Armstrong; if you love a good autobiography or series of essays; or if you just want to be inspired by a good life well-lived, I would strongly recommend finding a copy of "Louis Armstrong: In His Own Words", at a local library or bookstore. As he would have said, I am red beans and ricely yours. 'Nuff said.

Monday, January 21, 2008

Celebrating MLK

I think there needs to be a moratorium on the "I Have A Dream" speech as a remembrance to Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. As if this one speech defines this man. As if this is the only speech he ever gave in his life. He was much more than this one speech and he certainly wasn't killed because he had a dream of racial equality. We need to overcome, as a nation, our short-term memory of the man, who fought, not just against racism and prejudice, but against poverty, the Vietnam War, and other injustices. A Baptist preacher, a husband, father, son, friend, activist, most likely a real down-to-earth brother who felt just as comfortable talking to people in barbershops and street corners, as he was talking to heads of states in oval offices and boardrooms. In other words, a human being of flesh and blood, who was a voice of the common man, as much as he was an international leader.

In trying to come up with things to write about for this blog, I came across the following article this morning, which much more eloquently says all that I'm trying to and wanted to say in this post. And I hope those of you who read it will come to feel the same way. If we truly want to honor Martin Luther King, Jr., let's remember him beyond the 2-minute soundbites of "I Have a Dream"; let's remember him as he wanted to be remembered--as a "drum major for justice". Justice in all of its forms. 'Nuff said!


Thursday, January 10, 2008

It's Nice To Have A Family

Today is the fourth anniversary of the relationship that I have with the woman who is now my wife. We were recently married three months ago in a family commitment ceremony that included her teenage daughter. It was a very personal event, attended to and by many friends and family members, which made it very special, very spiritual, and very emotional. Nothing in life ever comes easy and this was a case in point, in that it almost never happened, due to unforeseen circumstances, including being ripped off by the “owner” of a desert resort we had planned to use for the event. But , as they say, God works in mysterious ways, and gave us a day that will not soon be forgotten and blessed us with people who made it a day worth celebrating.

It’s good to be a part of a family—to be needed and relied upon, and to have people who can be relied upon as well. Especially after coming through a situation where I was no longer needed and made to feel that I was worthless. But in a followup to what I said in my poem, “Mofo’ Risin’”, featured in the May 16, 2006 entry of this blog, I have found a woman who thinks that I am much of a man and can be much of a husband; and not only that, but I have also found a child growing into a young woman, who sees me as a father, even more so than her biological one. All of which, needless to say, came unexpectedly. But isn’t that what a blessing is? An unexpected gift. Well, in that case, I have been doubly blessed and continue to be so and hopefully will for a long time to come.

Below are poems written specifically for the aforementioned ceremony. The first, “Blessed Union Of Souls”, is a poem I read during the ceremony. “Family Snapshots” are poems that were read by the bridesmaids during the reception, as a surprise to my wife. There were actually six poems, the sixth being the poem, “Face”, featured in the Dec. 1st, 2005 entry, “A Portrait In Words”. As with all my poetry, I hope, the words speak for themselves and hopefully convey what I intended them to, which is my heart. And as always, I thank you for your time. ‘Nuff said!

Blessed Union Of Souls

Dearly beloved,
We are gathered today
To celebrate
This blessed union of souls;
This blessed union
Of a man
To a woman and child;
Of a husband to a wife,
Of a daughter to a want-to-be,

Witness, if you please,
The pledges of love here today;
A thing of beauty
That will be a joy forever.
Acknowledge, if you will,
This blessed trinity,
This family;
Assure and affirm them, with
Your loyalty and devotion
As they commit to each other
Their loyalty and devotion;
Assure them of your presence
In their lives--
That they will be upheld
By strong arms of love and support;
That the ties that bind
Will never be severed.

Affirm them in their uniqueness,
Their beautiful blend,
Their wonderful eclectic mixture
Of color and spirit,
Of love and peace;
Again, I say, a thing of beauty.

Behold, Toni, Joseph, and Santi,
These three,
These precious three
As they become one,
As they become a symbol
Of what God can do.

So elevate,
This blessed union of souls,
This trinity of love and devotion,
This family.

© 2007 Joseph Powell

Family Snapshots

Snapshot #1

I've traded in my tears of solitude
for the love of a good woman
and a child who chooses
to call me father---
I am doubly blessed,
though I never expected it
and never knew how to look for it;
yet I receive them
as I would a precious gift,
beautifully wrapped,
presented in love,
not to own, so much,
but to cherish
and enjoy in their splendor.

Snapshot #2

She calls me husband
And I will do my damnedest
to aspire to be that;
And going in,
I know I will fail
and fail many times,
for I am not perfect;
but it is not perfection
I seek,
at least,
not in her eyes;
what I seek,
is to be
what she calls me---

Snapshot #3

I will call her wife
And I will do my damnedest
to help her to be that---
not on a pedestal,
not walking behind me,
but partner,
at my side,
for life.

I will seek
to allow her beauty
to shine,
as the precious ruby
that I have found;

I will make room
for her voice
to be heard,
for her voice
will not be contained.

I will call her wife---
partner at my side,
partner of my life,

I will call her wife.

Snapshot #4

Her name is Santi,
which means peace--
And peace is what
she brings to me;
but I will choose
to call her
for that is what
she is to me;
though she is not
of my blood,
though I was not
at her birth,
and I did not
watch her grow,
as one would watch
seeds and buds
grow into flowers;
I will still
call her
and be present
as that flower
continues to burst
into bloom,
bringing peace
to others.

Snapshot #5

This family you celebrate
here tonight,
is just one verse
of a larger poem
that continues
to be written;
you friends,
are other verses,
that when added,
will make that poem sing.

So ask yourself,
what verse
will you contribute?
What is the poem
that you want this family
to be?

And then,
and write it!

© 2007 Joseph Powell

Thursday, January 03, 2008

2008--A Challenge

2008. A brand new year. Full of new possibilities, new challenges, new highs and new lows. There will be births, there will be deaths. Marriages( I know of at least three weddings that I will be attending this year alone) and divorces(hopefully no one that I know). Everyone is/has been making resolutions this year, as they do every year. Mine is simple and one that I have every year—that I devote myself to writing. Of course, I hope to become a better husband, a better stepfather, son, brother, employee, etc. But being a writer is what I’ve always wanted to be and something that I want to make happen, now more than ever. I am hoping to teach myself how to write a script; hoping to write a novel and not a few short stories; and maybe a song or two( I just received a guitar for Christmas and it only seems apropos that I lend myself to songwriting as well). Of course, there will probably be poems(my strong suit), but I do not want to limit myself this year.

That was/is the reason I started this blog, as one of many avenues to challenge myself to write. It has not, unfortunately, been successful, and that’s something I’m hoping to rectify in this new year. To that end, I am challenging myself to submit to this blog weekly, whether it be a poem, random thoughts on my life and its mundanities(is that a word? Hey, maybe I’ll even create some new ones!), and events of the day(hey, it is an election year!). The length of each entry will most likely vary—sometimes a page, sometimes maybe just a line or two, but I will seek to make it happen, as if my life depended on it. And if there’s anyone out there who chooses to read this and stay with me on this, I welcome your encouragement, comments, and/or criticisms.

In closing, I leave with a quote that is one of many sparks to this newfound hope mentioned in this blog and hope that you too may find inspiration in it as well.

“Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light, not our darkness, that frightens us most. We ask ourselves, 'Who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented, and famous?' Actually, who are you not to be? You are a child of God. Your playing small does not serve the world. There is nothing enlightened about shrinking so that people won't feel insecure around you. We were born to make manifest the glory of God that is within us. It's not just in some of us; it's in all of us. And when we let our own light shine, we unconsciously give other people permission to do the same. As we are liberated from our own fear, our presence automatically liberates others.”

Used by Nelson Mandela in his 1994 inaugural speech