Monday, February 25, 2008

And, In Closing...

To finish out with the theme of Black History Month, I leave you with another piece from my poetic archives, also inspired by another writer who I consider to be a spiritual and literary mentor and whose ability to speak the truth in love is something I've tried to emulate and continue to aspire to--James Baldwin. He was Harlem's(and therefore, America's) native son. The author of several novels, including "Go Tell It On The Mountain" and "Giovanni's Room";a number of essays including "The Fire Next Time"; as well as plays, screenplays and poems, he was a much needed voice during the height of the civil rights movement, someone not afraid to show this country who it was and still proclaim love for it, in spite of itself. As always, I implore you to check this writer out for yourself and be inspired as I continue to be. In the meantime, enjoy the following poem and let me know what you think by leaving your comments, thoughts, etc. 'Nuff said!

(for James Baldwin)

His flesh became word
And was spoken among us,
Though we esteemed him not--
With nappy head
And frog eyes;
Not exactly an appearance
That would easily attract someone.
But he spoke with the tongue
of a fierce angel
and his pen was a mighty, two-edged
He preached the truth,
in love, of course,
for how else could he have done it?
But heard him, we did not,
like so many of our prophets before him.

He came from among us,
yet he was not quite like us,
with a soul that epitomized
the dichotomy, the paradox,
the bittersweet wrestle
within us all--
black and white,
angel and devil,
male and female,
saint and sinner,
slave and free.

But like Martin and Malcolm,
his younger brothers
and fellow warriors before him,
he is now free at last,
his soul having found a resting place--
his sword beaten into a plowshare,
he wrestles no more.

© Joseph Powell

Thursday, February 21, 2008

The Quintessential Poet

In continuing the theme of Black History Month, I submit the following poem,"A Hymn For Sister Maya". Like the poem from last week's entry, it too was written roughly fifteen years ago(I hope my best poems are not from fifteen years ago!). It is, what I think, a loving homage to a person who, I feel, is the quintessential poet and the inspiration for why I am a poet and what I aspire to do with my writing--Maya Angelou. If you've never read her work or heard her speak, you are sorely missing out on one of the great treasures of this world. For those not familiar(and you've probably been living under a rock, if that's the case), I would suggest reading "I Know Why The Caged Bird Sings", the first in a series of autobiographies she's written about her amazing life. Or get a collection of her poems(preferably in audio if possible, though her voice speaks loud and clear from the page as well). At any rate, I hope the following poem serves the purpose that I intended and that is, to convey the wonder and beauty of this "phenomenal woman"--"the epitome of eloquence" and "the embodiment of elegance"--and that it will inspire you to seek her out. "Nuff said!

A Hymn For Sister Maya

The epitome of eloquence,
The embodiment of elegance;
Mother Africa descended
In all her glorious splendor.
Her voice,
Once silent long ago,
Now springs forth
Like the thunder
Of a thousand rainstorms
And just as nourishing;
Like the still small voice
Of a gentle angel,
Bearing glad tidings
Of great joy.
Her beauty
Knows no equal;
Her words
Are like fine silk,
Smooth to the touch,
Pleasing to the skin;

A double-edged sword
Piercing bone and marrow,
For she can't help
But bring forth truth,
The truth.
It is her gift to us--
Her calling,
Her life's blood,
Her duty
As one raised up from the wilderness,
Not as a reed swayed by the wind,
But a prophetess of the highest order.

She is
That heaven we find in a wildflower,
Our mirror to nature;
But not only that.
She is
The storefront preacher;
The street rapper;
The social worker;
That favorite teacher.
She is
Mother, daughter;
Sister, lover;
Our fielder of dreams
And conveyer of nightmares.

She is
The cry of Rachel
Weeping for her children
And refusing to be comforted.
She is
The song of the virgin Mary
In praise to her God.
The world is brighter
Because she has shone her light
In our dark places.
Her candle
Will one day
Blow out,
But the flame
That she has ignited
Will burn on,
For that is
What flames do.

© Joseph Powell

Monday, February 11, 2008

Resolved:To Be Seen And Heard(An Invisible Man Speaks Out)

The following poem is one that I wrote, oh maybe, fifteen years ago or so, and one, I believe, is in keeping with the theme of black history. Not to mention, that some of what it speaks about and to is still relevant in these supposedly enlightened times. I performed an excerpt of it in the National Geographic/PBS documentary special, "Skin", which aired back in November 2002 and which is featured here as well. I hope that you may find something inspirational or thought-provoking or maybe even just a little bit of yourself in the piece. And if not, just keep your comments to yourself.(Just kidding!)

Resolved:To Be Seen and Heard
(An Invisible Man Speaks Out)

Hear me, America!
For I will not be silent.
I will not go gentle
Into that good night
Or anywhere else you wish me to go.
For I am here
And here I'll stay,
Until you acknowledge me
Or die trying.
For I am your darker brother
You'd rather keep in the closet;
The invisible man you choose not to see;
The millionth man wishing to be counted;
The rapper and the preacher,
Speaking the truth to you in love,
But by all means necessary.

I am the somebody standing next to you in an elevator,
As you clutch your purse tighter and hope that
I'm not getting off on the same floor as you.
I am God's child, sitting next to you in church,
And yet as far away from you as the east is from the west.

I am the one who got away
From the projects, drugs, gangs, and prisons;
Who works on Wall Street, Madison Ave, the Wilshire District,
and the Magnificent Mile;
But can't catch a cab or buy a home
or get a loan or date your daughter
or live next door to you.

I am Othello, the hero you love in public,
and the scourge you hate in private.
I am James Baldwin,
Malcolm X,
Martin Luther King,
Thurgood Marshall,
Langston Hughes,
W.E.B. DuBois,
And a host of others--
Still wondering, when are you going to wake up?
Wondering, when are you going to get it?

I am the ghost of decades past;
Of slavery and lynchings,
Of white sheets and burning crosses,
Of Jim Crow and "Move to the rear",
Of attack dogs and fire hoses,
Of "Wait!" and "Be patient!",
Of assassinations and wiretaps,
Of getting the mule without the 40 acres,
Of affirmative action and Indian-giving
(If you know what I mean!).

Am I bugging you?
Have I got under your skin?
Because you haven't gotten under mine yet,
Nor have you walked in my shoes.
For if you could, you'd see
That I am you and you are me;
The reflection of your hopes and fears,
Your thoughts and dreams;
The other side of the coin;
Truth staring you in the face;
Love waiting to be received;
The dream tired of being deferred;
The voice in the wilderness,
waiting to be answered.

Will you see me as I am,
Not as what pride and prejudice
Has blinded you to?
Will you hear me
Amidst the din and noise
Of fear and ignorance?
Hear me say,
In a still small voice,
"I love you!"........

I'm still waiting.

© Joseph Powell

Saturday, February 09, 2008

YES WE CAN - Music Video Barack Obama

This is an amazing video featuring and produced by will-i-am of the group, black eyed peas, inspired by and featuring excerpts from Barack Obama's speech after the New Hampshire primary. It also features some familiar faces you might recognize. Enjoy!

Beyond Baroque - Joseph Powell

This is a video of me reading my poems, "Def Poet" and "Riding the Coltrane", at the Beyond Baroque open mic, Venice, CA on April 1, 2007. Enjoy!

Monday, February 04, 2008

In Celebration Of Black History, Vol. 2

Just as I believe there should be a moratorium on the "I Have A Dream" speech being remembered as the only aspect of Martin Luther King, Jr., I believe that maybe the concept of Black History Month needs to be revisited and/or extended to remembrances and celebrations throughout the year, because the shortest month of the year is not fit to cover all the achievements that are worth honoring, let alone all the other months of the year, because those achievements are beyond numerous. But I may be alone in that assessment--who knows?

Be that as it may and until that happens, I hope to devote the next several entries this month to the celebration of Black History. First off, I would like to point you all to my entry of February 20, 2006. It sums up some thoughts that I had/have on the subject and after rereading them, they still hold up. Secondly, I would like to suggest(recommend?!) as a way to celebrate, going out and renting the movie, "Killer Of Sheep", by Charles Burnett. It's a film that was originally produced in 1977, but without any considerable distribution, until last year, where it received practically a second life after being released in select theaters across the country and as part of a special-edition dvd box set and was considered by several critics, including Time magazine, as one of the best films of the year. It currently is one of the films listed in the archives of the Library of Congress. It's one of the most realistic portrayals of a black family ever filmed--in a lot of ways, it reminded me of growing up on the south side of Chicago during that same period, even though it takes place in south Los Angeles. The film is like a montage of beautiful black and white photographs come to life and some of those images are very stunning, poetic and poignant. Talk about black history.

Thirdly, speaking again of black history, I think that on this eve of Super Tuesday, we are on the verge of making history, not just in terms of black, but possibly as a nation, by potentially electing a black man as president of this country. I submit to you that my support is for Barack Obama and for reasons that go beyond the fact that he is black, though I do honestly take that into account. For the first time in a long time, we have someone who inspires us as a country to move forward, to exemplify progress, and put a new face on this country's leadership that we have never seen in the history of this presidency. Not to mention the inspiration that this gives to scores of young children who will be able to see that anything is possible and that attaining one of the highest positions in the world is not a pipe dream. I finish this thought with a quote from the L.A. Times' recent endorsement of Obama--"In the language of metaphor, (Hillary)Clinton is an essay, solid and reasoned; Obama is a poem, lyric and filled with possibility".

Fourthly, and in closing, I will be posting one of several poems in each entry this month that celebrate some of my heroes, people who inspire me to dream and aspire to greater aspects of humanity and to make my own history. People like Maya Angelou, James Baldwin, and the subject of today's poem, which I wrote 8 years ago, Langston Hughes. I hope that this, along with the other poems to come, will inspire you as well, to make your own history, no matter who you are, for we are all in this together. 'Nuff said.

The Negro Speaks Of Langston Hughes

I've known the blues;
the eternal tom-tom of joy and laughter;
pain swallowed in a smile.

I know, because of Langston;
His words drunk deep into my soul,
like fine cherry wine;
words which flow down like waters
into the wellspring of my being;
flow like the blood that courses
through my veins.

I've known jazz;
the sound of the "A" train racing to Harlem;
the heartbreak of Lady Day;
the za-ba-doo-bop of Satchmo.

I've known blackness,
because of Langston,
of what happens to a dream deferred;
of cotton fields and the Mississippi;
of spirituals and folksongs;
of beauty and ugliness.

I know of poetry,
becuase of Langston;
for you can't be black and a poet,
and not give the man his due.

I know
when the Negro speaks of Langston,
He speaks of America;
of black folks
and white folks;
and even the brown, yellow,
and red folks;
when the Negro speaks of Langston,
He speaks of himself.

© 2000 Joseph Powell