NYU Black Renaissance Noire NYU Black Renaissance Noire Vol 17.2: Fall 2017 - Page 82

40 In the Fifties, Amiri Baraka (aka LeRoi Jones) infiltrated the hep scene of the Beat Generation poets and made it hip, constructing poems in a Bebop lexicon that were uncompromisingly driven by Jazz. As the Beat poets soon discovered, one had to be dlamf (DownLikeAMuthafuka) to rhythmically voice a poem like Baraka. In his later years — the Nineties till his final breath — Baraka’s texts were syntaxial altered with signifying punctuations that disrupted standard lexiconic agreements — the placement word, at times, elusive and enigmatic — and the poems performed with animated physical gestures, as if he were a dlamf Charlie Parker gettin’ down on an alto-sax solo, as evinced in Wise I: WHYS (Nobody Knows The Trouble I Seen) Traditional If you ever find yourself, some where lost and surrounded by enemies who won’t let you speak in your own language who destroy your statues & instruments, who ban your omm bomm ba boom then you are in trouble deep trouble they ban your own boom ba boom you in deep deep trouble humph! probably take you several hundred years to get out! In the Seventies, Ntozake Shange came into prominence with the staging of her “choreopoem,” for colored girls who commit suicide/when the rainbow is enuf, an ensemble dance/text construction of her poems that revealed, in addition to a wrenching confrontation with female abuse, a syntax that continued Baraka’s assault on standard language, defying all the rules of conventional punctuation. Shange, who is constantly at war with her computer, because “spell-check” continually corrects the language of her character-voices to conform with standard English, refers to her pen as a “machete,” which she uses to “attack deform n maim the language that I was taught to hate myself/in the language that perpetuates the notions that cause pain to every black child as s/he learns to speak of the world.” As revealed in her most recently published essays staged as a choreoessay, lost in language and sound, the deconstruction of English was part of her journey through the minefields of suppressed language, misogyny, domestic violence, and emotional upheaval, until she found voice, emulating Ogun, by “channeling the dark torrent into the light of poetry and dance” in a language that was liberating, assuring her spiritual re-birth. The passage through creative cycles of Life and Death to discover Form and Transformation is not uncommon to Derek and August on their journeys toward achieving immortality through their prodigious accomplishments, albeit through different lens; August viewing the specter of the Blues within his Pittsburgh Cycle — ten plays, one for each decade of the 20th century that unearths the mythic residue of the Hill District — to affirm and reconstruct the fragmentation of Black life that existed on the margins of American history. August reflects on his passage toward enlightenment in the Preface to his Three Plays (1991): Writing a play is for me like walking down the landscape of the self, unattended, unadorned, exploring what D.H. Lawrence called “the dark forest of the soul.” It is a place rife with shadows, a place of suspect quality and occasional dazzling brightness. What you encounter there are your demons, which you have occasionally fed, trying, as Hansel, to make your way back home. You find false trails, roads closed for repairs, impregnable fortresses, scouts, armies of memory, and impossible cartography. It is a place where the cartographers labor night and day remaking the maps. The road is sometimes welcoming and its wide passages offer endearment with each step only to narrow to a footpath that has led you, boatless, to the edge of a vast and encompassing ocean. Occasionally, if you are willing to negotiate the perils, you arrive strong, brighter of spirit, to a place that sprouts yams and bolls of cotton at your footfall.” Derek, on the other hand, fixed his sights on revivifying the language of his native land in the process of re-imaging an Odysseus-mode journey that resulted in his epic poem, Omeros, a freshly authenticated articulation — as opposed to mimicry — that alchemically transforms the familiar Homeric plot into a Caribbean point of view that elicits new illumination on the aspirations and realities of the islanders, prompting Hilton Als, writing in a 2004 issue of The New Yorker, to recognize the achievement as a “masterpiece” that is “the perfect marriage of Walcott’s classicism and his nativism.” Cloud-puffball, torn tufts, tossed pillows ‘ flaunt forth, then chevy on an air- built thoroughfare: heaven-roysterers, in gay-gangs ‘ they throng; they glitter in marches. Down roughcast, down dazzling whitewash, ‘ wherever an elm arches, Shivelights and shadowtackle in long ‘ lashes lace, lance, and pair. Delightfully the bright wind boisterous ‘ ropes, wrestles, beats earth bare Of yestertempest’s creases; in pool and rut peel parches Squandering ooze to squeezed ‘ dough, crust, dust; stanches, starches Squadroned masks and manmarks ‘ treadmire toil there Footfretted in it. Million-fuelèd, ‘ nature’s bonfire burns on. But quench her bonniest, dearest ‘ to her, her clearest-selvèd spark Man, how fast his firedint, ‘ his mark on mind, is gone! Both are in an unfathomable, all is in an enormous dark Drowned. O pity and indig ‘ nation! Manshape, that shone Sheer off, disseveral, a star, ‘ death blots black out; nor mark Is any of him at all so stark But vastness blurs and time ‘ beats level. Enough! the Resurrection, A heart’s-clarion! Away grief’s gasping, ‘ joyless days, dejection. Across my foundering deck shone A beacon, an eternal beam. ‘ Flesh fade, and mortal trash Fall to the residuary worm; ‘ world’s wildfire, leave but ash: In a flash, at a trumpet crash, I am all at once what Christ is, ‘ since he was what I am, and This Jack, joke, poor potsherd, ‘ patch, matchwood, immortal diamond, Is immortal diamond. The “bright wind boisterous ropes, wrestles, beats earth bare” in the great bed of the poem. The round vowels intend solace, roll us forward, and draw us in, intimately close; the strange rhythms and hard consonants change the involuntary pace of our breathing and create an excitement in their treason of everyday speech. If this dic- tion were not so precise, the lines might feel unruly. Although forged in the wildfire of this poet’s bewitching double-fisted music, the words actually begin to imply an ease, an accumulative reciprocity — like kissing. The physiology of the phrases represents his metaphysical love of God. Language, body, spirit and the beloved, all become one within a single revelatory moment of knowing. In poetry we want to “know” our partners — our lifelong partner, resonance. What Hopkins illuminates and illustrates is the sacred-inseparable, not unlike Rilke’s “necessary inseparable, definitive utterance” of the self that causes us to feel we belong to the other, which makes us feel we are whole. Naturally, fresh language combinations and Eros-propelled sound serve to enhance the metaphorical argument in a poem; they create new intimate reverence, assist in denouement, and, with musical conviction, make the metaphor “belong.” Like sex, the sensuous coupling of words and the use of metaphor are primitive and privileged ways of being in the world. Sartre claimed the imagination was a privileged state of consciousness. I say it begins in a privileged state of unconsciousness where the erotic impulse sleeps and wakes, sleeps and wakes again. “Vibrantly incarnate” (h.d.), it woos and woos, then says a resounding “yes.” After this affirmation, everything seems possible. Wallace Stevens reminds us: “After the final no there comes a yes, and on that yes the future world depends.” Though poetry thrives in the erotic present tense yes-excitement of being alive, it also gives way to death. Psychology and philosophy alike won’t let us ignore the sex and death mirror, where, when we get very close, our visible breath is also the invisible ghost we leave behind. In the most intense moments of the sexual act, one “loses oneself,” nearly losing consciousness. Heather McHugh says, “acts of language too are acts of elegy” and like the love act “mean to mean some endlessness, and yet are throbbed through with ends, with a mortal metric.” Something suddenly courses through our blood the way the sun coaxes forth a plant from within the soil. For that plunge into fertile darkness, we flower like Roethke’s orchids, lean with his night-flowering, earth-fisted language, divided between death and the will to live moment to moment, to live in the fertile imagination. Here, like Theodore Roethke, “I’m awake all over.” Molly Bendall’s work always transposes sensuality with surprising elements of subject and linguistic invention. In her collection, Watchful, she allows “the sobbing / [to] take on a rhapsody” and the “big chrysanthemum flirt with death inside.” There’s a rhythmic course of action that coincides with provoking le petit mort, when thought and feeling work in concert. In “Spectacle” A breeze draws a furrow in his hair, and stringy meat gets licked away. Twilight’s pulse thrumming like so — bellowing near my own throat. “Thrumming like so” our creature selves vibrate, bellow, bear witness to the physiology in language as part of our relationship to the endangered animal world that is also our world. 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