NYU Black Renaissance Noire Winter 2014 - Page 49

Unsurprisingly, despite this dream, Horton was not emancipated until 1865, around the age of 67. There are many other parts of his story and legend that are remarkable, one of which is speculated to include his participation in a back to Africa movement which moved him to Liberia where some historians think he lived and died, but I will stick to writing about his poetry here. of captivity and emancipation, war (the Civil War and the Vietnam War), poetry, dreaming, love. And though we’re talking about a very different kind of freedom, a very different context, perhaps the intellectual and thematic and musical concerns of Komunyakaa’s work are similar to Horton’s. “George Moses Horton, Myself ” reads: In The Black Bard of North Carolina, Horton is described as “the first American slave to protest his bondage in written verse; the first African American to publish a book in the South… and the only person known to publish two volumes of poetry while in bondage and another shortly after emancipation.” I feel myself in need Of the inspiring strains of ancient lore, My heart to lift, my empty mind to feed, And all the world explore. I begin here because, in his Helen Edison lecture, Yusef Komunyakaa reads this poet’s “George Moses Horton, Myself ” and talks, through silence and speech, about how Horton’s writing “had to do with the fact that he had this wish to buy himself, to buy his freedom.” The seriousness and awe with which Komunyakaa responds to the work of Horton provides us with a glimpse into the world of what moves Komunyakaa. Arguably, Komunyakaa’s response to Horton helps us to better read and understand Komunyakaa’s considerations of language and possibility and, more specifically, a poetics with deep regard for liberation, emancipation, transcendence. And, not only this, but a poetics that moves towards these states. Consider what these men share, each of them shaped by The South, its lands and waters and laws, a history I feel resolved to try, My wish to prove, my calling to pursue, Or mount up from the earth into the sky, To show what heaven can do. I know that I am old And never can recover what is past, But for the future may some light unfold And soar from ages blast. My genius from a boy, Has fluttered like a bird within my heart; But could not thus confined her powers employ, Impatient to depart. 47 BLACK RENAISSANCE NOIRE She like a restless bird, Would spread her wing, her power to be unfurl’d, And let her songs be loudly heard, And dart from world to world.