Archive for February 4th, 2022

Gordon Parks Father Daughter St. Louis 1950

Gordon Parks- Father /Daughter, St. Louis, 1950

One of my favorite parts of writing this blog is the stream of consciousness part of it where I encounter something new. That part where I begin to research and one thing leads to another and another, wild tangent  to wild tangent. The result is that I end up learning of someone of whom I was previously unaware or some new concept or fact.

It often starts innocently. For example, this morning I stumbled across a short video from last night’s The Late Show with Stephen Colbert where the singer Dua Lipa turned the tables and asked Colbert about whether his comedy and his faith ever intersected. His answer was thoughtful and complete. I urge you to watch the clip at the bottom.

But in it, he invoked lines from the late poet Robert Hayden , from his 1970 book of poetry titled Words in the Mourning Time, that were very powerful and to the moment:

We must not be frightened nor cajoled
into accepting evil as deliverance from evil.
We must go on struggling to be human,
though monsters of abstraction
police and threaten us.

Words powerful enough that I immediately began looking up Hayden. I was a little embarrassed and ashamed that I didn’t know the name. His credits and the poems that I read were staggeringly impressive.

Hayden was an African-American born in Detroit in 1913 and died in 1980. He was the first African-American to hold the post Consultant in Poetry to the Library of Congress, which is now known as Poet Laureate.

Inspired by the poetry of W.H. Auden  and Stephen Vincent Benet, Hayden’s work often outlined the experience of the African-American throughout our history. But even so, Hayden rejected the idea of being called a black poet, referring to simply be recognized as a poet. This small distinction put him somewhat out of favor during the 1960’s with the black community though in essence his desire to be recognized without reference to his race represented one of the desired goals of the civil rights movement.

In fact, the whole of the verse from which Colbert quoted made just that point:

We must not be frightened nor cajoled
into accepting evil as deliverance from evil.
We must go on struggling to be human,
though monsters of abstraction
police and threaten us.

Reclaim now, now renew the vision of
a human world where godliness
is possible and man
is neither gook nigger honkey wop nor kike

but man

permitted to be man.

I am including a couple of his other poems below. One is Those Winter Sundays which movingly speaks of the simple duties of love carried out by parents that are often overlooked by their children. Powerful. The other is Frederick Douglass.

As I read this poem, I wondered as I have many time before how nobody had yet made a big biographical film about the life of Douglass, who I consider one of the most fascinating, impressive, and influential characters in our history. This led me to looking this up and it turns out that the production company formed by Barack and Michelle Obama have one currently in production based on the Pulitzer Prize winning biography, Frederick Douglass: Prophet of Freedom, from historian David Blight. Hope it brings his power and eloquence to the attention of a wider swath of Americans.

Glad I watched the video below and found out more about Robert Hayden. I feel a bit more complete now. And that’s always a good thing.

Those Winter Sundays

Sundays too my father got up early
and put his clothes on in the blueblack cold,
then with cracked hands that ached
from labor in the weekday weather made
banked fires blaze. No one ever thanked him.

I’d wake and hear the cold splintering, breaking.
When the rooms were warm, he’d call,
and slowly I would rise and dress,
fearing the chronic angers of that house,

Speaking indifferently to him,
who had driven out the cold
and polished my good shoes as well.
What did I know, what did I know
of love’s austere and lonely offices?

Frederick Douglass

When it is finally ours, this freedom, this liberty, this beautiful
and terrible thing, needful to man as air,
usable as earth; when it belongs at last to all,
when it is truly instinct, brain matter, diastole, systole,
reflex action; when it is finally won; when it is more
than the gaudy mumbo jumbo of politicians:
this man, this Douglass, this former slave, this Negro
beaten to his knees, exiled, visioning a world
where none is lonely, none hunted, alien,
this man, superb in love and logic, this man
shall be remembered. Oh, not with statues’ rhetoric,
not with legends and poems and wreaths of bronze alone,
but with the lives grown out of his life, the lives
fleshing his dream of the beautiful, needful thing.

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