Monday, June 5, 2017

Happy Birthday, Gwendolyn Brooks!


We celebrate the birthday, June 7th,  of one of our most distinguished poets, Gwendolyn Brooks. She would have been 100 years young. Born in Topeka, KS, she grew up in Chicago and published her first poem at 13. Brooks was the winner of the 1950 Pulitzer Prize for her collection Annie Allen, the first African American to win that award. Throughout her career she received many more honors, such as being named Poet Laureate to the Library of Congress in 1985, having her image on a US postage stamp, and being presented with the 1995 National Medal of Arts. Her characters were often drawn from the inner city life that Brooks knew well. She once said, "I lived in a small second-floor apartment at the corner, and I could look first on one side and then the other. There was my material.” So let’s celebrate the woman who wrote: "I am interested in telling my particular truth as I have seen it." 



Primer for Blacks
by Gwendolyn Brooks

Blackness 
The Emancipation Approximation
 (Scene #18)
, Kara Walker,
 1999-2000.
is a title, 
is a preoccupation, 
is a commitment Blacks 
are to comprehend— 
and in which you are 
to perceive your Glory. 

The conscious shout 
of all that is white is 
“It’s Great to be white.” 
The conscious shout 
of the slack in Black is 
"It's Great to be white." 
Thus all that is white 
has white strength and yours. 

The word Black 
has geographic power, 
pulls everybody in: 
Blacks here— 
Blacks there— 
Blacks wherever they may be. 
And remember, you Blacks, what they told you— 
remember your Education: 
“one Drop—one Drop 
maketh a brand new Black.” 
         Oh mighty Drop. 
______And because they have given us kindly 
so many more of our people 

Blackness 
stretches over the land. 
Blackness— 
the Black of it, 
the rust-red of it, 
the milk and cream of it, 
the tan and yellow-tan of it, 
the deep-brown middle-brown high-brown of it, 
the “olive” and ochre of it— 
Blackness 
marches on. 

The huge, the pungent object of our prime out-ride 
is to Comprehend, 
to salute and to Love the fact that we are Black, 
which is our “ultimate Reality,” 
which is the lone ground 
from which our meaningful metamorphosis, 
from which our prosperous staccato, 
group or individual, can rise. 

Self-shriveled Blacks. 
Begin with gaunt and marvelous concession: 
YOU are our costume and our fundamental bone. 
       
      All of you— 
      you COLORED ones, 
      you NEGRO ones, 
those of you who proudly cry 
      “I’m half INDian”— 
      those of you who proudly screech 
      “I’VE got the blood of George WASHington in MY veins” 
      ALL of you— 
            you proper Blacks, 
      you half-Blacks, 
      you wish-I-weren’t Blacks, 
      Niggeroes and Niggerenes. 

      You.


Hear Gwendolyn Brooks read "We Real Cool."

Ajitto, Robert Maplethorppe, 1981    
The Whips That Striped the Backs of Slaves
by Levi Mericle

The whips that striped the backs of slaves so millionaire masas could feel fulfilled.

How dare we?

The policemen’s club and pepper spray that mocked the actions of the Civil Rights Act 
by making a mockery of flesh and blood.

How dare we?

I want you to take a knife and run it across the palm of your hand 
and tell me that the black person sitting next to you bleeds differently.

How dare we?

This isn’t about just listening to the police
but it’s about the police being justified beyond what justifies a race.

It’s as if our gun is pointed to the preference of skin color
more than a preface of a crime.

How dare we?

Time places a border between our differences, I know.
You may try to make yourself think and believe that we are much improved

And yes that’s true.

But until you can look at the black man your daughter’s about to marry
without your stomach churning,
you have no right telling me black lives matter.

Until you’ll let your young white son date a little black girl in middle school
don’t you dare tell me we are different.

It has nothing to do with time,
it has nothing to do with “LIVES MATTER”
it has to do with you removing the bigoted sunglasses you’ve been wearing.

Because when I walk outside I see a bright blue sky
and a pitch black night,

I see a rainbow when it rains
And people living and breathing in our world.

Because black lives matter.

So can you just lower your weapon of hostility and recreate your heart to listen with your eyes.

And don’t scrutinize.

Until you can erase all the past from your mind
and see the lives right here,
right now as equals,

don’t tell me we are different.

Levi J. Mericle is a poet/spoken-word artist, lyricist, and fiction writer from Tucumcari, NM. His work has appeared in many anthologies and literary magazines and journals, such as Black Heart Magazine, Apricity Magazine, Mused, Flash Fiction Magazine, eFiction India, Awakenings Review, and the University of Madrid’s literary journal. He is an advocate for human rights and for the anti-bullying movement.  

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