Category Archives: Arts – Poetry

A Carolina Poet for Juneteenth: George Moses Horton

George Moses Horton: A Biographical Sketch & several poems; from local sources

George Moses Horton

George Moses Horton (1797-1893) could rightly be called North Carolina’s first professional poet.

George Moses Horton,

Born enslaved by  Chatham County yeoman farmer William Horton, young George Moses Horton loved the rhyming sounds of hymns, and yearned to be able to read. As teaching slaves to read was illegal, Horton secretly taught himself, hiding in fields on Sundays. He used an old speller, a copy of the Methodist hymnal, and stray pages from the Bible, although he was grown before he learned to write. Especially fascinated with poetry, he was soon composing psalm-meter verses in his head and committing them to memory.

Young Horton was often sent to Chapel Hill by his then-master, James Horton, to sell produce at the farmer’s market. There his unusually sophisticated vocabulary soon caught the attention of the university students, who encouraged his orations, and ultimately, the recitation of his own verse.

His reputation spread, and by the 1820s, he began to sell poems for students to send to their sweethearts, charging extra for including acrostics in them based on the young ladies’ names. Continue reading A Carolina Poet for Juneteenth: George Moses Horton

Cheer Up, Fer Pity Sake!

Reading this morning’s comments from my Facebook friends, you’d think the election was a landslide win for the other guy: so much gloom, doom, depression & lament.

To which I feel obliged to reply sternly:

Friends — GET A GRIP.

Sure, I didn’t get everything I wanted from the election results; not even close.

But there was one thing, one BIG goal that was reached — or is about to be.

What’s that? It’s summed up in a poster that was attached to a podium from which Obama preached us the word a week or so ago; and some other places before that.

It’s this:  Behind all the hoopla and hype, we’ve been in a dead-serious battle that goes way beyond politics. What  battle? (See below.)

“Keep your eyes on the prize, and hold on!”

I first saw such a motto in the office of Dr. King, in 1964 when I signed up as a rookie civil rights worker. I was then secular-minded and anti-religious, but I soon figured out that Dr. King and his crew, with all their shortcomings, were dead-serious about it.

And before too long, I realized that they were also dead-right. There is such a thing as “the soul of the nation” (but don’t go all metaphysical and ask me to define it).  And that soul was and is poisoned and imperiled by racism (and poverty and war and other evils Dr. King preached about).

But they believed it could be saved, or redeemed. And they knew something else that took me a long time to get: that “saving” this soul wasn’t a one-and-done thing. America had been saved before, and would likely need to be saved again.

Like now, for instance.

Sam Cooke

I  wasn’t sure what they were talking about, though soon, in the unforgettable song:“A Change Is Gonna Come,” by Sam Cooke, I started  to get the beginning of a clue.  White readers, listen to it; and if you still don’t get it, listen again.

“Soul” music, brought it home with more potency than any philosophy book I’d tried to read in college. With that and the movement, I ended up a peacenik Quaker. (Your mileage may vary.)

Dr. King and the crew are almost all gone now. And their “battle,” while it won some big skirmishes, was far from a total success. In fact, we’ve just come through another big round of the struggle. And it isn’t over.

So when this motto reappeared last spring, I resonated to it at once: there was more than an election underway in the USA in 2020, and one candidate knew it. Despite not being a great orator, he closed in on the essence.

And speaking of closing in, that’s  what’s happening this morning. Like the headline says, the soul candidate is closing in. He could even cross the electoral college finish line today. (Or tomorrow.)

T: WHAT?!?!?! J: I said, “Time to go, Dude.”

Which also means, that the door is closing on the other guy, the Nemesis who has trashed so much, and corrupted so much.

Mr T, have you met my idol, Letitia James? Her middle initials are A. G. NY, and I hear she is A. eager to meet YOU, and B. she gives great lessons in gnashing of teeth.

Oh yeah, there will be plenty of desperate bombast and last-ditch bullsh*t before he’s escorted out of the oval office and off the grounds into 14th Street’s “outer darkness,” where much “much weeping and gnashing of teeth” awaits. I confess, that aftermath will be fun to watch.

But before that, when his rival crosses the finish line, maybe today, I don’t want to hear any more moaning and groaning. Take a break, and give yourself some credit.

For at least fifteen minutes.

In fact, if you can read the signs of the times with even a little insight, that will be a time to celebrate. Do something that pleases and nourishes you.

I know I’m going to.

Hmmm. Celebrate. How will I do it?

If I was a drinker, I’d get drunk.

If I was a doper, I’d get stoned.

If there wasn’t a pandemic, maybe I’d party.

But as I’m old and boring, not to mention sleep-deprived after the longest freekin Tuesday of my nearly 80 years, I’m more likely to take a nap.

But mind you, it will be a VICTORY nap. One from which I can expect to wake up and find that the Orange menace is still on the way out.

Or if I get really wild and crazy, I might even write a poem. A VICTORY poem.

In fact, I feel one coming on right now. So stand back, and stand by:

To 270: A Concise Ode on the Rescue of the Soul of the Nation

Battered,
tattered,
nearly shattered.

But it’s still here,
While the Superspreader’s
Scattered.

And THAT my friends
Is what really mattered.

 

Thank, you, thank you.

Have a great day.

 

A Passing Ode to Beat Poet Diane di Prima

Diane Di Prima was an anarchist feminist Beatnik poet, who died this past weekend at 86, in San Francisco.

I didn’t really follow her work or career. But I was an early long-distance fan of the Beats, and one of her poems, part of a series of “Revolutionary Letters,” caught my attention.  For my second book, Uncertain Resurrection, about the failure of Dr. King’s 1968 Poor Peoples Campaign,  I included it as an epigraph and opening lament. I can still feel its sting half a century later.

Here it is, along with an excerpt from her obituary in the Washington Post:

Revolutionary Letters #19

Diane DiPrima

if what you want is jobs
for everyone, you are still the enemy,
you have not thought thru, clearly
what it means

if what you want is housing,
industry
(G. E. on the Navaho
reservation)
a car for everyone, garage, refrigerator,
TV, more plumbing, scientific
freeways, you are still
the enemy, you have chosen
to sacrifice the planet for a few years of some
science fiction utopia, if what you want

still is, or can be, schools
where all our kids are pushed into one shape, are taught
it’s better to be “American” than black
or Indian, or Jap, or PR, where Dick
and Jane become and are the dream, do you
look like Dick’s father, don’t you think your kid
secretly wishes you did

if what you want
is clinics where the AMA
can feed you pills to keep you weak, or sterile,
shoot germs into your kids, while Merck & Co.
grows richer

if you want
free psychiatric help for everyone
so that the shrinks,
pimps for this decadence, can make
it flower for us, if you want

if you still want a piece
a small piece of suburbia, green lawn
laid down by the square foot
color TV, whose radiant energy
kills brain cells, whose subliminal ads
brainwash your children, have taken over
your dreams

degrees from universities which are nothing
more than slum landlords, festering sinks
of lies, so you too can go forth
and lie to others on some greeny campus

THEN YOU ARE STILL
THE ENEMY, you are selling
yourself short, remember
you can have what you ask for, ask for

everything Continue reading A Passing Ode to Beat Poet Diane di Prima

Breaking: Axe is Falling at Guilford (Updated)

LATER UPDATE: Wednesday afternoon (July 1) Guilford College posted a statement confirming our report of extensive job cuts. Here it is in full:

Guilford College President Jane K. Fernandes announced today that the College will reduce its personnel as part of cost-cutting measures following reduced revenues this summer.

“This is a hard step to take,” Jane says. “But the COVID-19 pandemic has exacerbated financial challenges for virtually all colleges and universities nationwide. We have to recognize and respond to these challenges.”

Personnel losses include 45 staff employees and 5 visiting faculty, approximately 15 percent of Guilford’s workforce. The College will continue to offer the degree programs that have attracted students from across the country for decades, along with the Guilford Edge, a reimagined educational experience focused on uncommon engagement in real-world learning.

“Our singular focus at this point is ensuring a great academic year for our students. And that begins with the safe and successful opening of campus next month. We look forward to welcoming our students, both new and returning, home to campus,” Jane says.

[End of statement. Our call to Guilford requesting details of the cuts was not returned.]

[UPDATE, Wednesday 9:45 AM-a source reports that as many as 40 names of Guilford staff are on the list of cuts.  More when we have it . . .]

Last week, Guilford College president Jane Fernandes announced  her resignation. The announcement said ,

“Over the past year and a half while dreaming about how I might create the next chapter of my career and life, I was considering stepping down, probably in 2022.

Fernandes, center.

Now with the increasing uncertainty of our altered reality that this pandemic is causing, Ithink it best to complete some of the hard decisions we need to make, assist the Board of Trustees with a transition, and allow another leader to envision and implement the structural adjustments in higher education that undoubtedly will follow this crisis.”

The “structural adjustments,” aka job cuts due to “our altered reality,” reportedly began on June 30, with email notices of job terminations. This is a developing story, and we do not yet have a confirmed list of how many job cuts have been made, but credible sources indicate they are underway.

While the specifics of the job cuts are not yet clear, in an earlier post, we cited this report from April 3, 2020, in the Greensboro News Record:

GREENSBORO — Its campus empty through the rest of the spring semester, Guilford College has furloughed 133 full-time and part-time staff employees for the next two months.
Slightly more than half of the college’s 250 non-faculty employees were notified Thursday (April 2) that they would have to take unpaid time off from work through at least June 1, President Jane Fernandes said in an interview Friday.

Furloughs were ordered in all campus areas except among professors, who are teaching classes remotely through May.

Send news leads on this developing story to our secure encrypted email address:
oldmustang (at) pm.me

 

Quaker Statues Have to Go? That’s What George Fox Said . . .

The work of bringing down Calhoun took all one night and most of the next day.

So– the City of Charleston South Carolina wasted no time. After the City Council voted unanimously on June 23, 2020 to take down its landmark monument to John C. Calhoun, a crew swung into action, starting at near midnight.

It was no small task to pluck the figure from its 100-foot pedestal. It took the workers until late the next day to bring  Calhoun floating back down to earth, and ship him off to a future of obscurity.

I was as pleased as anyone to see Calhoun disappear, at  least from that exalted place of honor; but I hope he lives on as a shameful memory, for a sadder-but-wiser nation that let him look down on all since 1896, as what one historian called “the Marx of the master class.” Continue reading Quaker Statues Have to Go? That’s What George Fox Said . . .

“The Quaker Widow”: A diverting poem for our moment?

The Quaker Widow,

By Bayard Taylor

THEE finds me in the garden, Hannah,—come in! ’T is kind of thee
To wait until the Friends were gone, who came to comfort me.
The still and quiet company a peace may give, indeed,
But blessed is the single heart that comes to us at need.

Come, sit thee down! Here is the bench where Benjamin would sit
On First-day afternoons in spring, and watch the swallows flit:
He loved to smell the sprouting box, and hear the pleasant bees
Go humming round the lilacs and through the apple-trees.

I think he loved the spring: not that he cared for flowers: most men
Think such things foolishness,—but we were first acquainted then,
One spring: the next he spoke his mind; the third I was his wife,
And in the spring (it happened so) our children entered life.

He was but seventy-five; I did not think to lay him yet
In Kennett graveyard, where at Monthly Meeting first we met.
The Father’s mercy shows in this: ’t is better I should be
Picked out to bear the heavy cross—alone in age—than he.

We ’ve lived together fifty years: it seems but one long day,
One quiet Sabbath of the heart, till he was called away;
And as we bring from Meeting-time a sweet contentment home,
So, Hannah, I have store of peace for all the days to come.

I mind (for I can tell thee now) how hard it was to know
If I had heard the spirit right, that told me I should go;

For father had a deep concern upon his mind that day,
But mother spoke for Benjamin,—she knew what best to say.

Then she was still: they sat awhile: at last she spoke again,
“The Lord incline thee to the right!” and “Thou shalt have him, Jane!”
My father said. I cried. Indeed, ’t was not the least of shocks,
For Benjamin was Hicksite, and father Orthodox.

I thought of this ten years ago, when daughter Ruth we lost:
Her husband’s of the world, and yet I could not see her crossed.
She wears, thee knows, the gayest gowns, she hears a hireling priest—
Ah, dear! the cross was ours: her life’s a happy one, at least.

Perhaps she ’ll wear a plainer dress when she ’s as old as I,—
Would thee believe it, Hannah? once I felt temptation nigh!
My wedding-gown was ashen silk, too simple for my taste;
I wanted lace around the neck, and a ribbon at the waist.

How strange it seemed to sit with him upon the women’s side!
I did not dare to lift my eyes: I felt more fear than pride,
Till, “in the presence of the Lord,” he said, and then there came
A holy strength upon my heart, and I could say the same.

I used to blush when he came near, but then I showed no sign;
With all the meeting looking on, I held his hand in mine.
It seemed my bashfulness was gone, now I was his for life:
Thee knows the feeling, Hannah,—thee too, hast been a wife.

As home we rode, I saw no fields look half so green as ours;
The woods were coming into leaf, the meadows full of flowers;
The neighbors met us in the lane, and every face was kind,—
’T is strange how lively everything comes back upon my mind.

I see, as plain as thee sits there, the wedding dinner spread:
At our own table we were guests, with father at the head;
And Dinah Passmore helped us both,—’t was she stood up with me,
And Abner Jones with Benjamin,—and now they ’re gone, all three!

It is not right to wish for death; the Lord disposes best.
His Spirit comes to quiet hearts, and fits them for His rest;
And that He halved our little flock was merciful, I see:
For Benjamin has two in heaven, and two are left with me.

Eusebius never cared to farm,—’t was not his call, in truth,
And I must rent the dear old place, and go to daughter Ruth.
Thee ’ll say her ways are not like mine,—young people now-a-days
Have fallen sadly off, I think, from all the good old ways.

But Ruth is still a Friend at heart; she keeps the simple tongue,
The cheerful, kindly nature we loved when she was young;
And it was brought upon my mind, remembering her, of late,
That we on dress and outward things perhaps lay too much weight.

I once heard Jesse Kersey say, a spirit clothed with grace,
And pure almost as angels are, may have a homely face.
And dress may be of less account: the Lord will look within:
The soul it is that testifies of righteousness or sin.

Thee must n’t be too hard on Ruth: she ’s anxious I should go,
And she will do her duty as a daughter should, I know.
’T is hard to change so late in life, but we must be resigned:
The Lord looks down contentedly upon a willing mind.

– Bayard Taylor

Hat-tip to Friend Mitchell Gould

Biographical sketch,
Adapted from Wikipedia

BayardTaylor. (January 11, 1825 – December 19, 1878) was an American poet, literary critic, translator, travel author, and diplomat.

Taylor was born in Kennett Square, southwest of Philadelphia, in Chester County, Pennsylvania. He was the fourth son, the first to survive to maturity, of the Quaker couple, Joseph and Rebecca (née Way) Taylor. His father was a wealthy farmer.

Bayard received his early instruction in an academy at West Chester, Pennsylvania, and later at nearby Unionville. At the age of seventeen, he was apprenticed to a printer in West Chester. The influential critic and editor Rufus Wilmot Griswold encouraged him to write poetry.

In 1849 Taylor married Mary Agnew, who died of tuberculosis the next year. That same year, Taylor won a popular competition sponsored by P. T. Barnum to write an ode for the “Swedish Nightingale”, singer Jenny Lind.

In October 1857, he married Maria Hansen, the daughter of the Danish/German astronomer Peter Hansen.

Taylor traveled widely and published many articles and books about his journeys. In 1862, he was appointed to the U.S. diplomatic service as secretary of legation at St. Petersburg, and acting minister to Russia for a time during 1862-3 . . . .

He published his first novel Hannah Thurston in 1863. The New York Times first praised him for “break[ing] new ground with such assured success”. A second much longer appreciation in the same newspaper was thoroughly negative, describing “one pointless, aimless situation leading to another of the same stamp, and so on in maddening succession”. It concluded: “The platitudes and puerilities which might otherwise only raise a smile, when confronted with such pompous pretensions, excite the contempt of every man who has in him the feeblest instincts of common honesty in literature.”
Nevertheless, the novel proved successful enough for his publisher to announce another novel from him the next year.

His late novel, Joseph and His Friend: A Story of Pennsylvania (1870), first serialized in the magazine The Atlantic, was described as a story of a young man in rural Pennsylvania and “the troubles which arise from the want of a broader education and higher culture”. It is believed to be based on the poets Fitz-Greene Halleck and Joseph Rodman Drake, and since the late 20th-century has been called America’s first gay novel.
[The novel is online, full text & free, here: https://tinyurl.com/s4tsylf]
During March 1878, the U.S. Senate confirmed his appointment as United States Minister to Prussia. Mark Twain, who traveled to Europe on the same ship, was envious of Taylor’s command of German. . . .

A few months after arriving in Berlin, Taylor died there on December 19, 1878. His body was returned to the U.S. and buried in Kennett Square, Pennsylvania, hard by the Meeting house of the Longwood Progressive Friends, both of which are near the renowned Longwood Gardens.

The Longwood PA Meetinghouse of the Pennsylvania Yearly Meeting of Progressive Friends, near Kennett Square, Bayard Taylor is buried nearby.

 

The New York Times published his obituary on its front page, referring to him as “a great traveler, both on land and paper”. Shortly after his death, Henry Wadsworth Longfellow wrote a memorial poem in Taylor’s memory . . . .
Taylor’s reputation as a poet has faded, but “The Quaker Widow” is one of a series of “Home ballads” generally regarded as among his most memorable verse.

Emily Dickinson: 190 Years Young; and Just as Mysterious

Born December 10, 1830

Her poems had no titles, editors gave them numbers. A few thoughts below on why some of them may echo and foreshadow our times.

305

The difference between Despair
And Fear – Is like the One
Between the instant of a Wreck
And when the Wreck has been –

The Mind is smooth – no Motion
Contented as the Eye
Upon the Forehead of a Bust –
That knows – it cannot see-

#1263

Tell all the truth but tell it slant —
Success in Circuit lies
Too bright for our infirm Delight
The Truth’s superb surprise
As Lightning to the Children eased
With explanation kind
The Truth must dazzle gradually
Or every man be blind —

Biographers note that Emily Dickinson, who died on May 15 in 1886, was most productive in the first half of the 1860s. Secluded within the family home in Amherst, Massachusetts (except when tending the flower garden), she turned out hundreds of poems, mostly short, striking, often astonishing — but unnoticed by the outside world; her fame came after her death, which was likely okay with her. Continue reading Emily Dickinson: 190 Years Young; and Just as Mysterious

Shooting the Dead: a Hitman Reviewer fills Leonard Cohen full of [Pencil] lead

Maybe William Logan has been waiting to unlimber his literary AR-15 on the corpus of Leonard Cohen for a long time. It sure seems like it; and now his moment has come:

“When a poet dies,” Logan writes in his New York Times review, “his publishers often hurry into print whatever scraps lie stuffed in his desk drawers or overflow his wastebasket. This is the book business at its darkest and most human, but many balance sheets have been balanced by a posthumous work or two.

Death is the moment when all eyes are upon the poet for the last time; beyond, for most harmless drudges, lies the abyss. Leonard Cohen, who died two years ago, wore many a fedora — poet, novelist, songwriter, a singer of sorts — but only the last trade, which he took up reluctantly, made him a star.

Cohen was never taken very seriously as a poet. He wasn’t much of a singer, either; but the gravelly renderings of his lyrics gradually attracted a mass audience that seemed more like a cult. . . .

Such songs now form the hoarse, moaning soundtrack to countless movies and television episodes. When a Cohen song rises from some awkward silence it’s a good bet the director has run out of ideas. The religiose sentimentality and painful growl, like a halibut with strep throat, have patched a lot of plot holes. He’ll give an emulsified version of everything the scriptwriter left unsaid.”

Continue reading Shooting the Dead: a Hitman Reviewer fills Leonard Cohen full of [Pencil] lead

Happy Birthday, Langston Hughes–Sing us a bit of your famous Blues!

It’s Langston Hughes’s birthday (Feb. 1, 1902- May 22, 1967). Known primarily as a poet, Hughes was a versatile writer: by his mid-twenties he had published challenging essays in national periodicals, and two books of poetry.

Here are two brief birthday tributes. The first is from his first novel, Not Without Laughter, published in 1930, when he was 28.

This passage evokes a domestic scene in a small Kansas city, modeled on Lawrence, where Hughes spent several boyhood years. Hughes was proud of his humble roots, and the creativity it wrung from hardship, like the largely homemade blues songs by the itinerant laborer Jimboy. Here he has returned after a long absence seeking work. In Hughes’s prose, we can hear the poetry woven through it.

Continue reading Happy Birthday, Langston Hughes–Sing us a bit of your famous Blues!

Some Quick Quaker Responses to the SOTU

To respond to the State of the Union address, we’ve invited two special Friendly commentators, who are joining us via our new astral projection uplink. 

First up is our old buddy, Walter Whitman, late of Camden, New Jersey, where he settled once they named a big bridge there after him. Whitman is known as the author of the best-selling pro-marijuana polemic of all time, Leaves of Grass.

Walt — if you don’t mind me calling you that — you’ve hovered over a lot of these talkfests. So tell us: what was your reaction to what you heard tonight? Continue reading Some Quick Quaker Responses to the SOTU