nikki giovanni

The Future of Black edited by Gary Jackson, Len Lawson and Cynthia Manick

afrofut
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By Charles Rammelkamp
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Though the term was coined in 1993 by Mark Dery, Afrofuturism is the quintessential Twenty-first Century aesthetic philosophy, exploring the African-American experience via comic book superheroes, speculative fiction, fantasy, magic realism and the like to embrace a vision.  Ytasha L. Womack author of Afrofuturism defines it as, “An intersection of imagination, technology, the future and liberation.” Subtitled Afrofuturism, Black Comics, and Superhero Poetry, this comprehensive anthology, The Future of Black, showcases some of the most eloquent  and emblematic examples of the genre, with more than five dozen poets included, not to mention the gorgeous illustrations throughout that accompany the poetry.
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The Future of Black is organized into ten separate thematic groups, beginning with Man of Steel, poems addressed to that original comic book superhero, Superman, and including such categories as Black Superheroes and Black Antiheroes, Black Pop Culture and Black History before moving on to more speculative categories such as Video Games & Fantasy, New Origins and New Faith Constructs.
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That the survey begins with Superman is at once obvious and brilliant, the starting point for all the superheroes and cosmic beings that follow, and no less a superhero poet than Lucille Clifton is the initial voice. Her four short poems undercut the notion of the ultimate efficacy of a “superhero/savior.”
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Clifton’s titles include “if i should,” “further note to clark,” “final note to clark” and “note passed to superman.” Riffs on this follow: “new note to clark kent” by Frank X Walker and additional Superman poems by teri elam, Ashley M. Jones and Cynthia Manick, one of the editors of this anthology.
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Clifton’s poems, first published in her 1992 collection, The Book of Light, before the term “Afrofuturism” had even been invented, set the tone of alienation and skepticism that follows. In “further note to clark” she writes:
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the question for you is
what have you ever traveled toward
more than your own safety?
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She expands on this in “final note to clark”:
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what did i expect? what
did i hope for? we are who we are,
two faithful readers,
not wonder woman and not superman
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Finally, in “note passed to superman”:
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you can trust me,
there is no planet stranger
than the one I’m from.
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The More Superheroes section that follows includes a poem by another anthology editor. Gary Jackson’s “Nightcrawler Buys a Woman a Drink” is in the voice of that Black superhero in the Marvel group (“You’re staring, jaw-dropped at my tail. And yes, / it’s a good twenty inches long and moves / like a serpent in heat. Touch it. I’m no devil, honey….”). A. Van Jordan (“The Flash Reverses Time”) and Keith S. Wilson (“Aubade on Bachelorhood and Never Becoming the Flash”) likewise riff on The Flash, one of the famous DC Comics heroes.
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Black Superheroes includes poems about DC’s Static (Steven Leyva’s “Ode to Static”), Marvel’s Storm (Tara Betts’ “Storm Writes to Black Panther”),  Marvel’s Blade (Amanda Johnston’s “Blade Speaks at Career Day” – Basically, I’m an exterminator and I love my job; Tim Seibles’ “Blade, the Daywalker,” “Blade, Historical” and “Blade, Unplugged”), and Marvel’s Luke Cage, aka, Power Man (Cynthia Manick’s “Praise for Luke Cage’s Skin and Starshine” and Gary Jackson’s “Luke Cage Tells It Like It Is”). Derrick Weston Brown’s hilarious “Bruuuuuh or When Brothers Debate Black Panther in a Safeway Parking Lot,” a found poem, relates a conversation about the Marvel Superhero and the football team formerly known as the Washington Redskins.
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In the dualistic universe of comic books, what is a superhero without a supervillain, right? The Black Antiheroes section kicks off with Sheree Reneé Thomas’ “Eartha Kitt Reflects on Cat Woman”:
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Some man always wanted to lay me down
but he never stayed to pick me up again
So I learned to make fear my friend
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Len Lawson’s “The Amanda Waller Suite” is composed of four “episodes” about the complex DC Comics political figure (aka, The Wall): “She Condoleezas her way / through the Pentagon / with the stealth of a panther.” Lawson is the third of the editors of The Future of Black. Cortney Lamar Charleston’s “Elegy for Killmonger with My Own Pain entering the Frame” takes on yet another Marvel supervillain, memorably played by Michael B. Jordan.
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While characters from the comic book world continue to appear in the poetry, the political implications seem to become more overt as we get into Black Pop Culture and beyond. Colin Kaepernick shows up, for instance, in a poem by Derrick Weston Brown, and Martin Luther King appears in Tara Betts’ poem to the Star Trek character, Lieutenant Nyota Uhura as well as in Qunicy Scott Jones’s “‘post-racial’ as Samuel L. Jackson.” Black History brings in Frederick Douglass, Toni Morrison, James Brown, the early anti-segregationist Octavius V. Catto, Emmett Till, LeBron James. Morian S. Webster’s “Harlem [3]” begins:
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The unfortunate news
for Langston Hughes
is that Harlem feels less like jazz
and more like the blues
This gentrified hood
being drained of its color
is like going home
and finding someone has replaced your mother
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It’s a small step from superheroes to religious mythology, and the New Faith Constructs section includes such titles as “Black Jesus” (Richard Garcia), “Creation Myth” (Bianca X), “As It Is in Heaven” (Craig Stevens), and in Black Women Narratives, “Goddess of Anger” (Teri Ellen Cross Davis), “Mitochondrial Eve” (Tim Fab-Eme), “La Diablesse” (Terese Mason Pierre).
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Les James’  “Why Black Women Write Horror Stories:  A not-quite-fictional survey of Black female horror writers in the US,” prefaced by a confession that she uses Afrofuturism to process trauma as a horror writer, explains:
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Black women write scary stories
because: US history should be told as a scary story
because: Slavery was a living nightmare
because: Generations of Black people survived mass
kidnapping, physical and psychological torture, rape and
murder, and systematic dehumanization
because: Look at where we find ourselves today
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Black women write scary stories
because: Black people still fear for their lives
because: White people are still afraid of their own shadows
because: Most folks refuse to actually look in the mirror
because: They want good and evil to be black and white
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Terrance Hayes, Nikki Giovanni, former U.S. Poet Laureate Tracy K. Smith, and Gil Scott-Herron are other notable poets whose work appears in this all-inclusive anthology.
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While I’ve mentioned the breathtaking full-color illustrations that accompany the poems in this book, they really do merit a spotlight of their own.  John Jennings, Yorli Huff, Wolly McNair, Najee Dorsey, Karo Duro, Cagen Luse, Kevin Johnson and others are the artists of the over two dozen sexy, supernatural, at times downright scary graphic images that complete this astounding collection.
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The Future of Black is a truly impressive anthology that amplifies the idea of Afrofuturism and indeed the Black experience in America.
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Charles Rammelkamp is Prose Editor for Brick House Books in Baltimore and Reviews Editor for The Adirondack Review. His most recent releases are Sparring Partners from Mooonstone Press, Ugler Lee from Kelsay Books and Catastroika from Apprentice House.
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The Language of Trees in Violent Times: Thoughts on the Aesthetics of Nikki Giovanni and Paul Celan By Michael T. Young

nikki-giovanni

Paul Celan, 1967

 
By Michael T. Young
I recently read the poetry of Nikki Giovanni and that of Paul Celan back to back. The transition from one to the other was jarring. There couldn’t be two aesthetics so different from each other. This contrast set me to thinking about what characterizes them, what vision they each embody and where they diverge and converge. 
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For Giovanni, there is a direct line from experience to expression. While she may use metaphors to open a subject, she does not allow metaphors or the music of language to follow its own course distinct from her moral perception. In many ways her aesthetics are determined by her moral or ethical values. This is necessary in a social context where injustice is pawned off as normal behavior. Indirection and even misdirection are what cloak the racism and violence of the American landscape. So, aesthetically, she needs a straight line to uncover it. One can see this compulsion for a direct moral aesthetic in her poem “For Saundra.” It addresses a problem often posed by poets in traumatic times, that is, the question of writing poems about trees. In a famous poem, Bertolt Brecht said it this way:
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Ah, what an age it is
When to speak of trees is almost a crime
For it is a kind of silence about injustice!
(translated by H. R. Hays)
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Since then, different poets have approached this problem, some in poems, others in prose. George Oppen, a poet well known for putting poetry aside for many years to engage in political activism said, “There is no crisis in which political poets and orators may not speak of trees.” Ignoring the obvious contradiction, it asserts a definite stance. Giovanni addresses this dilemma in her poem. After a neighbor asks her “do you ever write tree poems,” she makes the effort but comes to the opposite conclusion from Oppen:
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. . . it occurred to me
maybe i shouldn’t write
at all
but clean my gun
and check my kerosene supply
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perhaps these are not poetic
times
at all
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Also, with a bit of irony, Giovanni asserts this stance in a poem. At another point in the poem, when trying to describe a tree, Giovanni, “peeked from my window/to check the image.” Giovanni doesn’t isolate herself in her writing. She is always looking outward, “to check the image,” to correspond what she writes with what is going on in the world around her. Her poetry is one of witness and disclosure. And this is why, as the poem goes on, it becomes impossible for her to write about trees or any other natural beauty.
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Not seeing a tree outside in the New York landscape, Giovanni turns to writing about the sky, but can’t because “all the clouds have winged/low since no-Dick was elected.” For Giovanni, the moral ugliness in the world makes it impossible to take pleasure in natural beauty. The one colors the other and can’t be separated. This fusion requires an aesthetics grounded in a moral imperative, an aesthetics of explicit revelation.
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Giovanni’s aesthetic is diametrically opposed to the aesthetic one confronts in Celan. One sees this in a poem Celan wrote in direct response to the Brecht poem.
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A leaf, treeless
for Bertolt Brecht:
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What times are these
when a conversation
is almost a crime
because it includes
so much made explicit?
(trans. Michael Hamburger)
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This poem is a bit of an oddity. Rarely does Celan disclose his thoughts or feelings directly. But here we see a kind of ars poetica open in response to Brecht. And what is learned in that aversion to the explicit or direct language is that Celan’s aesthetic is one of indirection. Why is that?
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Celan lived through the Holocaust, surviving one of the labor camps, while his parents both died in them. Much of Celan’s poetry evolved out of this trauma. The wound of the Holocaust was forever too raw to directly touch. Metaphor and symbol served as an anesthetic to perform surgery on a deeply wounded psyche. So, whether we read his earlier more imagistic poems and engage his famous “black milk of daybreak” or his later more abstruse proclamations regarding the “Illegibility/ of this world,” we are dealing with forceps and scalpel. As Hamburger translates another of Celan’s lines, “clarity troubles.” Interestingly, just like Giovanni, Celan’s poetry is all about the speaker’s feelings and yet, it is a language meant to remake the very vocabulary of feeling, which is why it is so unusual.
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Both Brecht and Celan say, “almost a crime” or “nearly a crime.” Both allow a place for what they would deny because the denial is circumstantial, not absolute. For Brecht, writing about trees during the terror of the Holocaust may be necessary. For Celan, the need to speak or write in the aftermath of it is unavoidable. Giovanni too allows a way for writing to remain with her “perhaps” opening the last stanza. So while Celan’s poems are spare, words squeaking through that “almost,” Giovanni’s poems are bare, exposing the nerves in necessary confrontations in what are, let’s say, “unpoetic poems.” This is not to say her writing is not poetry but that it refuses artifice. Her drive is toward removing all artifice behind which the lie of racism can hide. In a later poem, Giovanni even declares, “This is not a poem.” While it might be said that Celan’s poetry is all artifice, he so drastically alters the typical German language, he wondered about the language he used in his own poems saying, “I am not sure the German I write in is spoken here, or anywhere.”
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Strangely, it seems, the very different aesthetics of these two poets here meet, as both would reject an aesthetic of purity, a language of enchantment. It doesn’t seem possible that either poet would agree with Joseph Brodsky when he said, “With a poet, one’s ethical posture, indeed one’s very temperament, is determined and shaped by one’s aesthetics.” Such a yielding to the easy music of the given language would carry these two poets into the very dangers they try to conquer. Just like well-worn tracks on a dirt road, the language we inherit may pull us in the same direction others have taken. For Giovanni, that would be the language of racism and violence. For Celan, it would be the language of the systematic murder of a race, of people he personally knew. But each one is compelled to make or remake their languages in opposing ways to confront the pain and violence of their world. Each one is driven to create a language of confrontation that results in drastically different aesthetics.
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Michael T. Young’s third full-length collection, The Infinite Doctrine of War, was longlisted for the Julie Suk Award. His previous collections are The Beautiful Moment of Being Lost and Transcriptions of Daylight. He received a Fellowship from the New Jersey State Council on the Arts. His chapbook, Living in the Counterpoint, received the Jean Pedrick Chapbook Award from the New England Poetry Club. Michael’s poetry has appeared in numerous journals including Gargoyle, One, Quiddity, Rattle, and Valparaiso Poetry Review. It has also been featured on Verse Daily and The Writer’s Almanac.  Michael T. Young

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Poets In Review

poets in review

Poets In Review

By Eric Greinke

Presa Press 2016

124 Pages

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Review by g emil reutter

A book review is one person’s opinion. Many reviews have no impact on sales of books, however some do. The value in a review, positive or negative, is the fact the reviewer took the time not only to read the book but to write about it..

Eric Greinke has collected his book reviews into Poets In Review. While some may believe Greinke’s ego and desire to be included in the literary cannon motivated the publication of this book, I believe his motivation was also to publish a history of post-modern poetry as witnessed through his eyes..

The reviews written between 1972 and 2015 bring into question relevance. Can dated reviews of old books be valued in today’s world? I believe they are relevant. To know history is to know lineage and Greinke has them all in this collection. He is tough on Bukowski and Creeley, kind to Giovanni, Hall and Lifshin. There is a progression in poetic thought and insight on Greinke’s part, a maturing over four decades. Some of the reviews are long and rambling others tense and short. There are books reviewed published by major houses and by small presses..

Poets In Review is a snap shot of the history of American poetry during an era of change and challenges. Get a copy, see from where you have come..

You can get the book here: https://www.amazon.com/Poets-Review-Eric-Greinke/dp/0996502602

g emil reutter is a writer of poems and stories. He can be found at:https://gereutter.wordpress.com/about/