Friday, June 27, 2008

Poetry you should know

I was headed home after work the other day, listening to Howard Zinn's "A People's History of the United States" on my iPod, because you all told me it was wonderful (and you were right). Anyway, at the beginning of the section on the 20th century, Zinn writes how the words of great poets, like Langston Hughes, expressed what African Americans were feeling in the early days of the epoch. Zinn shares some of those words. And I was reminded of how much I enjoy poetry, particularly really passionate black poetry, but how I pay little attention to it. I haven't read Hughes or Countee Cullen or Nikki Giovanni since I left school. It's time to change that.

I'm dedicated to re-discovering poetry by great writers, from James Weldon Johnson to Robert Frost. And I'll share the best of it with you. Each Friday, I will share a great poem by a notable writer.

To start--Nikki Giovanni.

Woman Poem

you see, my whole life
is tied up
to unhappiness
it's father cooking breakfast
and me getting fat as a hog
or having no food
at all and father proving
his incompetence
i wish i knew how it would feel
to be free

it's having a job
they won't let you work
or no work at all
castrating me
(yes it happens to women too)

it's a sex object if you're pretty
and no love
or love and no sex if you're fat
get back fat black woman be a mother
grandmother strong thing but not a woman
gameswoman romantic woman love needer
man seeker dick eater sweat getter
fuck needing love seeking woman

it's a hole in your shoe
and buying lil sis a dress
and her saying you shouldn't
when you know
all too well--that you shouldn't

but smiles are only something we give
to properly dressed social workers
not each other
only smiles of i know
your game sister
which isn't really
a smile

joy is finding a pregnant roach
and squashing it
not finding someone to hold
let go get off get back don't turn
me on you black dog
how dare you care
about me
you ain't got no good sense
cause i ain't shit you must be lower
than that to care

it's a filthy house
with yesterday's watermelon
and monday's tears
cause true ladies don't
know how to clean

it's intellectual devastation
of everybody
to avoid emotional commitment
"yeah honey i would've married
him but he didn't have no degree"

it's knock-kneed mini-skirted
wig wearing died blond mama's scar
born dead my scorn your whore
rough heeled broken nailed powdered
face me
whose whole life is tied
up to unhappiness
cause it's the only
for real thing

Taken from "The Selected Poems of Nikki Giovanni," published by William Morrow and Company, New York


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