#BlaPoWriMo: Thoughts While Listening to X

Tonya wears jeans three days of the week
when only Fridays are reserved for casual
dress, but who’s checking when half the
office works remote; the rest leave before
five, and I stay behind stretched between
miscellaneous requests and thoughts that
I might have worn the same sweater twice
in one week or that my boots squeak when
I walk to the bathroom as the torn hem to
the only business pants I own that don’t
fit me like slacks drags across the carpet.
In front of the mirror, I stand against the
backdrop of four stalls and pick out my
afro that shrank three inches in the dank
atmosphere below the heating & air vent,
and return to my desk, earbuds plugged,
to fill the silence with the soundtracks of
Black Panther and hope the bald white
man in the corner office who frightens
me like a skinhead with a noose doesn’t
hear Kendrick encourage me too loudly,
Fuck the place up.

—Nortina


Poem inspired by the improvisational characteristics of jazz music and the Black Panther soundtrack that just came out today.

Written for Black Poetry Writing Month (BlaPoWriMo). This year, we’re taking a journey through the different eras of black poetry and history. This week’s era is: Harlem Renaissance

#ThrowbackThursday Poetry: Too Close

We’re into Week 2 of Black Poetry Writing Month, and this week is all about the Harlem Renaissance!

For today’s Throwback Thursday poem, I’m taking you back to BlaPoWriMo’s inaugural year. This poem, originally published two years ago today, was inspired by Harlem Renaissance poet, Countee Cullen’s poem, “Incident,” and it described a similar incident in which I was made aware of my [intimidating…militant…criminal?] blackness…

Photo by @theoptimistdreamer from nappy.co

Too Close

December’s wind gusts
into winter. She clutches
Michael Kors handbag,

pale knuckles pressing
through white skin. She peeks over
her right shoulder, spins

around. You live here?
This your apartment?
she cries.
Yes. I point. Upstairs.

Purse held tightly to
her side, she lets me pass—
Maybe I followed

too close.

—Nortina

Black Poetry Writing Month: Traveling through Time…Harlem Renaissance

Welcome to Week 2 of BlaPoWriMo!

For the uninitiated, Black Poetry Writing Month (BlaPoWriMo) is a month-long writing challenge that combines the ambition of National Poetry Writing Month (NaPoWriMo) with the history, education, and self-reflection of Black History Month.

This year, we are going on a journey through the eras of black history and poetry.

How did you enjoy your first week of writing slavery inspired poems? I’ll admit some days were harder to write than others. Having to open those wounds that run deeper than the generations can be troubling. The fact that human beings could commit such atrocities against other human beings, often using Christianity as a defense of their actions, is still baffling to me.

If you want to continue writing poetry inspired by the era slavery, feel free to do so! The themes I provide each week are only optional. Just remember to tag your posts BlaPoWriMo, so I can find them and give you a shoutout!

Now, let’s skip ahead to the next era: The Harlem Renaissance!

I know. I’m brushing over about 50 years worth of great literature from the post-Civil War / Reconstruction era, but I need to leave something to be desired for next February, right? 😉

If you want to do your own research on the poets of this era, one of the most well-known was Paul Laurence Dunbar. (His poem “Sympathy” inspired Maya Angelou’s I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings.) Another poet from this era was James Weldon Johnson, who wrote “Lift Every Voice and Sing,” also known as the Black National Anthem.

The Harlem Renaissance took place during the 1920s and lasted until about 1940.

The Harlem Renaissance was like a great awakening of art and literature for Black Americans. During this period, Black America saw a cultural explosion of creativity. It’s center was in Harlem, a district in New York City, though it wasn’t limited to black writers and artists living in New York. In fact, it inspired a similar movement known as Négritude among French-speaking blacks across the African diaspora, including in France, the Caribbean, and the West Indies.

While the era of slavery can be described as a time when most whites questioned the intelligence of blacks (remember those authentication papers written for Phillis Wheatley), the Harlem Renaissance was the confirmation of black intelligence, black excellence, black achievement, black genius, and all the above. There was an outpouring of publications not only in poetry, but also in the genres of fiction, drama, personal essay, music, dance, and visual art.

The Harlem Renaissance laid the ground work for black expression.

The creativity of black writers and artists of this period was driven by a sense of purpose, the artists using their craft to express a response to social conditions and to proclaim their dignity and humanity in the face of poverty and racism.

The most famous poet of this time period is of course Langston Hughes. Others include Countee Cullen—whose Color (1925) was the first book of poetry written by an African American to be published by a major American publishing house (Harper & Brothers) since Paul Laurence Dunbar—Jamaica-born Claude McKay (though he wasn’t the first “African American,” his Harlem Shadows was published in 1922 by Harcourt, Brace), Anne Spencer, Jean Toomer, Sterling A. Brown, and many more.

To get you started with this week’s Harlem Renaissance-themed poems, I won’t share a poem by Langston Hughes. No, that would be too easy. Everyone knows Langston Hughes! Instead, I’m giving you this poem by the lesser-known Anne Spencer to inspire you for this next week of writing. Of course, if you need further inspiration, feel free to look up the other poets mentioned in this post.

White Things

Most things are colorful things—the sky, earth, and sea.
Black men are most men; but the white are free!
White things are rare things; so rare, so rare
They stole from out a silvered world—somewhere.
Finding earth-plains fair plains, save greenly grassed,
They strewed white feathers of cowardice, as they passed;
The golden stars with lances fine
The hills all red and darkened pine,
They blanced with their wand of power;
And turned the blood in a ruby rose
To a poor white poppy-flower.

There are many different versions of this poem online. The above version came from the Vintage Book of African American Poetry (2000), edited by Michael S. Harper & Anthony Walton

So, are you ready for BlaPoWriMo?

You don’t have to be black to participate. This is not a space for discrimination but education. As long as you write a poem every day this month and your poem aligns with the theme for the week or focuses on blackness/race in general, there’s no reason not to join!

Be sure to add your links to the prompt posts for the week (ex. link your “Harlem Renaissance” poems to this post) so others can read your poem. You can also tag your posts BlaPoWriMo so we can find you in the WordPress Reader.

By the way, I’m on Twitter! I previously created a separate account for BlaPoWriMo, but that became too much of a hassle, so follow me @Nortina_Mariela and tweet the hashtag #BlaPoWriMo. I’ll be retweeting your tweets all month long!

Will you join the challenge this month? I’m excited to see the poems you create!

Happy Black Poetry Writing Month!

At Night

When love knows no color or bounds…
Please check out this beautiful poem written by K. Morris for BlaPoWriMo!

–N

K Morris - Poet

At night
There is no black and white.
Just the delight
Of you and me,
Converging
Merging,
Completely free
Of race
And place.

(https://lovelycurses.com/february-black-poetry-writing-month/).

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#BlaPoWriMo: Work

Work all day under
the hot sun; at night lie still—
until Master comes

Nortina


Written for Black Poetry Writing Month (BlaPoWriMo). This year, we’re taking a journey through the different eras of black poetry and history. This week’s era is: slavery.

#BlaPoWriMo: Great

“The greatest among you shall be your servant.”
Matthew 23:11

Greatness comes when
the heat has all but
killed you when the
shirt is torn off your
back when blood and
sweat mingle inside your
cheek and the crack
of the whip splits
you down your spine…

But still you smile
But still you sing
But still you wait
for the coming of
the King

—Nortina


Many white slave owners made the mistake of presuming their slaves were happy because they sang while doing their work. Little did they know, these negro spirituals were songs of sadness, of suffering; slaves adopting a religion that was forced upon them, and praying for the liberty it promised. 

Written for Black Poetry Writing Month (BlaPoWriMo). This year, we’re taking a journey through the different eras of black poetry and history. This week’s era is: slavery.

“Serve wholeheartedly, as if you were serving the Lord, not people, because you know that the Lord will reward each one for whatever good they do, whether they are slave or free.” Ephesians 6:7-8

Without Shadows We Are But Ghosts, #BlaPoWriMo, #Slavery

Thanks so much Ericajean for joining BlaPoWriMo! Friends, please take the time to read her poem. Such vivid and painful imagery of our past. Truly, without the shadows we are but ghosts.

–N

The Write Web

curtain shadows by pedro figueras Photo Credit: Pedro Figueras

A shadow is a dark area produced by a body coming between rays of light. Without the sun, we would not have shadows.

Without the shadows we are but ghosts

In bodies

Carrying the implanted pain of

Abel and the soiled happiness

Of forced religion-

Without the shadows we are but ghosts

In bodies

Carrying the blood of the dark, lynched angels

Forced from a land

To a land of aliens

Where weapons fire rapidly into the backs

Of skin, of babes, of moms, of dads…

Where the cat o’ nine tails

swish into the

Toned plump back of a “pagan”

Whipping the passion of Christ into

This Foreigner

Without the shadows we are ghosts

In bodies of burnt clay and high hair, wooly

As sheeps, puffed as clouds

Such strange beauty!

Scarred for life, the umbilical cord

Still hasn’t been cut

As we float and…

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#BlaPoWriMo: Auction Block, Chattel No. 4

This one here’s in fine health,
young, got a lotta years in him,
not a mark on his body.
Open your mouth, stick out your
tongue—no loose teeth. Don’t
talk much; won’t stir up no
trouble with the other slaves.
Legs like tree trunks.
Bend over, squat down, trot
ten paces—no sign of lameness.
Squeeze those calves you’ll
break a hand. Thick neck,
strong back, palms like steaks,
can carry twice his weight;
rival any mule or ox. Worth
$1600 to start. Do I hear more?
Sold! To the highest bidder.
Up next . . . Chattel No. 5.

—Nortina


Written for Black Poetry Writing Month (BlaPoWriMo). This year, we’re taking a journey through the different eras of black poetry and history. This week’s era is: slavery.

To learn more about the history of the slave auction, click here.

#BlaPoWriMo: I want to learn to read

I want to learn to read.
Mas’sa say it do no good–
slaves reading–won’t make
me happy. What I gotta be
happy for? Look at Jimmy-boy,
come down from Maryland, him
can read, been mopin’ ’round
here all day, can’t do nothin’.

Him spoiled, that’s him problem,
like all them other house niggas,
never felt the sun burn him back
raw, never had the white man kick
him to him knees when him stop
to catch him breath, never bent
over the cotton, weight of the
day’s pickings slung over him
shoulder, so long him can’t stand
straight when the work done.

I hear Mas’sa say him gon sell
Jimmy-boy to the rice plantation
down south–that’ll whip him into
shape. Me, I stay quiet, meet my weight,
draw letters in the dirt, brush ’em
away fore overseer catch wind.

—Nortina


Written for Black Poetry Writing Month (BlaPoWriMo). This year, we’re taking a journey through the different eras of black poetry and history. This week’s era is: slavery.

Cotton is king – A plantation scene, Georgia. Retrieved from http://digitalcollections.nypl.org/items/8a4595ba-f0f4-4335-e040-e00a18066dc9

 

#BlaPoWriMo: Baby

Slick with afterbirth
is how I remember him–
if a moment can be
counted as a memory–
and Sir bragging that
he bred his finest,
will make him a
fortune, sell for more.

He was out of my arms
before he opened his
eyes, out of the room
before I heard his cries.
The delivery was hard,
I couldn’t move, couldn’t
work any. They let me
alone. I liked that–

For a time.

But it hurt to be still,
and when the milk came,
I had no mouth to feed.
So I got up, went
searching, found you.

You reached for me before
I bent to pick you up,
raised my blouse before
I put your head to my breast,
closed your lips around
the nipple, and I called
you baby. I call you
baby. Until one day
when I call you Sir.

—Nortina


Written for Black Poetry Writing Month (BlaPoWriMo). This year, we’re taking a journey through the different eras of black poetry and history. This week’s era is: slavery.