Decoding Poetry: #BlaPoWriMo, ‘The Young Ones'(Poem)

For BlaPoWriMo, my friend Ericajean shares her thoughts on Sterling A. Brown’s “The Young Ones.”

Looking specifically at the lines, “It’s as far as they’ll get / For many a year; / Cotton brought them / and will keep them here,” she raises two questions: What brought us, and what is keeping us here?

A question I would like to add is: What is “here”?

What are your thoughts? Please respond directly on Ericajean’s post, as comments here will be disabled.

–N

#BlaPoWriMo: Proposal (poem)

I show the ring. He sucks his teeth.
Calls his ol’ bloodhound, Ralph,
shoulders the .22 caliber, Bertha.
Speaks. We’s goin’ ‘coon huntin’.
I imagine him chasing black
men up trees in hooded sheets,
the hounds howling as he lassoes
a noose around the coons’ neck for
lusting after his lil’ darlin’.
Strung up on branches, bodies
dangling over dogs as they lick
stiff, purple toes like berries.
I swallow hard. Georgia is not
as color-blind as my Maryland.
Is this a mistake? Is loving her
worth my life? He grins, revealing
darkened gums. You’s ’bout my size,
he says to my feet, gives me a dirty
pair of boots. Waits in the pickup.

The darkness fails to hide my fear.
Ralph sniffs it in my perspiration.
He yelps. Go get ’em, boy!
Chain drops. I run blindly,
tripping over roots, scraping my
knees on shrubs, my face on
low-hanging branches. Light-beams
from his flashlight streak across
my back. I crouch behind a stump.
Ralph’s barks rattle my eardrums.
I gotcha, rascal! A single shot.
The leaves ruffle. The trunks vibrate.
A thump on the ground. My heart sinks.
‘Ol boy, you shat yourself? I stand,
legs like jelly. The black and white striped
tail, the bandit’s mask, inside a cage.
He bends backwards, laughing, cracking
his back, slapping my shoulder,
echoing through the hollow woods:
Lord willin’ and the creek don’t rise,
you have my blessin’.

—Nortina


Poem sound familiar? I wrote it last year for a #frapalymo prompt. Brain’s too fried to think of anything new, unfortunately, but I thought it worked for today’s BlaPoWriMo prompt.

If you’d like to participate, just include the tag BlaPoWriMo so I can find you, or the hashtag #BlaPoWriMo on twitter to get a retweet (live feed in the side bar). Check out February is Black Poetry Writing Month for details on the project.

Happy Writing! 😀

Black Poetry Writing Month: Write a Poem in Dialect

Southern Road

Swing dat hammer—hunh—
Steady, bo’;
Swing dat hammer—hunh—
Steady, bo’;
Ain’t no rush, bebby,
Long ways to go.

Burner tore his—hunh—
Black heart away;
Burner tore his—hunh—
Black heart away;
Got me life, bebby,
An’ a day.

Gal’s on Fifth Street—hunh—
Son done gone;
Gal’s on Fifth Street—hunh—
Son done gone;
Wife’s in de ward, bebby,
Babe’s not bo’n.

My ole man died—hunh—
Cussin’ me;
My ole man died—hunh—
Cussin’ me;
Ole lady rocks, bebby,
Huh misery.

Doubleshackled—hunh—
Guard behin’;
Doubleshackled—hunh—
Guard behin’;
Ball and chain, bebby,
On my min’.

White man tells me—hunh—
Damn yo’ soul;
White man tells me—hunh—
Damn yo’ soul;
Got no need, bebby,
To be tole.

Chain gain nevah—hunh—
Let me go;
Chain gain nevah—hunh—
Let me go;
Po’ los’ boy, bebby,
Evahmo’. . . .

—Sterling A. Brown, from Southern Road (1932)

 

Dialect was historically viewed as unsophisticated by the literary elite. They thought the use of vernacular exposed a writer’s failure to use correct grammar and understand proper English.

The presumption is present in art even today. Rihanna’s latest single, “Work,” was received negatively by a lot of reviewers because they didn’t understand the lyrics and assumed it was just lazy gibberish, when in fact, she was speaking Jamaican Patois, an English-based creole language with West African influences. Knowing that Rihanna is a native of Barbados, her singing in a language/dialect common to her region would represent a big part of her identity and artistry.

Work, work, work, work, work, work
He said me haffi (He said I have to)
Work, work, work, work, work, work!
He see me do mi (He saw me do my)
Dirt, dirt, dirt, dirt, dirt, dirt!
So me put in (So I put in)
Work, work, work, work, work, work
When you ah guh (When are you going to)
Learn, learn, learn, learn, learn
Meh nuh cyar if him (I don’t care if he’s)
Hurt, hurt, hurt, hurt, hurting

Screen_Shot_2016-01-27_at_8_08_20_AM_0

Sterling A. Brown’s “Southern Road” uses choppy dialogue and local colloquialisms to illustrate a chain gang member lamenting his woes while performing hard labor. The repetition of lines and the ababcb rhyme scheme creates a musical tone to the poem. While on the surface, it appears very simple, “Southern Road” is a lyrical poem that creates a strong sense of setting, strikes the visual and audio senses with the repetition of “hunh” as the speaker brings down the hammer over and over, and provides a literary medium for social discourse and conversations about race.

Today for BlaPoWriMo, write a poem in dialect. How do you express your identity using colloquialisms? What sophisticated concepts can you express with uncomplicated words and phrases? Illustrate a scene that invokes the senses and summarizes our culture.

—Nortina

Tall Tales From Kitchen Stools

When it came to a challenge, Jim Smiley just had to jump right in!” Grandpa said. He sat on the edge of the stool, and we sat around his feet, crisscross applesauce, elbows on knees, chins in palms, giving him our undivided attention.

Grandma stood over the stove stirring chicken and rice. She snorted. “Don’t go tellin’ ’em chil’ren tales.”

“If I’m lyin’, I’m dyin’,” Grandpa said. “We was down in Mississippi at dis ol’ white bar.”

“How y’all get in? Y’all darker den coal!” Grandma said, her hands on her hips.

“Hush, now!” Grandpa waved her off and continued.

“We just got back from de river. Found a bullfrog along de bank. Jim had it in his pocket, and it was just a wrastlin’. A big gal wit bigger breasts was uncomfortable wit us bein’ dere. Got her ol’ man to make us leave. Now, I was chicken. I ain’t put up no fight, but ol’ Jimmy boy, he toss dat frog in de air and it land right in between her cleavage!” Grandpa guffawed, slapping his knee. “And we ran so fast de soles on our shoes was burnt by de time we got home!”

We laughed and clapped as Grandpa stood to take a bow.

“Alright,” Grandma said, “Story’s over. Now get on back, chil’ren, ‘fore lightenin’ strike all y’all dead!”

word count: 210 (I went a bit over the word limit this week)

—Nortina


This is Part of Monday’s Finish the Story: a flash fiction challenge where we provide you with a new photo each week, and the first sentence of a story. Your challenge is to finish the story using 100-150 words, not including the sentence provided.

This story is a mix of two classics in American literature: Jim Smiley and Slim Greer. Click the froggy icon to read other stories and add your own.

2015-03-02-bw-beacham