Apr 14, 2009

C.O.R.A. Diversity Roll Call--Poets

I recently discovered this week's C.O.R.A. Diversity Roll Call is about poetry and poets, so naturally I'm participating. While I'm supposed to talk only about a female African American poet, I'm going to broaden this to include my two favorite African-American Poets, Yusef Komunyakaa and Rita Dove, who is a more recent find thanks to The Writer's Center and Kyle Semmel from where I won a book of poetry.

First, let's talk about Rita Dove and share one of her poems. Rita is not only a poet, but also a script writer and story writer. She served as Poet Laureate of the United States and Consultant to the Library of Congress from 1993 to 1995 and as Poet Laureate of the Commonwealth of Virginia from 2004 to 2006. She now works at the University of Virginia in Charlottesville as an English professor. Check out her Webpage for more biography information.

This is one of my favorite poems, which can be found here with several others:

My Mother Enters the Work Force

The path to ABC Business School
was paid for by a lucky sign:
Alterations, Qualified Seamstress Inquire Within.
Tested on Sleeves, hers
never puckered -- puffed or sleek,
Leg o' or Raglan --
they barely needed the damp cloth
to steam them perfect.

Those were the afternoons. Evenings
she took in piecework, the treadle machine
with its locomotive whir
traveling the lit path of the needle
through quicksand taffeta
or velvet deep as a forest.
And now and now sang the treadle,
I know, I know....

And then it was day again, all morning
at the office machines, their clack and chatter
another journey -- rougher,
that would go on forever
until she could break a hundred words
with no errors -- ah, and then

no more postponed groceries,
and that blue pair of shoes!

I adore the detailed images in this poem and how each one is selected for its powerful message about the life and times of this mother entering the workforce. This is a very poignant social commentary about this one woman's struggle as befitting to all others at the time.

I may have talked about Yusef Komunyakaa on this blog before during the last Book Bloggers Appreciation Week, but here he is again. I first learned of Komunyakaa's work in a college seminar on Vietnam War literature and I've returned to his work ever since. Yusef was raised during the Civil Rights movement and served in the U.S. Army between 1969 and 1970 as a correspondent and editor of the Southern Cross during the Vietnam War.

Here's one of my favorite poems from him, found here:

Camouflaging the Chimera

We tied branches to our helmets.
We painted our faces & rifles
with mud from a riverbank,

blades of grass hung from the pockets
of our tiger suits. We wove
ourselves into the terrain,
content to be a hummingbird's target.

We hugged bamboo & leaned
against a breeze off the river,
slow-dragging with ghosts

from Saigon to Bangkok,
with women left in doorways
reaching in from America.
We aimed at dark-hearted songbirds.

In our way station of shadows
rock apes tried to blow our cover
throwing stones at the sunset. Chameleons

crawled our spines, changing from day
to night: green to gold,
gold to black. But we waited
till the moon touched metal,

till something almost broke
inside us. VC struggled
with the hillside, like black silk

wrestling iron through grass.
We weren't there. The river ran
through our bones. Small animals took refuge
against our bodies; we held our breath,

ready to spring the L-shaped
ambush, as a world revolved
under each man's eyelid.

Who are your favorites? Have you discovered any new African American poets?


Anna said...

I love Komunyakaa, but I hadn't heard of Rita Dove. Thanks for bringing her work to my attention.

Diary of an Eccentric

Serena said...

You are very welcome.

J.S. Peyton said...

I don't read enough poetry to have a favorite but I've always been a big fan of Rita Dove. She's such a talented woman! She not only writes, but she sings and dances. I've read only a little Konunyakaa but I've always liked what I've read of his. That poem you shared was great. He's going on my must read list.

Serena said...

Peyton: I think he should be on everyone's must read list. Fantastic poet.

Anonymous said...

Both of these capture a time and emotions. I liked them both.

Claudia said...

Hi Serena, I'm a first time visitor to your blog. Thanks for sharing these poems! I am a big fan of Rita Dove, but I have to admit that Komunyakaa's poem struck me the most. Hearing him recount the experiences in battle so poignantly is great, especially through lines such as The river ran through our bones.

Serena said...

Care: They really are emotional.

Claudia: Welcome and thanks for stopping by the blog. I really love Komunyakaa's work.

Color Online said...

I am so glad you participated. I have collections by both. You've enticed me to pull them again.

Do you have Magic City?

Serena said...

Color: I do not have Magic City, but I have Dien Cai Dau and Talking Dirty to the Gods. i would love to pick up some more of his work.