by NONA BLYTH CLOUD
Please take this week’s title as a warning. If you find profanity offensive, this installment of Word Cloud is one you may want to skip.
An article I skimmed for this week’s post was called Poets Nobody Reads, which isn’t entirely true, but certainly Carolyn Rodgers (1940 – 2010) is no longer as well-known as she was at her controversial zenith, from the late 1960s to the end of the 1970s.
At a time when many male African-American writers were being praised for their use of ‘Black English,’ Carolyn Rodgers was being told to “tone down” the very language that had first brought her attention. And it seems that most of her poems that are laced with cuss words are not available online, while her books of poetry have become rare enough that prices have skyrocketed.
A few of her poems strike me as uneven, not because she uses black idioms, but because they read to me like second drafts, promising ideas not quite finished. However, the majority of her work passes Garrison Keillor’s test of a good poem: “Stickiness, memorability, is one sign of a good poem. You hear it and a day later some of it is still there in the brainpan.”
This is a young poem, about that frustrating and difficult process of self-discovery.
I’ve had tangled feelings lately
Bout writing poetry, and otha forms
Bout talkin and dreamin with a
Special man (who says he needs me)
And my mouth has been open
Most of the time but
I ain’t been saying nothin but
Thinking about ev’rything
And the partial pain has been
How do I put my self on paper
The way I want to be or am and be
Not like any one else in this
Black world but me
Knowing the Difference
Leave the sister and brother
with the yellow/gold
red/orange streak in their hair
yeah, leave them alone.
Traditions die slowly.
Cultural patterns are never quite erased.
We have always imitated animals.
I love this poem, for the deep and complex ties it reveals between mother and daughter, who are so different, and yet so much alike.
It Is Deep
(don’t never forget the bridge that you crossed over on)
Having tried to use the
that erases the stretch of
and tuning in the voice which
woodenly stated that the
talk box was “disconnected”
My mother, religiously girdled in
her god, slipped on some love, and
laid on my bell like a truck,
blew through my door warm wind from the south
concern making her gruff and tight-lipped
that her “baby” was starving.
she, having learned, that disconnection results from
non-payment of bill (s).
She did not
recognize the poster of the
grand le-roi (al) cat on the wall
had never even seen the books of
Black poems that I have written
thinks that I am under the influence of
when I talk about Black as anything
other than something ugly to kill it befo it grows
in any impression she would not be
considered “relevant” or “Black”
there she was, standing in my room
not loudly condemning that day and
not remembering that I grew hearing her
curse the factory where she “cut uh slave”
and the cheap j-boss wouldn’t allow a union,
not remembering that I heard the tears when
they told her a high school diploma was not enough,
and here now, not able to understand, what she had
been forced to deny, still–
she pushed into my kitchen so
she could open my refrigerator to see
what I had to eat, and pressed fifty
bills in my hand saying “pay the talk bill and buy
some food; you got folks who care about you . . .”
My mother, religious-negro, proud of
having waded through a storm, is very obviously,
a sturdy Black bridge that I
crossed over, on.
Poem for Some Black Women
i am lonely,
all the people i know
i know too well
there was comfort in that
at first but now
we know each others miseries
lonely women, who spend time waiting for
we live with fear.
we are lonely.
we are talented, dedicated, well read
we are lonely,
we understand the world problems
Black women’s problems with Black men
we really understand is
when we laugh,
we are so happy to laugh
we cry when we laugh
we are lonely.
we are busy people
always doing things
fearing getting trapped in rooms
loud with empty…
knowing the music of silence/hating it/hoarding it
loving it/treasuring it,
it often birthing our creativity
we are lonely
being soft and being hard
supporting our selves, earning our own bread
knowing that need must not show
will frighten away
knowing that we must
walk back-wards nonchalantly on our tip-toeness
if only for stingy moments
we know too much
we learn to understand everything,
to make too much sense out
of the world,
we buy clothes, we take trips,
we wish, we pray, we meditate, we curse, we crave, we coo,
we need ourselves sick, we need, we need
we lonely we grow tired of tears we grow tired of fear
we grow tired but must al-ways be soft and not too serious…
not too smart not too bitchy not too sapphire
not too dumb not too not too not too
a little less a little more
add here detract there
Food for Thought
you understand how
who creates the traps you fall into
the thing that destroys a person/a people
is not the knowing
but the knowing and not
how we women
when a man
when you need
it is not ugly to dream in life
but it is ugly to make life a dream
i wonder if
the sunrays are like the fingertips of
This is Carolyn Rodgers’ response to her critics:
The Last M.F.
that i should not use the word
in my poetry or in any speech i give.
that i must and can only say it to myself
as the new Black Womanhood suggests
a softer self
a more reserved speaking self. they say,
that respect is hard won by a woman
who throws a word like muthafucka around
and so they say because we love you
throw that word away, Black Woman …
that i only call muthafuckas, muthafuckas
so no one should be insulted.
and so i say
this is the last poem i will write calling
all manner of wites, card-carrying muthafuckas
and all manner of Blacks (negroes too) sweet
muthafuckas, crazy muthafuckas, lowdown muthafuckas
cool muthafuckas, mad and revolutionary muthafuckas,
But anyhow you all know just like I do (whether I say
it or not), there’s plenty of MEAN muthafuckas out
here trying to do the struggle in.
There are still men who regard words as their special province, and rank women as equally at fault for being either ‘too feminine’ or ‘too masculine’ but never as true writers. I think you can guess what Carolyn Rodgers would call them.
Carolyn Rogers grew up on Chicago’s South Side. She attended Roosevelt University and the University of Chicago, where she got her MA in English. Early in her career she was associated with the Black Arts Movement, attending writing workshops led by Gwendolyn Brooks and through the Organization of Black American Culture (OBAC). Her collections of poetry include Paper Soul (1968); Songs of a Blackbird (1969), which won the Poet Laureate Award of the Society of Midland Authors; how I got ovah: New and Selected Poems (1975); The Heart as Ever Green: Poems (1978); and Morning Glory: Poems (1989). She died of cancer at the age of 69.
- Bust of an African Woman by Charles-Henri-Joseph Cornier
- Leopard in grass
- Mother and daughter at Penn Station NY circa 1940s by Ruth Orkin
- Carolyn M. Rodgers
- Egyptian sun god Aten, whose rays end in hands
- Head of Benin Iyoba (Queen Mother) 18th Century
Word Cloud photo by Larry Cloud