Welcome to The Coffee Shop, just for you early risers
on Monday mornings. This is an Open Thread forum,
so if you have an off-topic opinion burning a hole in
your brainpan, feel free to add a comment.
“It is the beginning of wisdom when you recognize
that the best you can do is choose which rules you
want to live by, and it’s persistent and aggravated
imbecility to pretend you can live without any.”
― Wallace Stegner, All the Little Live Things
There were so many poets born this week, I had to leave some of them out!
What’s still here are an Italian, a Chilean, three Americans, and a Greek.
This post is longer than usual because I had to include all of Beah Richards magnificent A Black Woman Speaks…of White Womanhood. If you only know her as Sidney Poitier’s mom in Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner, then you don’t know Beah Richards, and I’m happy make the introduction. Too much of our history is being whitewashed, overwritten by false narratives – we need to reclaim it and proclaim it.
But we also need to claim and celebrate the beauty and power of the world’s Poetry.
All of the Arts are acts of rebellion, kindling self-awareness and curiosity. Power-Seekers rightly distrust the Arts. They stop Arts programs in schools, cut government subsidies to the Arts, they forbid music and dancing, they destroy or subvert cultural treasures, but they spend fortunes to own Art, or they steal it outright. If they own it, they believe they control it.
In America, the Power Seekers foolishly overlook Poetry, the most portable Art – because even if you can’t write a novel, paint a picture, dance a step, or carry a tune, you can carry the words of a poem in your head.
by Giorgio de Chirico
The astronomer poets are exuberant.
The day is radiant the public square filled with sunlight.
They are leaning against the veranda.
Music and love. The incredibly beautiful woman.
I would sacrifice my life for her velvet eyes.
A painter has painted a huge red smokestack
That a poet adores like a divinity.
I remember that night of springtime and cadavers.
The river was carrying gravestones that have disappeared.
Who still wants to live? Promises are more beautiful.
So many flags are flying from the railroad station.
Provided the clock does not stop
A government minister is supposed to arrive.
He is intelligent and mild he is smiling.
He comprehends everything and at night by the glow of a smoking lamp
While the warrior of stone dozes on the dark public square
He writes sad passionate love letters
“Hopes” published in “La révolution surréaliste,” Paris, October 15, 1925
Giorgio de Chirico (1888-1978) Italian artist, costume and stage designer, and poet, who was born in Greece on July 10, while his father was in charge of constructing a railroad on the Greek mainland. He was a founder of scuola metafisica art movement, which profoundly influenced the surrealists. After 1919, he became a critic of modern art, studied traditional painting techniques, and worked in a neoclassical or neo-Baroque style, while frequently revisiting the metaphysical themes of his earlier work.
by Pablo Neruda
I love the handful of the earth you are.
Because of its meadows, vast as a planet,
I have no other star. You are my replica
of the multiplying universe.
Your wide eyes are the only light I know
from extinguished constellations;
your skin throbs like the streak
of a meteor through rain.
Your hips were that much of the moon for me;
your deep mouth and its delights, that much sun;
your heart, fiery with its long red rays,
was that much ardent light, like honey in the shade.
So I pass across your burning form, kissing
you – compact and planetary, my dove, my globe.
“XVI” from 100 Love Sonnets, by Pablo Neruda, translation © by Stephen Tapscott – University of Texas Press – 1986 reissue edition
Pablo Neruda (1904-1973) born as Ricardo Eliécer Neftalí Reyes Basoalto on July 12, 1904. He was a Chilean poet, diplomat, and politician who won the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1971. He is considered the national poet of Chile. Neruda’s writing covered a wide range: historical epics, political manifestos, an autobiography, surrealist poems, and passionate love poetry. His first collection of verse, Crepusculario (Book of Twilights) was published in 1923 under his pen name, Pablo Neruda. Crepusculario was quickly followed in 1924 by Veinte poemas de amor y una canción desesperada (Twenty Love Poems and A Desperate Song), which is still the best-selling book of poetry in the Spanish language.
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A Black Woman Speaks… of White Womanhood
by Beah Richards
A Black Woman Speaks…
Of White Womanhood
Of White Supremacy
It is right that I a woman
should speak of white womanhood.
die for it; because of it.
And their blood chilled in electric chairs,
stopped by hangman’s noose,
cooked by lynch mobs’ fire,
spilled by white supremacist mad desire to kill for profit,
gives me that right.
I would that I could speak of white womanhood
as it will and should be
when it stands tall in full equality.
But then, womanhood will be womanhood
void of color and of class,
and all necessity for my speaking thus will be past.
But now, since ‘tis deemed a thing apart
I must in searching honesty report
how it seems to me.
White womanhood stands in bloodied skirt
and willing slavery
reaching out adulterous hand
killing mine and crushing me.
What then is this superior thing
that in order to be sustained must needs feed upon my flesh?
How came this horror to be?
Let’s look to history.
They said, the white supremacist said
that you were better than me,
that your fair brow should never know the sweat of slavery.
White womanhood too is enslaved,
the difference is degree.
They brought me here in chains.
They brought you here willing slaves to man.
You, shiploads of women each filled with hope
that she might win with ruby lip and saucy curl
and bright and flashing eye
him to wife who had the largest tender.
And they sold you here even as they sold me.
My sisters, there is no room for mockery.
If they counted my teeth
they did appraise your thigh
and sold you to the highest bidder
the same as I.
And you did not fight for your right to choose
whom you would wed
but for whatever bartered price
that was the legal tender
you were sold to a stranger’s bed
in a stranger land
And you did not fight.
Mind you, I speak not mockingly
but I fought for freedom,
I’m fighting now for our unity.
We are women all,
and what wrongs you murders me
and eventually marks your grave
so we share a mutual death at the hand of tyranny.
They trapped me with the chain and gun.
They trapped you with lying tongue.
For, ‘less you see that fault-
that male villainy
that robbed you of name, voice and authority,
that murderous greed that wasted you and me,
he, the white supremacist, fixed your minds with poisonous thought:
“white skin is supreme.”
and therewith bought that monstrous change
exiling you to things.
Changed all that nature had ill you wrought of gentle usefulness,
abolishing your spring.
Tore out your heart,
set your good apart from all that you could say,
know to be right.
And you did not fight,
but set your minds fast on my slavery
the better to endure your own.
my pearls were beads of sweat
wrung from weary bodies’ pain,
instead of rings upon my hands
I wore swollen, bursting veins.
My ornaments were the wip-lash’s scar
my diamond, perhaps, a tear.
Instead of paint and powder on my face
I wore a solid mask of fear to see my blood so spilled.
And you, women seeing
spoke no protest
but cuddled down in your pink slavery
and thought somehow my wasted blood
confirmed your superiority.
Because your necklace was of gold
you did not notice that it throttled speech.
Because diamond rings bedecked your hands
you did not regret their dictated idleness.
Nor could you see that the platinum bracelets
which graced your wrists were chains
binding you fast to economic slavery.
And though you claimed your husband’s name
still could not command his fidelity.
You bore him sons.
I bore him sons.
No, not willingly.
He purchased you.
He raped me,
But you fought neither for yourselves nor me.
Sat trapped in your superiority
and spoke no reproach.
Consoled your outrage with an added diamond brooch.
Oh, God, how great is a woman’s fear
who for a stone, a cold, cold stone
would not defend honor, love or dignity!
You bore the damning mockery of your marriage
and heaped your hate on me,
a woman too,
a slave more so.
And when your husband disowned his seed
that was my son
and sold him apart from me
you felt avenged.
I was not your enemy in this,
I was not the source of your distress.
I was your friend, I fought.
But you would not help me fight
thinking you helped only me.
Your deceived eyes seeing only my slavery
aided your own decay.
Yes, they condemned me to death
and they condemned you to decay.
Your heart whisked away,
consumed in hate,
used up in idleness
playing yet the lady’s part
estranged to vanity.
It is justice to you to say your fear equalled your tyranny.
You were afraid to nurse your young
lest fallen breast offend your master’s sight
and he should flee to firmer loveliness.
And so you passed them, your children, on to me.
Flesh that was your flesh and blood
that was your blood drank the sustenance of life from me.
And as I gave suckle I knew I nursed my own child’s enemy.
I could have lied,
told you your child was fed till it was dead of hunger.
But I could not find the heart to kill orphaned innocence.
For as it fed, it smiled and burped and gurgled with content
and as for color knew no difference.
Yes, in that first while
I kept your sons and daughters alive.
But when they grew strong in blood
and bone that was of my milk
taught them to hate me.
Put your decay in their hearts and upon their lips
so that strength that was of myself
turned and spat upon me,
despoiled my daughters, and killed my sons.
You know I speak true.
Though this is not true for all of you.
When I bestirred myself for freedom
and brave Harriet led the way
some of you found heart and played a part
in aiding my escape.
And when I made my big push for freedom
your sons fought at my sons’ side,
Your husbands and brothers too fell in that battle
when Crispus Attucks died.
It’s unfortunate that you acted not in the way of justice
but to preserve the Union
and for dear sweet pity’s sake;
Else how came it to be with me as it is today?
You abhorred slavery
yet loathed equality.
I would that the poor among you could have seen
through the scheme
and joined hands with me.
Then, we being the majority, could long ago have rescued
our wasted lives.
The rich, becoming richer, could be content
while yet the poor had only the pretense of superiority
and sought through murderous brutality
to convince themselves that what was false was true.
So with KKK and fiery cross
and bloodied appetites
set about to prove that “white is right”
forgetting their poverty.
Thus the white supremacist used your skins
to perpetuate slavery.
And woe to me.
Woe to Willie McGee.
Woe to the seven men of Martinsville.
And woe to you.
It was no mistake that your naked body on an Esquire calendar
announced the date, May Eighth.
This is your fate if you do not wake to fight.
They will use your naked bodies to sell their wares
though it be hate, Coca-Cola or rape.
When a white mother disdained to teach her children
this doctrine of hate,
but taught them instead of peace
and respect for all men’s dignity
the courts of law did legislate
that they be taken from her
and sent to another state.
To make a Troy Hawkins of the little girl
and a killer of the little boy!
No, it was not for the womanhood of this mother
that Willie McGee died
but for a depraved, enslaved, adulterous woman
whose lustful demands denied,
lied and killed what she could not possess.
Only three months before another such woman lied
and seven black men shuddered and gave up their lives.
These women were upheld in these bloody deeds
by the president of this nation,
thus putting the official seal on the fate
of white womanhood within these United States.
This is what they plan for you.
This is the depravity they would reduce you to.
Death for me
and worse than death for you.
What will you do?
Will you fight with me?
White supremacy is your enemy and mine.
So be careful when you talk with me.
Remind me not of my slavery, I know it well
but rather tell me of your own.
Remember, you have never known me.
You’ve been busy seeing me
as white supremacist would have me be,
and I will be myself.
My aim is full equality.
I would usurp their plan!
and plenty for every man, woman and child
who walks the earth.
This is my fight!
If you will fight with me then take my hand
and the hand of Rosa Ingram, and Rosalee McGee,
and as we set about our plan
let our wholehearted fight be:
PEACE IN A WORLD WHERE THERE IS EQUALITY.
“A Black Woman Speaks…Of White Womanhood” from A Black Woman Speaks, © 1987 by Beah Richards – Inner City Press
Beah Richards (1920-2000) was born on July 12 as Beulah Richardson in Vicksburg, Mississippi, daughter of a seamstress and a Baptist minister; American stage, film, and television actress – author, poet, playwright, and civil rights activist. Her acting career began on stages in New York, but she is better known for her film roles, including her Oscar- and Golden Globe- nominated performance for Best Supporting Actress in 1968’s Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner. Richards also appeared in the films of Take A Giant Step, Hurry Sundown, In the Heat of the Night, The Great White Hope, and Beloved. She wrote A Black Woman Speaks as a verse performance piece, which she debuted in 1951 at the American People’s Peace Congress, a predominantly white women’s organization in Chicago. It caused an uproar, and led to her co- founding the political group Sojourners for Truth and Justice with Louise Thompson Pattterson, Shirley Graham Du Bois, and Charlotta Bass (not the same as the Sojourners Community, which is a Christian group). Richards was one of the many who were hounded and surveilled by the FBI, and summoned before the House Un-American Activities Committee. Shortly before her death, Richards was awarded an Emmy for her work in the TV series The Practice, but because of emphysema she had left Los Angeles for her home town. The award was presented to her in Vicksburg.
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Monet’s Les Nympheas
by Lyn Lifshin
the long curved
room, the walls
A Chinese girl
sitting on the stone
bench next to me,
The lilies moving
into both of us
“Monet’s Les Nympheas” from Cold Comfort: Selected Poems 1970-1996, © 1997 by Lyn Lifshin – Black Sparrow Press
Lyn Lifshin (1942-2019) was born on July 12 in Barre, Vermont; American poet, anthologist, and creative writing workshop leader who divided her time between New York state and Virginia. Among her many poetry collections are Katrina, Remember the Ladies, Lost Horses, Barbaro: Beyond Brokenness, Lost in the Fog, and Persephone.
I Ain’t Got No Home
by Woody Guthrie
I ain’t got no home, I’m just a-roamin’ ’round
Just a wandrin’ worker, I go from town to town
And the police make it hard wherever I may go
And I ain’t got no home in this world anymore
My brothers and my sisters are stranded on this road
A hot and dusty road that a million feet have trod
Rich man took my home and drove me from my door
And I ain’t got no home in this world anymore
Was a-farmin’ on the shares, and always I was poor
My crops I lay into the banker’s store
My wife took down and died upon the cabin floor
And I ain’t got no home in this world anymore
I mined in your mines and I gathered in your corn
I been working, mister, since the day I was born
Now I worry all the time like I never did before
‘Cause I ain’t got no home in this world anymore
Now as I look around, it’s mighty plain to see
This world is such a great and a funny place to be
Oh, the gamblin’ man is rich an’ the workin’ man is poor
And I ain’t got no home in this world anymore
“I Ain’t Got No Home” from Dust Bowl Ballads, released on Victor Records in 1940
Woody Guthrie (1912-1967) was born on July 14 as Woodrow Wilson Guthrie in Okemeh, Oklahoma. After a series of bad real estate deals, his father left the family and went to Texas to work off debts. When Woody was 14, his mother, afflicted with Huntington’s disease, was misdiagnosed as mentally ill, and committed to Oklahoma Hospital for the Insane. The Guthrie children were left fending for themselves. Woody worked odd jobs, or played a harmonica and sang for food and money. He dropped out of high school in his senior year before graduation, but remained an avid reader. His mother died in the hospital for the insane in 1930. He married three times, and fathered a total of eight children. During the Dust Bowl years, Guthrie migrated to California looking for work. He partnered with Maxine “Lefty Lou” Crissman on the “Woody and Lefty Lou Show” on the radio. They were fired from their left-leaning program after the Soviet Union signed a non-aggression pact with Germany in 1939. He, Pete Seeger, Will Geer, and others went to New York City. In February 1940, Guthrie wrote his most famous song “This Land Is Your Land.” His autobiography, Bound for Glory, was published in 1943. He served in the U.S. Merchant Marine during WWII. By the late 1940s, Guthrie was beginning to display symptoms of Huntington’s disease, but like his mother, he was misdiagnosed, until 1952. He returned to California, and lived at the Theatricum Botanicum, an outdoor theatre founded and owned by Will Geer. His arm was badly burned in a fire, leaving him unable to play his guitar. Increasingly debilitated by Huntington’s, Guthrie was hospitalized at a series of psychiatric hospitals from 1956 until his death in 1967.
Rules and Visions
by Dimitris P. Kraniotis
the sunset, their exceptions.
Rain drinks up
spring, our dreams.
The eagle sees
and youth, the visions.
“Rules and Visions” © by Dimitris P. Kraniotis
Dimitris P. Kraniotis (1966) was born on July 15 in central Greece; Greek poet who has published nine poetry books in six languages (Greek, English, French, Romanian, Albanian, and Italian). He was the Editor-in-Chief of World Poetry 2011, an international poetry anthology in English, and is editor of the Greek poetry magazine, Τετράδιο Ποίησης (Poetics @ GR).