When poets die their words are their monuments. The songs they wove over their decades, few, or many, become the maps of their lives. And in those words, we who are still on this human path might find some guidance, some solace, some vision, some love. In their still breathing rhythms out of daring, anger, passion and truth we can forever find a glow in who they were, in what, despite their passing, they continue to be. In the last week two very different poets have made their transitions from human of flesh to the next part of their journey as energy, as spirt, as mineral for earth and tree. The first Aime Cesaire, born in Marinique 1913, informed and enriched the poetry of the second, Toni Brown, decades younger, her brilliance just beginning to really shine to a larger audience. Both, however, have made a place in the eternal world of poetics.
I was nineteen and in college when I first heard of Cesaire, Negritude, African and African-Carribean poetry. He, Leopold Senghor and Léon Gontian Damas sculpted the idea of “negritude:”
my negritude is not a stone
nor a deafness flung against the clamor of the day
my negritude is not a white speck of dead water
on the dead eye of the earth
my negritude is neither tower nor cathedral
it plunges into the red flesh of the soil
it plunges into the blaxing flesh of the sky
my negritude riddles with holes
the dense affliction of its worthy patience.
His most famous work is probably the poetry and prose collection first published in its full form in 1947, Cahier d'un retour au pays natal (Return to My Native Land).
from CAHIER D'UN RETOUR AU PAYS NATAL (NOTEBOOK OF A RETURN TO MY NATIVE LAND):
and here at the end of this daybreak my virile prayer
that I hear neither the laughter nor the screams, my eyes
fixed on this town which I prophesy, beautiful,
grant me the savage faith of the sorcerer
grant my hands the power to mold
grant my soul the sword's temper
I won't flinch. Make my head into a figurehead
and as for me, my heart, do not make me into a father nor a brother
nor a son, but into the father, the brother, the son,
nor a husband, but the lover of this unique people.
His poetry spoke of Africa, of resistance, of self-hood with a precision and music that I had not seen before. Presaging the Black Arts Movement he, a class mate of Leopold Senghor, helped writers, particularly writers of the African diaspora, and Africans who were under French colonialism on either side of the Atlantic or Mediterranean, to speak from their own histories, reflecting the multiplicity of their cultures all colored and deepened by the richness of Africa. Cesiare was a poet, a playwright, a political activist, a pointed and eloquent critic of colonialism, and a socialist who wrote and spoken on the African roots of socialism. Through poems and deeds he was one who made the world better for his being a part of it.
For an American article on his passing you might go to the New York Times:
An interesting article on the French ceremony honoring his legacy can be found at http://africa.reuters.com/top/news/usnBAN124903.html
A very different poet, Toni Brown (November 2, 1952 – April 19, 2008), full of spice and laughter, has also passed. I met this kind and laugh full woman in New York at a Cave Canem poets retreat http://www.cavecanempoets.org And fell in love with her work while be enriched by her down0to-earth for real spirit. Most of her poems can be found in journals and magazines. She brought depth and humor to her words, compassion and soul to her lines. She has left many reeling by her passing. Hard to believe that a woman who breathed life in so deeply would die so suddenly from respiratory complications.
from Postcards from Cave Canem
Naked against the moon’s fingers
rolling on the floor in the sheets
licking the sweat off my upper lip the cool rain
off the window sill Twisting my hair into knots
eating only sunshine and the songs of birds
Who heard my cries through the heavy oak door
while 15 poems had their way with me?
these ropes of hair
This is how
it would have grown
on my head
in the bowels of a ship
we dark still living
who crawled or
hair matted flat
into this New World
would have been
For more of her poems and to hear an audio of her reading some of her work http://www.amusejanetmason.com/Toni_Brown.htm
Toni, though having less years and fame, too has made a place for herself in not only the world of her friends and family, but in the broader world of poetry that reaches out to speak with clarity, with grace, with purpose, and with vision.
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