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I love taking trains, particularly Soul Trains, and the Amtrak ride from Chicago to New York City via Washington, D.C. is just that, “Resistance,” a smooth, long-playing nitty gritty groove. A lot of people (not folks) think of the train—well, long train rides—as triflin’ because “there just ain’t no way” to stay civilized aka “so fresh and so clean” that close to so many people for that long. I understand, especially given the number of times I’ve fallen asleep with my mouth wide open and afro, slang-slanted, only to awaken the next morning somewhere near the ancestral-memory-dilemma of Harper’s Ferry feeling somewhat sleep-chased and in need of a spell or “Some Sign of Nature.” “Black People,” like trains, “Sure Can Keep Secrets,” but this trip was different because at AWP, I got a copy of me and Nina, a book of poems that beautifully balances the art of not being a Loan Company with the Bad Credit No Problem Approach of Nobody Refused. And I got it signed, and I got it signed on the cover (not hidden on the inside of the book like a underground-written page-rail passenger), and I got it signed by the author, by Monica A. Hand’s “Colored” hand with a black sharpie and that’s when the need to be touched spoke. Tell me how long the Soul Train has been gone, not long, but the whole time I was interviewing Nikki Giovanni, I was thinking about how it must have felt to be that free, in charge of your own Soul-free, Don Cornelius-free, and whether or not—in Giovanni—we had witnessed the last actual publishable “Soul Poet” in America. Folk-low definition of Soul Poet: an Inkslinger who sleeps with a silver fork under her or his pillow to prevent the hag (dem witches who ride) from holding him or her down. Folk-high definition of Soul Poet: A non-matrixed bard capable of expressing every mode of the tradition (transmutation and synthesis) without breaking (due to excess word-weight) any of the branches of the learning tree that extend out over the river. Face it, every time one of us mixes uppity structure with triflin’ ’tude, we either get ignored or told to go work the waiter-game at the back of the Breadloaf dinning hall bus but “Sound Speaks” and “Lemme tell you now” Alice James Books did the damn thing. The message in the so-sick-it muse ic is all on the cover, O’Jays style. The bills are pressing but this book (a We) can help you (Now!) gain a stamp of heritage, your own postal traveling shoes, in the office of International (if not Domestic) Acceptance especially if the real tradition, a mature Langston Hughes in a hat, frames your introduction. Nina a BaddDDD Peeps and the past is a small perm off to the side while the smirking living wig mannequin over her left shoulder is just one of the possible afterthought bubbles of the struggle for Big Freedom Simone. It says Get thee behind “we” because “Everything Must Change” especially if your beauty-pride is lil’ or your look inside is only capable of straightened commercial softness. I got to give straight up, goddamn, holla-props to poet and visual artist Krista Franklin for keeping da “Black is Beautiful” “Snuff” afloat for me and Nina because, Eunice Waymon, the “Patches of Black Snow” between black music and black poetry are as “Upward Bound” as “Jim Crow” wing fodder, which is why everyone knows that Florida A&M has a marching band but hardly anyone knows that Chicago State University has a Creative Writing Program. There are many “Things that Stink,” in the appreciation gap and exchange between writers and musicians—the big one being that poets serve musicians more than musicians serve poets, but me and Nina does much to equalize the intimacy. “A Red Box For” missing things touch, and so ”Daddy Bop,” “I Am Gonna Leave You the Blues” but not the new “Daughters” of pro-soul-dy of which Hand has certainly arrived a grown one! If you get a chance look inside this certainly verily amen, which does, indeed, contain “ . . . that something that makes me want to shout.” me and Nina is also the ruckus of “Worry Beads” I would have given Don Cornelius “Alone, Naturally.”
Sweet Cane for the Fury
The Colored poem on page 59 is a Shining Northern Soul star and the poem on page 52 raises its Black Power Mama fist so very high that it did not appear in any journal. Beware of the deep dark aesthetics of pages 41 to 47 unless you want to turn as jet-Black as tar elder, and the white folks in the poem on page 15 were out of their goddamn minds and not just “for a while.”
Thomas Sayers Ellis is author of The Maverick Room, which won the John C. Zacharis First Book Award, and Skin, Inc. He is a recipient of a Mrs. Giles Whiting Writers ’ Award and co-founder of The Dark Room Collective. He is also an Assistant Professor of Writing at Sarah Lawrence College, a faculty member of the Lesley University low-residency M.F.A Program, and a Caven Canem faculty member. He lives in Brooklyn, NY.
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