07 December 2012

countdown to new year’s: round 1, day 1

Welcome to day one of the dating rounds! 

As explained yesterday, each day of preliminary “dates” will feature three poet pairings that will face a “duel” of poems. Each poet will receive a short biographical introduction, and will have one poem to “speak for him” during his date. The poem will be selected based on the poetic aesthetic outlined earlier this week. The winner of each poetic pairing will be announced the next day.

So, without any further ado, let’s get started! (Follow along with your bracket if you’d like!)

Breakfast Date: Robert Hayden versus Lewis Grandison Alexander

At breakfast both Robert and Lewis share a little of their personal stories. Robert (August 4, 1913 – February 25, 1980) shares that he was born “Asa Bundy Sheffey.” Raised by a foster family, he had a traumatic childhood rife with the turmoil caused by many violent and contradictory relationships in his youth. Robert suffered from extreme nearsightedness, which led him to turn to books in his childhood. Robert boasts that he was the first African American to be appointed as “Consultant in Poetry to the Library of Congress,” the precursor to what we now know as the Poet Laureate. In a pre-date interview, Frederick Glaysher described Robert as “the most outstanding craftsman of Afro-American poetry.” In describing himself, Robert catches my ear in particular by describing himself as “a poet who teaches in order to learn a living so that he can write a poem or two now and then.”

Lewis (July 4, 1900 – ?? 1945) jokes that despite not actually living in Harlem during the Harlem Renaissance, he was something of a “Renaissance man,” working as a poet, costume designer, and director. Lewis enjoyed working with Japanese forms, particularly the haiku, hokku, and tanka forms. Although he didn’t live in Harlem, he was still an important figure in the Harlem Renaissance, helping to bring awareness to the new thinking born of the movement. He was also published alongside many of the most famous of Harlem Renaissance poets, including Langston Hughes and Countee Cullen. In a pre-date interview, Alex Davis praised Lewis as deserving recognition as a writer of modernist verse for making “key forms of modernist poetry—free verse, imagism, and dramatic monologue—into racial critique.”

Toward the end of breakfast, both gentlemen hand over a copy of one of their poems. Robert offers up “Those Winter Sundays”, while Lewis hands me “Effigy.”

(Check out both poets’ poems, and let me know who would be your choice as the winner in the comments below!)

Lunch Date: Shel Silverstein versus Jupiter Hammon

I’m still a little full from breakfast when Shel and Jupiter drop by to pick me up for lunch. On the ride to the restaurant Shel (September 25, 1930 – May 8, 1999) opens up about his history as a poet. He confessed that as a child, since he wasn’t good at sports, dancing, or attracting the ladies, “I started to draw and write … By the time I got to where I was attracting girls, I was already into work, and it was more important to me. Not that I wouldn’t rather make love, but the work has become a habit.” Ignoring the subtle blush these last words bring to my cheeks, Shel continues by informing me that he enjoyed several forms of creative expression: on top of being a poet, he was also a cartoonist, singer-songwriter, screenwriter, and children’s book author. In a pre-date interview, Otto Penzler stated, “The phrase ‘Renaissance man’ tends to get overused these days, but apply it to Shel Silverstein and it practically begins to seem inadequate.”

Jupiter (October 17, 1711 -- ?? [before 1806]) says very little by way of personal history or introduction. He eventually shares that he was born a slave, held by four generations of the Lloyd family of what is now known as Lloyd Manor in Lloyd Harbor, NY. Unlike other slaves, he was encouraged to learn to read and write. He acknowledges that his primary interest is his Christianity, and his published works are poems dealing with his faith and sermon essays. When prodded, he acknowledges that he had no personal desire to be free, but wished that “the young negroes … were free,” among others. It is eventually a passerby who praises Jupiter for being known as the first African-American to publish literature within the present-day United States, a fact which he humbly acknowledges to be true, as far as he knows.

As we sip on some after-lunch refreshments, Shel offers a copy of his poem “No Difference” for my consideration. Jupiter eventually admits that he is not a “love poet” in the traditional sense, but with some prodding offers up “A Poem for Children with Thoughts on Death”.

(Read over both poets’ poems and let me know: Which one would earn a token of your favor based on his poetic offering?)

Dinner Date: Robert Creeley versus Etheridge Knight

Robert and Etheridge meet me at a lovely jazz café for dinner. As we sit down to order, Robert (May 21, 1926 – March 30, 2005) fills the wait time with a little biographical sketch. Born in Arlington, Massachusetts, he was raised by his mother and sister after his father’s death when Robert was just four years old. He was associated with the “Black Mountain Poets” for much of his career, and worked, along with Charles Olson, to develop the concept of “projective verse,” a style of poetry that favored freely constructed verse in which the poem’s “shape” was fluid, forming as the process of writing the poem took place. He shares that he wrote “to move in words, a human delight. I write when no other act is possible.” In a pre-date interview, Albert Mobilio states, “The much imitated, often diluted minimalism, the compression of emotion into verse in which scarcely a syllable is wasted, has decisively marked a generation of poets.”

Etheridge (April 19, 1931 – March 10, 1991) shares his history as we wait for dessert. He shares that he started writing poetry while he was imprisoned in the Indiana State Prison. In a pre-date interview, Shirley Lumpkin states that his poetry “was hailed by black writers and critics as another excellent example of the powerful truth of blackness in art.” He shares that he views art as the thing through which the “true artist” examines his life’s experiences, and as something that “unifies … it brings people together instead of alienating them.” He views the artistry of the Black artist as work through which the artist understands the collective “aspirations [and] vision of black people, and through his art form give back to the people the truth that he has gotten from them.”

As we listen to a jazz concert after dinner, Robert hands me his poem “A Wicker Basket”, while Etheridge slips me a few sheets with his “Haiku”.

(After examining these poets’ offerings, who do you think will move on to round two?)

So, now it's ... Your Turn: Who would you choose as the winners of this round, and why? Are there any draws? Please feel free to share your thoughts and comments below!


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  1. Breakfast--Hayden
    Lunch--Hammon (in IX, there's a typo: Christ)

    I was "woo'ed" by these poems. Can't wait for round 2. Looking forward to dessert--in the mood for some hot fudge and a dance or two.

    1. There are definitely some fun locales planned for the second round ... This first round is all meal-based, but after we've gotten to know each other a little bit I can see some amusement parks and dancing in the future ...

      Thanks for sharing your "woos," Janice! I can't wait to announce the winners on Monday.

  2. I'll have to say Robert Hayden (more depth of emotion in his), Shel Silverstein (if these are actually directly towards the youth, Shel wins every time), and Robert Creely (who sounded like he was getting more and more high as he wrote, but man, I did not care for Knight's haiku).

    I may have to try this exercise out, as long as my Person doesn't get jealous. :)

    1. Thanks for your input, Joseph! (I say go for it ... just remind your person that all the competition is ... you know ... not really competition!) I can't wait to announce the winners tomorrow and share the next lineup!


Thank you so much for your comments! Please feel free to share your thoughts here; I look forward to engaging in conversation with you!

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