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Saturday, November 24, 2012

Chinese Mexicans--Cultural Mobility

pop culture

Chinese Mexicans celebrate repatriation to Mexico

 IMAGE: Juan Chiu Trujillo, a Chinese Mexican, weeps as he recounts his life story in Mexico City.
AP Photo: Marco Ugarte. IMAGE: Juan Chiu Trujillo, a Chinese Mexican, weeps as he recounts his life story in Mexico City.
Dozens of Chinese Mexicans and their descendants planned to meet Saturday to celebrate their return to Mexico.

MEXICO CITY — Juan Chiu Trujillo was 5 years old when he left his native Mexico for a visit to his father's hometown in southern China. He was 35 when he returned.
As Chiu vacationed with his parents, brother and two sisters in Guangdong province, Mexico erupted into xenophobia fueled by the economic turmoil of the Great Depression and aimed at its small, relatively prosperous Chinese minority. Authorities backed by mobs rounded up Chinese citizens, pressured them to sell their businesses and forced many to cross into the United States.
Unable to return to their home, hotel and restaurant in the southern border city of Tapachula, the Chius stayed in China and began a new life.
Chiu's father took a job at a relative's bakery and his children began learning Chinese. But their life was soon turned upside down as China was invaded by the Japanese, endured World War II and then suffered a civil war that led to a victory by communist forces that persecuted religious people. In 1941, the family fled to Macau, then a Portuguese colony.
They never stopped dreaming of Mexico, and Juan Chiu Trujillo returned in November 1960. He came back with his pregnant wife and four children and with 300 other Chinese Mexicans after President Adolfo Lopez Mateos, trying to improve Mexico's global image, paid for their travel expenses and decreed that they would be legally allowed to live in Mexico. They were eventually granted Mexican citizenship.
Dozens of those Chinese Mexicans and their descendants planned a gathering Saturday at a Chinese restaurant in Mexico City to celebrate for the first time the anniversary of their return, share memories and pay tribute to the late Lopez Mateos, who was being represented by his daughter.
For many, the commemoration has brought reflection on their status as Chinese Mexicans. It's a group that feels deeply Mexican but also has been scarred by persecution by their countrymen and still faces ethnic prejudice, despite growing acceptance.
"I thought: 'My children need to know this history. They need to know where we come from, and they need to know how much hard work it has taken for us to be here,'" said Chiu's youngest son, Ignacio Chiu Chan, a 46-year-old lawyer.
Chiu Chan began a Facebook page to share photographs of the repatriation that he found in his father's photo albums and to collect the stories of other Chinese Mexicans who were brought back by Lopez Mateos. So far, more than 260 people have joined his page, sharing images and recounting family stories.
Chiu Chan, who is married to a Mexican woman of Spanish and Indian descent and has four children, said he struggled with his identity while growing up because of bullying and got into several fights because of name calling.
He was a young bachelor when a group of elders invited him to lunch at a restaurant in Mexico City's tiny Chinatown. Three young women were at the table and he was asked to say which one he would like to marry.
"I thought, 'What are these dudes talking about?'" he recalled. "For the first time I felt Mexican and thought, 'I don't belong to this.'"
Large numbers of Chinese began arriving in northern Mexico in the late 1800s, drawn by jobs in railroad construction and cotton. The country represented a haven from the United States, which had passed the Chinese Exclusion Act, an 1882 law that banned Chinese immigration.
But from the moment they began to arrive, they faced racism, which was exacerbated during the 1910-17 Mexican Revolution and its aftermath, when the country was trying to build a national identity that celebrated the mixture of Indian and Spanish cultures.
Mexican women who married Chinese men were considered traitors, and in some cases families disowned them. With the Great Depression, large numbers of destitute Mexicans began returning home from the United States and resentment about the financial success of Chinese people grew.
"Even though there was a small number of Chinese people, their economic prowess and their position in the labor force made them a threat," said Fredy Gonzalez, a Ph.D. candidate in history at Yale University who is studying the repatriations.
In the northern border state of Sonora, anti-Chinese leagues formed and thousands of Chinese were taken to the border with the U.S. and forced to cross. Because of the Chinese Exclusion Act they were immediately detained by U.S. immigration officials and sent to China.
In 1930, Mexico had 18,000 Chinese citizens and Mexicans of Chinese descent. By 1940, there were only 4,800, Gonzalez said.
Today, there are at least 70,000 Chinese citizens and Chinese Mexicans in the country, according to a report in 2008 by the Foreign Relations Department.
In China, Chiu Trujillo's Mexican mother spoke to her children in Spanish and often sang Mexican ranchera songs so loudly that she could be heard all around the stream where she washed the family's laundry.
Their mother also instilled in her children devotion for the Virgin of Guadalupe, Mexico's patron saint.
"We would recite the rosary in Spanish, she would teach us," Chiu, 87, remembered during an interview in his small apartment in Mexico City's rough La Merced neighborhood, its walls decorated with images of the Virgin of Guadalupe and Jesus Christ, a couple of Chinese calendars and lots of family photographs. "She would tell us, don't forget you are Catholics, don't lose your religion."
Three years after his mother and two siblings returned, Chiu, his pregnant Chinese wife and four children finally were flown to Mexico.
After working at his brother's grocery store in the Gulf coast state of Veracruz, he decided to move to Mexico City, where he worked as a cook and eventually opened his own cafeteria.
"I was able to give my sons an education. The boys all graduated from college," Chiu said. "The oldest is an accountant, the second is a chemist, the third is a mathematician, and the young one is a musician."
Chiu said he always felt more Mexican than Chinese.
"I have always thought that wherever you can find tranquility, that's where your home is," he said.

Legitimate Rape


The Excellent Absurdity of Legitimate Rape: A Note on Art and History

 

The American mind seems to have a limited capacity for dealing with either the diachronic or synchronic aspects of issues.  That is unfortunate.  However, if we seek to overcome those limits, we discover a profound need to deal with the absurd.  In August 2012, we had occasion to consider the excellent absurdity of legitimate rape.

Representative Todd Akin of Missouri said on public television”

It seems to me, first of all, from what I understand from doctors, that’s really rare.  If it’s a legitimate rape, the female body has ways to try to shut that whole thing down.

Had Akin had momentarily become the anti-hero of Voltaire’s novel Candide and were his unguarded remarks  informed by the twisted beliefs of Dr. Pangloss?  Was he at all aware of what Mark Twain, a famous writer from Missouri, had said about the madness of “rape” in King Leopold’s Soliloquy?  Perhaps not.  Few of our politicians can demonstrate cultural literacy.  But from the angle of literary analysis, it seemed Akin had uttered a proposition about “rape” that was itself “legitimated” by the genocidal “rape” of indigenous peoples to obtain the Lebensraum that is now the United States of America.  From the angles of cultural analysis and biology, it seemed Akin was dead wrong,  because “legitimate rape” of the African female body during the period of slavery so frequently resulted in pregnancy. Akin suffered from the convenient amnesia that for thousands of years has made rape legitimate. Much of the outrage about his statement pertained, I suspect, to his treachery in revealing a secret that was no secret.

When I informed a friend that

I need your opinion on the absurd topic of "legitimate rape." Does it make any sense to use the wording as a category for analysis in history or as what I call an analytic metaphor? I want to write a short essay on the antiquity of the concept (the Romans legitimately raped people and territories to create the Roman Empire) and its contemporary uses (American citizens are legitimately raped by political uses of disinformation or misinformation).

he replied

The definition of rape has evolved over the centuries. As you state the Romans, and earlier civilizations did not consider what they did as "rape" by the traditional definition. It was an act of power, pillage and empire building. Much has to do with the position of women as subservient, "baby makers" and sexual objects historically. Also recall that under Greece and Rome, soldiers had young male escorts that accompanied them for sexual purposes that one could define as having been "raped" regardless of how Akin used this in reference to pregnancy and abortion. The entire concept is much broader and complicated than what the media has superficially attributed to (an ignorant Republican…--you get my drift). I think your inclusion of the political use of the term "rape" is right on and again reinforces the multiple uses and realistic definition outside of a violent sexual act against one’s consent. I recall a picture of a woman protesting the government and taxes. She held a sign that said something to the effect that "I don't have to worry about a sex life, the government fucks (i. e. rapes) me everyday...”

 

It is obvious, as my friend added in a later email, that “legitimate rape” as an analytic metaphor can indeed reveal much about “an historical continuum” that extends from such literary works as “The Epic of Gilgamesh” and the Homeric epics to aesthetic treatments of rape in the visual arts to  the political histories of the  Japanese rape of Nanjing and the recent and very costly rape of Iraq and to the contemporary  neo-colonial rape of the continent of Africa that must be studied in depth in the realm of the post-colonial.  In her forthcoming book, Policing the Womb: The New Cultural Politics of Reproduction (Cambridge University Press), Michele Goodwin promises to enlighten us, by using empirical evidence, about the “political and regulatory discourse on women’s reproduction.”  Nevertheless, something more is needed.   Akin’s opening of Pandora’s box warrants our giving literary and cultural attention to how the symbolic discourses of female and male bodies describe and indict what is after all these centuries still primitive in world civilizations. Perhaps when I do write “An Absurd Essay on the Absurdity of Legitimate Rape,” I shall be compelled to suggest : human beings still pray to an unknown God as John Donne did in Holy Sonnet 14 (1633)

Take me to You, imprison me, for I,

Except You’enthrall me, never shall be free,

Nor ever chaste, except You ravish me.

 

Jerry W. Ward, Jr.                                                           November 24, 2012

 

Friday, November 23, 2012

I do not want a microchip in my passport

India and China make their marks on disputed passports

India doesn't like the map on new Chinese passports, which includes territories that other countries count as their own.
NEW DELHI - India is stamping its own map on visas it issues to holders of new Chinese passports that contain a map depicting disputed territory within China's borders, the latest twist in tension in Asia over China's territorial claims.
China's new microchip-equipped passports contain a map that marks its claims over disputed waters and also show as its territory two Himalayan regions that India also claims.
The map means countries disputing the Chinese claims will have to stamp microchip-equipped passports of countless visitors, in effect acquiescing to the Chinese point of view.
In response, India is issuing visas stamped with its own version of the borders, sources with knowledge of the dispute told Reuters.
"The correct map of India is stamped on to visas being issued on such passports," said one of the sources, who declined to be identified.
China's long-standing territorial disputes with Japan and Southeast Asian neighbors have grown heated in recent months.
On Thursday, the Philippines responded angrily to the new passports, saying Chinese carrying the document would be violating Philippine national sovereignty.
India and China fought a brief, high-altitude border war in 1962.
The nuclear-armed neighbors have held multiple rounds of talks to resolve their disputed Aksai Chin and Arunachal Pradesh regions where they fought the war but have made little progress.
In Beijing, Chinese Foreign Ministry Hua Chunying told a daily news briefing that China has selected the maps as background on the inside pages of the passports issued by the Ministry of Public Security in May.
"The design is not targeting a specific country," Hua said. "We hope that the relevant countries take a rational and sensible attitude ... to avoid causing interference with normal Sino-foreign personnel exchanges."
(Additional reporting by Sui-Lee Wee in Beijing)

Sunday, November 18, 2012

Minstrelsy


The White Minstrelsy of American Politics

Yuval Taylor and Jake Austen’s aptly titled Darkest America: Black Minstrelsy from Slavery to Hip Hop (New York: W. W. Norton, 2012) is a smart and timely book.

It is smart because Taylor and Austen chose not to ape Eric Lott’s Love and Theft: Blackface Minstrelsy and the American Working Class (1993) or to mimic Robert C. Toll’s Blacking Up: The Minstrel Show in Nineteenth-Century America (1974).  Instead they focus on the centrality of minstrelsy in cultural expressions and suggest we should care about that expressive tradition because American “culture wouldn’t exist without minstrelsy” (5).  Take their exaggerated claim with a grain of pepper: American culture would be duller and safer without minstrelsy, but it would exist.  Nevertheless, their attractive work should have a companion volume entitled Darkest America: White Minstrelsy from Colonial Conquest to Social Pathology.

Taylor and Austen’s book is timely because it enables a reader to have a moment of enlightenment, an epiphany.  Read against the grain of how modern historiography uses the term polis (city-state), the book can be interpreted as a cutting treatment of polis (nation-state) and some of its spectacular characteristics.  Such displacement allows us to discover the red liberal/blue conservative binary is not the only reason for finding ourselves in a post-election swamp to be navigated between now and 2016. The swamp was made by white minstrelsy.  White political minstrelsy daily nurtures the swamp.

Since colonial days, white minstrelsy has been a practical art used by pink people of color.  These pink people distort their collective ethnic identities by smearing white paint over their imagined bodies. The audible and visual mask denies the biological verification of ultimate African origins.  The paint invades the nervous system and manifests itself as random Gestalts, which in turn produce dedicated scripts for the grand stage of American politics.  The white minstrels take orgasmic delight in performing these scripts to frustrate and misinform non-painted citizens. The scripts are spin-driven histories; the comic deliveries block any clear vision of the real political actions and policies that often prove fatal.

Just as the charm of black minstrelsy pivots on “indefinite talk” routines, the thrall of white minstrelsy depends on the 24-7 broadcasting of “definitive trash-talk.”  Long usage has made this kind of discourse seem “normal” and has rendered white minstrelsy indistinguishable from what is not theatrical.  It is merely insane or absurd to argue that American politics is not a child begot from a strange marriage of black and white minstrelsy.

Taylor and Austen open the closets of polis in Chapter 3, “Of Cannibals and Kings: How New Orleans’s Zulu Krewe Survived One Hundred Years of Blackface” and Chapter 10, “New Millennium Minstrel Show: How Spike Lee and Tyler Perry Brought the Black Minstrelsy Debate to the Twenty-First Century.”  Rather than spoil the unique pleasure of discovery in those two chapters, and indeed in the book as a whole, I will leave you with the refrain of white minstrelsy’s theme song:  There is a bomb in Gilead that kills the sin-sick soul.

Jerry W. Ward, Jr.     November 18, 2012    

Saturday, November 17, 2012

Eugene B. Redmond and Cultural Documentation


Eugene B. Redmond and Cultural Documentation

Eugene B. Redmond turns seventy-five on December 1, 2012.  It is obligatory to make a few notes about his legacy to world culture and the world of letters.

How many of his fellow writers has he helped to scrub a river’s back by publishing them in Drumvoices Revue?  How has his invention of the “kwansaba” enriched poetics?  How does his extensive collection of photographs, housed in the Elijah P. Lovejoy Library at Southern Illinois University Edwardsville http://www.siue.edu/lovejoylibrary/ebr.shtml   , constitute an invaluable archive for research on writers and artists?  How do Redmond’s poems exist as works of art and as models for work to be assumed by individuals in a tradition, by people who have not committed artistic or intellectual suicide?  What impact has his neologic signature had on our use of poetic languages?  How does his now classic Drumvoices: The Mission of Afro-American Poetry (1976) serve as our prototype for critical, humanly engaged scholarship?

Answers to some of these questions may be contained in Redmond’s new book Arkansipp Memwars: 1962-2012, Poetry, Prose & Chants.  Observe a hint about the special conscience and consciousness that mark Redmond’s critical imagination.  He uses a soundsoulular gesture to refashion memoir as memwar. This transformation exposes the function of aesthetics in the social space occupied by our political and cultural investments.  Memwar is mano a mano, an adult reckoning with inevitable principles of uncertainty. The gesture is a response to Adesanya Alakoye’s request (tell me how willing slaves be), to June Jordan’s assertion (I must be a menace to my enemies), and to Gwendolyn Brooks’ admonition (first fight. then fiddle). The gesture is one that a man makes when he steps outside the comfort zone of ego to do battle for his people.

Redmond has mastered the art of using the simple neologism to create a mindscape.  And his conflating geographic territories in Arkansippi reminds me of how John Oliver Killens cooked down with black fire Nina Simone’s “Mississippi, Goddamn” into the gumbo of his novel ‘Sippi (1967).

Just as Robert Hayden paid homage in “Frederick Douglass” to a man who had a “dream of the beautiful, needful thing,” so too ought we pay tribute to Eugene B. Redmond for his lifetime of work in the field of “Parapoetics” where

Poetry is an applied science:

         Re-wraped corner rap;

         Rootly-eloquented cellular, soulular sermons.

 

We ought to pay tribute to Redmond for all of his cultural documentation, or ,in the words of Jerry Herman from the blurb assigned to Sentry of the Four Golden Pillars (1970), his “challenging man’s inability to control his savage quest for power in our modern nuclear jungle.”  Redmond is the poet-artist-thinker for all our seasons.

Jerry W. Ward, Jr.   November 17, 2012                   

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

Excellent Advice for Writers

  • One-Sentence Mentoring

    Careers Illustration for Midcareer Mentoring
    Brian Taylor for The Chronicle
    Enlarge Image
    closeCareers Illustration for Midcareer Mentoring
    Brian Taylor for The Chronicle
    Inspired by one-sentence book reviews, tweets, and text messages, I decided to attempt an academic form of this parsimonious genre by providing bite-size morsels of advice on selected career topics. The appeal of this approach to mentoring is that it forces one to prioritize: If I could tell you only one thing about each topic, what is that one most important thing?
    The obvious hazard, of course, is that some topics deserve much more than a one-sentence sound bite, but I decided to do it anyway. Although I limited myself to one sentence per topic, some sentences contain more than one bit of advice, so I stretched the concept slightly.
    One thing I noticed after I started this exercise was that my advice tended to be of the negative sort. When forced to select one piece of advice for a topic, I tended to gravitate toward "Don't do X" rather than "Be sure to do Y." That probably means I think it is most essential to avoid doing stupid things, and in this context, stupid things are ones I personally find annoying.
    So as you read, keep in mind one of the perils of mentoring advice: It is extremely subjective. No advice—whether brief or detailed—applies to all people and situations.

    To applicants writing cover letters for academic jobs: In one page, explain why you are a strong candidate in terms of your expertise and interests, without implying that we are idiots if we don't hire you.
    To applicants writing research statements for academic jobs: Start with your most recent and most exciting work and ideas, rather than describing your research experiences in chronological order, from childhood to present.
    To applicants submitting CV's for academic jobs: Put the information most relevant to our position early in the CV and don't try to bulk up a meager publication record by listing manuscripts "in preparation."
    To applicants writing research statements for graduate-school applications: Don't write about a memorable childhood experience that you (mistakenly) think is relevant to your qualifications for graduate study.
    To applicants choosing reference-letter writers for graduate-school applications: In addition to selecting the obvious professors (advisers), pick people who are not related to you and who can write substantive comments relevant to your goal of being admitted to a doctoral program.
    To applicants choosing reference-letter writers for tenure-track jobs: In addition to selecting the obvious professors (advisers), pick people who can write something substantive about you—even if they are not as famous as others who could toss off a brief paragraph—and who have credibility as letter writers in this context.
    To people writing letters for applicants to graduate programs: Write about things that are relevant to an applicant for graduate study, not a list of every type of interaction you have ever had with the candidate, from hiring that student as a babysitter to discovering a mutual love of zombie movies.
    To people writing letters for applicants for tenure-track positions: Give an honest and substantive explanation for why the candidate is—or is not—qualified for the position for which he or she is applying.
    To people writing letters for a faculty member's tenure bid: If someone's career depends, in part, on your evaluation, it would be nice if you wrote a thorough letter that is more about the candidate than about you.
    To people writing letters for female candidates for any of these things: Do not compare her only to other women in similar positions ("She is among the top female students ever to graduate from our department.").
    To candidates interviewing for tenure-track faculty positions: Just be yourself, but not too much.
    To prospective graduate students writing to faculty or program administrators: Do not send form letters ("Dear Professor"), don't ask vague questions that you should be able to answer before you write ("What is your research about?"), and don't ask us to do tasks for you ("Please send me your three most recent papers."), especially if those tasks are obnoxious ("My adviser told me to write to you, so please write back soon and tell me why I might be interested in working with you, given my expertise").
    To prospective graduate students visiting a department for an interview or recruitment event: Don't skip a meeting with a professor (or anyone) because you would rather check out the campus fitness center.
    To graduate students who think their advisers are strange, unavailable, erratic, and clueless (excluding egregious behavior and ethical violations): Maybe they are some or all of those things and maybe they aren't, but it would be good if you could find a way to work with them anyway, perhaps by developing strategies for better communication.
    To graduate advisers who think their students are strange, unavailable, erratic, and clueless (excluding egregious behavior and ethical violations): Maybe they are some or all of those things and maybe they aren't, but it would be good if you could find a way to work with them anyway, perhaps by developing strategies for better communication.
    To writers who are upset at the rejection of their manuscripts by journals: Unless your work has been conclusively shown to be fatally flawed, move on as soon as possible and submit a revised version to another journal.
    To writers who are upset at how their work is cited—or not cited—in journal articles or books (excluding egregious examples and ethical violations): Let it go, perhaps after sending a passive-aggressive e-mail to the offending author(s).
    To people who wonder if a woman got a job, a grant, or an award because "they" had to hire or reward a woman: Don't.
    Female Science Professor is the pseudonym of a professor in the physical sciences at a large research university who blogs under that moniker and writes monthly for our Catalyst column. Her blog is science-professor.blogspot.com.

    Sunday, November 4, 2012

    A New Novel

    T. Geronimo Johnson - HOLD IT ‘TIL IT HURTS

    09/20/2012 6:00 pm
    “The magnificence of Hold It ‘Til It Hurts is not only in the prose and the story but also in the book's great big beating heart. These complex and compelling characters and the wizardry of Johnson’s storytelling will dazzle and move you from first page to last.”
    ANTHONY SWOFFORD, author of JARHEAD
    Please join us for a reading and signing with T. Geronimo Johnson featuring his riveting debut novel, HOLD IT ‘TIL IT HURTS.
    Johnson is from New Orleans originally and although he now makes his home in Berkeley, he maintains a strong connection to his hometown - and New Orleans figures prominently in the novel. Hold It ‘Til It Hurts is one of the few literary takes on the war in Afghanistan and the veterans who served there. The plot centers around Achilles Conroy and his brother, Troy, whose white adoptive parents decide to provide them with their adoption papers upon their return from serving in the war. After Troy disappears, Achilles—always his brother’s keeper—embarks on a harrowing journey in search of his brother amid the chaos of Hurricane Katrina.
    It’s an intense modern day epic, and acts as a starting point for discussions on everything from transracial adoption to contemporary war narratives to portrayals of Hurricane Katrina. National Book Award winner Jaimy Gordon recently called it “a novel about war that goes in search of passionate love, a dreamy thriller, a sprawling mystery, a classical quest for a lost brother in which the shadowy quarry is clearly the seeker’s own self, and a meditation on family and racial identity that makes its forerunners in American fiction look innocent by comparison.” And Publishers Weekly has called it a “powerful, stylish debut novel.”

    Born in New Orleans, T. Geronimo Johnson received his MFA from the Iowa Writers’Workshop and has taught writing and held fellowships—including a Stegner Fellowship and an Iowa Arts Fellowship—at ASU, Iowa, Berkeley, and Stanford. His writing has appeared in Best New American Voices, the Indiana Review, the LA Review, and Illuminations, among others. He has worked on, at, or in brokerages, kitchens, construction sites, phone rooms, education non-profits, writing centers, summer camps, ladies’ shoe stores, nightclubs, law firms, offset print shops, and San Quentin. He is also a Niroga certified yoga instructor and trained rally driver. This is his first novel.

    Thursday, November 1, 2012

    Lance Jeffers


    Lance Jeffers (1919-1985): WRITING TOWARD BALANCE

     

    Equating the power of Lance Jeffers’ mind with intellectual passion, Eugene Redmond proclaimed in his introduction for When I Know the Power of My Black Hand (1974) that Jeffers was “a giant baobab tree we younger saplings lean on, because we understand that he bears witness to the power and majesty of ‘Pres, and Bird, and Hodges, and all’ “(11).  In bearing witness to fabulous musicians, Jeffers left evidence in his poetry and his novel Witherspoon (1983) that the art of writing well entails finding a balance between the kind of humility to which Redmond alludes and the mastery of craft.

    In an interview with Paul Austerlitz included in Jazz Consciousness: Music, Race, and Humanity (Middletown, Ct: Wesleyan University Press, 2005), Milford Graves speaks about his interest in Einstein and quantum physics.  John Coltrane was also immersed in study of Einstein’s physics. In the poetry of Asili Ya Nadhiri, one discovers his indebtedness to jazz and physics, just as one finds in Jeffers’ poetry an indebtedness to the study of anatomy, jazz and classical music.  Strong poets and strong musicians are receptive to mastering their craft by making intellectual investments in disciplines which, on the surface, seem remote from their own.  Assertive humility is important.

    Humility may be alien in contemporary American life, but it is necessary for our respecting tradition and ourselves as saplings in need of guidance from baobabs, redwoods, and oaks.  Reading all of Jeffers’ poems in My Blackness is the Beauty of This Land (1970), When I Know the Power of My Black Hand, O Africa Where I Baked My Bread (1977) and Grandsire (1979) is a rewarding use of time.  We learn to locate ourselves in human history.  We learn that direct confrontation and battle with language is more valuable than intimacy with clich├ęs.

    Jeffers used rhyme with discretion, but he maximized repetition of parts to intensify the “epic line” American poets have inherited from Walt Whitman.  The epic line projected Jeffers’ passionate attention to small things and big events in historical experiences.  Surreal phrasing is a typical feature in his work, a feature that also flavors the poetry of Bob Kaufman. Consider Jeffers’ “in the sea the anchor of your/ soul rushes to the surface on flying fish’s wings” or “The hawk is slavery still alive in me/ my testicles afloat in cotton field.”  How many blues songs swam through his mind when he wrote “My own flesh has been nailed so strait/ I’ve been forgot by my own genius”?  Exploration of Jeffers’ poetic landscape yields moments of technical brilliance, moments that challenge us to find our own wordpaths to similar achievements.  We must know what the ancient rain can bring.

    When I ended “Second April Poem (for Lance Jeffers)” with the lines

    People who want to be

    the alpha and omega

    ought to take lessons

    from my friend Lance

    who made morality a verb.

    I thought of how Old Testament his prophecy was.  He was unashamed in testifying about the evil and the good in human beings.  He had conviction and character.  He was willing to predict that a male poet “will explore the unexplored continent of himself and his people, will seek out the hidden caves and springs of beauty and hell, will seek out the hell and the complexity within his bones and within the viscera of his people” (“The Death of the Defensive Posture,” 259).  These thundering words come from his seminal essay in The Black Seventies (Boston: Porter Sargent, 1970), edited by Floyd B. Barbour. His referring us to land masses and body parts is indicative of his “scientific” posture with regard to discovering truths about humanity.  References to geography and anatomy recur in his poems; they reinforce the sense of greatness or grandeur.  His aesthetic is grounded in humanistic, pre-Black Arts assumptions about the human condition, but his poetics is grounded in relentless investigation of what the human condition is from the vantage of Blackness.  His “humanistic” response to writing as a way of knowing was an effort to balance logic with sensual saturation.  His writing is a fine example of how universally inseparable are art and ethos.

    From reading Lance Jeffers, not once but many times, we may learn the value of disciplined uses of language, of exorcising demons that seek to persuade us that we have no obligations as poets to our biological and literary ancestors and descendents.  Truth be told, we can learn to write well from many poets other than Lance Jeffers.  Whether they can teach us as well as his works can the validating beauty of writing toward balance is a matter for contemplation.

     

    Jerry W. Ward, Jr.                                                                           

    November 1, 2012