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Monday, January 20, 2014

Charlie R. Braxton's Poetry

Introduction for Cinders Rekindled





                Between Charlie Braxton’s first book of poems, Ascension from the Ashes (1990), and  Cinders Rekindled, his second collection, is a lake of incineration, the space wherein the risen phoenix transforms cinders into embers and embers into flames of black fire (circa 1968) in order to burn the anger of redemption into American consciousness grown lazy and blind under the influence of “progress” or supersubtle fictions of social and political change.  Those familiar with his earlier work, including his poems anthologized in In the Tradition: An Anthology of Young Black Writers (1992), Bum Rush the Page (2001) and Role Call: A Generational Anthology of Social and Political Black Literature and Art (2002) will note a shift from the lyric mode of “Bluesman” and the blues ethos of “We Can’t Afford to Die” to a relentless riffing on the anger of feeling and the feeling of anger.  Indeed, the poems in Cinders Rekindled are eruptive/disruptive proofs for the final lines of Braxton’s poem “The Arts Are Black” ---

the bombs & bullets


from the suffering soul

of a real black artist

What is of special importance is Braxton’s refusal to discard the vocabulary and poetics associated with the Black Arts/Black Aesthetic Movement either for the rhymes, inventions, and rhythms of spoken word or for the delicacies of craft and sensibility that are in stark contrast to the class-marked utterances of the neo-hip hop generation of poets. For he reminds us that we often have game in talking about suffering but we only rarely want to hear the sound of suffering.  His refusal, however, is not a signal of his being enslaved by the past but rather a sign that fidelity to poetry as polemic or political challenge remains a vibrant option.  Given Braxton’s transformations of allusions to old-time black religion into the militant anger of the unfinished revolutions in American human rights and human relations, one may tentatively conclude that he has bravely risked the aesthetics of the abrasive. The cumulative impact of Braxton’s poetry may be an ironic transformation of readers into stalwart witnesses of the chaos that is now as it serves as a foil for continuing efforts to wring the sublime and the beautiful out of the vernacular.

As a poet, Braxton defies the premature comfort that may accompany change; his is the fierce preservation of traditions of the near past, an affirmation that genuine poetry involves tracing of a people’s diverse states of being and thought. Braxton’s work is an affirmation that the prophecy that lends power to the jeremiad burns productively in “the suffering soul/of a real black artist.”  Do not ask what is real.  Feel what is audacious in the flames of anger as redemption.

Jerry W. Ward, Jr.

April 10, 2011

P. S. (January 20, 2014) Cinders Rekindled can be purchased at    Amiri Baraka wrote in “What’s New: Charlie Braxton” (12/18/88), his introduction for Ascension from the Ashes: “What we artist need to be pulling together is a Cultural Revolution. Charlie’s in tune, like the kids say (and we used to) He know what time it is!” Baraka blessed Braxton, and now is the time to read or reread Braxton’s music.




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