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Wednesday, April 30, 2014

Lenard D. Moore: Introducing His Ocular Voice

The Ocular Voice


     Lenard D. Moore’s A Million Shadows At Noon is a poetic memoir of a day of


atonement, that fateful gathering in Washington, D.C. on October 16, 1995 where a


million plus men willed to absent themselves from the banality of human evil.  It was a


special moment in the history of African American emotions, and it resists having its


symbolism resymbolized.  The March, or our memory of the ritual, does not resist


serving as the ground for creation.  As one of the leading haiku poets in the United States,


Moore understands how deceptively simple forms can be used to make complexity


accessible.  His earlier book, Desert Storm: A Brief History (1993), demonstrates how


an Oriental form can enable a poet to avoid some of the limitations of Occidental


narrative poetry.  We do not need yet another narrative about October 16, 1995.  We do


welcome a poem that enables us to recollect our powerful emotional responses to that day


and to consider how dim or vivid are our memories now.


     However much this poem reminds us of Moore’s earlier work, it does represent a


departure.  Here the poet has conceptualized his poem as a space for the ocular voice, the


voice that is intimately linked with the photographic and with the hearer’s use of words


as tools for visualizing.  Each segment (or caption as it were) demands our supplying a


relevant image from our visual archive—depth, color, magnitude, texture, shape,


illumination.  Such a demand is implicit in the philosophical underpinning of haiku.  But


the haiku segments in A Million Shadows At Noon are not independent instances.  Each


is a stage in a movement from dawn to dusk to the newly promised dawn.  As we


experience the full movement, we begin to sense how radical, successful, and




empowering the poem is.  Like Sterling A. Brown’s “Strong Men,” this poem is a well-


crafted example of how the poet induces readers to engage in aesthetic/political activity.


     After we have photomemoried A Million Shadows At Noon, we discover the


anticipated future is brought to personal closure.  The dominance of the optical is


displaced by sound, the invisible eye being transformed into the speaking subject.


The silent witness is embodied fully as


     night after the march

     reading the million-man pledge

     to my pregnant wife


the poet/photographer elicits the absent vows


     I will  strive     to love, to improve, to build

       will  never      raise my hand/abuse my wife/

                             engage in abuse of children/

                             use the “B” word

       will  not         poison my body

       will                support, do all this


At the final center of remembering is man speaking to woman who contains and


nurtures the promised future, the child as continuity, biological verity, and love!


In the end of A Million Shadows At Noon is the initial moment Lenard D. Moore


and his readers share.



Jerry W. Ward, Jr.

Moss Chair of Excellence in English

University of Memphis

March 17, 1996

***The full title of Moore's unpublished collection of 50 haiku is

A Million Shadows at Noon (A Haiku Sequence)



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