“Death wins nothing here,
Continued from PART 1
Rodger told himself in particular that “women rejected” him and therefore deserved punishment while knowing nothing about these anonymous women’s personal realities. And most damning of all, the mental model on which he relied convinced him that destroying life was the only way to conquer life. The possibility that he might discover joy and live peacefully outside his extremely narrow conceptions seems to have never occurred to him.
I had undertaken the completion of Journey through the Power of the Rainbow in the first place partly to help individuals, in general, construct healthier perspectives for looking at and dealing with existence as we know it in the 21st century. Rodger’s deadly rampage was a vicious reminder––not that anybody required one with the civil disruptions in Ukraine and Syria still disturbing the collective peace–– that humanity itself still needs to “get the work done” when it comes to dismantling belief in violence as a solution to disagreements or disappointments.
An Affirmation of Humanity’s Potential
News of the massacre on May 23 shoved communities across the globe even deeper into pits of despair already made fatally toxic by escalating conflicts, the intensification of climate meltdown, and the heartbreak of #BringBackOurGirls. Yet, in one of those strange ironies that no one can ever anticipate, news of Angelou’s death gave the global village a reason to celebrate her astonishingly triumphant life. Hers was the towering example of a mental, spiritual, and literary model that affirmed humanity’s potential to transform the self-consuming shadows of emotional chaos into the healing light of inspired affirmation.
She had spent almost nine decades “getting the work done,” creating a legacy that enhanced rather than diminished people’s capacity for embracing faith in life. In Angelou’s own words, her mission was “not merely to survive, but to thrive; and to do so with some passion, some compassion, some humor, and some style.” Her example had been set as beautifully as a Thanksgiving table covered with a feast of grace large enough to feed an entire neighborhood. It should be easy enough to honor that example simply by enjoying the splendid wonder of its incredible beauty.
4 June, 2014
When confronted by something too painful, incredulous, or monstrous to believe, a person will sometimes say, “I couldn't even wrap my head around that!”
Such was probably one of the main reasons the international community took so long to respond in any meaningful way to the abduction of the almost 300 Chibok school girls in Nigeria. The emotional impact was, and is, not completely unlike that of seeing for the first time a film clip of the aircraft exploding against the Twin Towers on 9/11. It was an image unprecedented in one’s mental model of what reality is supposed to be and therefore an image one was not able to immediately process.
Who could believe that an army of armed adult men would attack and abduct nearly 300 school girls in the middle of the night? Moreover, in retrospect, why were the girls left in such a vulnerable position in the first place?
For me, once I was able to “wrap my head” around what had happened, I cancelled the article I had originally planned to post for Mother’s Day. In its place I wrote the story Mothers, Daughters, and Slavery Make Disturbing 2014 Holiday News published by Charter for Compassion and in my Examiner column.
Now that we are processing the unfathomable horror, various agencies are devising strategies to help resolve the situation. Influential figures are speaking out. The excruciatingly painful problem is that after almost a month in captivity, it is impossible for the students––some of whom reportedly have been “sold into slavery” or forced into “marriage”–– to come out of this ordeal unscathed. For now, at least, opportunity remains for them to reclaim their stolen dreams and reconstruct their deeply wounded lives.
Mother's Day 2014
One need not, after all, call oneself an artist in order to embrace either the beauty that roses give to the world or the genius that one’s love does. (Aberjhani)
I. ENCOUNTER WITH BEAUTY
When viewing a recent untitled painting by Dublin artist Jaanika Talts a strange thought came to me. It was this: Between the elegant reach of an artist’s color-stained fingers toward her canvas and the haunted explosion of a soldier’s bullet inside his brother’s chest, somewhere a terrified soul is seeking shelter inside the warmth of a stranger’s voice, or an infant is squealing at the incomprehensible delight of discovering it is alive.
As I said, it was a strange thought.
Talts’ painting depicts a cluster of multi-colored roses in different stages of blossoming, nestled against the flesh of dark green leaves and framed by deep brooding shades of emerald, bronze, gold, ruby, and amethyst. There is no description (please see comments below) of the medium but it appears to be mixed acrylic and might include photography as well as an actual rose or two.
The painting caught my attention only partly because it was accompanied by this quote: “Beauty will snatch us by the heart and love us until we are raw with understanding.” The words come from the poem “Calligraphy of Intimacy,” first published in 1996 in a small press magazine called Out of the Blue and later in the book I Made My Boy Out of Poetry. But the image drew my gaze mostly because it was something new from Ms. Talts and then because of what struck me as a sustained tension between persistent beauty and grace asserting itself while under fire.
II. THE POEM
The poem “Calligraphy of Intimacy” is about how relationships anchored in mutual need and affection sometimes turn unexpectedly into battlefields. The relationship might be between two people or two nations, two dreams or two cultures. At their core, they are defined by a gravitational pull toward the best within each other but superficial externals repeatedly block or sever their connection. That could, in many ways, describe the international community’s centuries-year-old waltz with peace and non-peace, and it consequently makes this poem a good one to share for World Poetry Day (March 21) and National Poetry Month (April) 2014:
Calligraphy of Intimacy
III. STARTLING SPLENDOR
Some may recall that when writing about Talts’ art in Sensualized Transcendence, I described her two dominant styles as emergent expressionism and transformative impressionism :
If emergent expressionism lends chromatic form and substance to in-between states of metamorphosis, then transformative impressionism may be described as endowing such stages of transition with metaphorical narrative. (from Sensualized Transcendence: Editorial and Poem on the Art of Jaanika Talts)
Those qualities, along with the artist’s penchant for juxtapositions of unpredictable colors, remain evident in the new canvas. At first glance, the flowers almost appear to be trapped in a net of barely-visible anguish. Then take a second look and they could be resting inside a cosmic field of painted ecstasy, quietly breathing in the profound joys and smoldering sorrows that give them their startling splendor.
As over-the-top as the above statement might sound to certain ears, it is no more so than the events and circumstances that have come to shade the character of the year 2014 thus far. On the day that I became aware of the painting, the mystery of Malaysia’s Flight MH370 had just grown considerably deeper, Russia’s military presence in Crimea had become more unsettling, and the Syrian landscape continued to overflow with blood as the region headed into the fourth year of its civil war.
In fact, the previously-noted concepts of persistent beauty and grace asserting itself while under fire could serve as apt descriptions of how Earth continues to spin and dance through the cosmos while humanity carries on with struggles to give a living functional meaning to the word Love.
At any moment within any hour or day or week or year, we are positioned between opportunities to affirm beauty and wonder in the world, and opportunities to assist in humanity’s needless destruction. Some might argue that the latter is not an opportunity at all but an unfortunate faith in self-annihilation and a dangerously macabre addiction to toxic nightmares. One need not, after all, call oneself an artist in order to embrace either the beauty that roses give to the world or the genius that one’s love does. You only need to allow it, and yourself, the respect and chance they deserve.
World Poetry Day 2014
“When the soul looks out of its body, it should see only beauty in its path. These are the sights we must hold in mind, in order to move to a higher place.” --Yusef Lateef, from “A Syllogism”
How could I have known, as a nine-year-old child growing up in Savannah’s Hitch Village project, that Yusef Lateef was speaking light in the form of music directly to my soul through his saxophone and flute when I first heard his masterpiece of an album The Blue Yusef Lateef? I could not have imagined that years later, while seeking the timbres of my own creative voice out in the world, his would find me again. It happened this time as I sat in the window of a hotel in San Francisco’s Tenderloin District, the haunting blues-heavy moans of “Juba Juba” swelling the room as the vision of a young black man looking up at stars through a jail cell hole-in-the-wall unfolded before me.
I do not recall what prompted my recollection of the song. It may have been because I was alone in the city and just as uncertain about my ability to survive there as I was certain I was not yet ready to leave. The more I heard it, the more the image of the boy in the jail cell came into focus. His thoughts became my thoughts. They communicated to me that his name was Juba and he was waiting for his dead father’s friend Elijah to come get him.
Between Juba’s words and the music that flowed with them, it was impossible to resist picking up a pen and notebook. Maybe I would create some lyrics to go with the moon-shredding laments on the track (provided I would later learn by the group known as The Sweet Inspirations). Once I started writing, I did not stop until the story later published as “I Can Hear Juba Moan,” in the book I Made My Boy Out of Poetry, was completed.
I did not, at that moment, even recall Dr. Lateef as the principal saxophonist for the song, only the chain-gang-like rhythm that waved back and forth between unholy anguish and calmly defiant determination. Some quick research at the San Francisco library provided the master musician’s identity but more decades would pass before I managed to find the album again during the mid-1990s, this time in the form a CD that I ordered through the multimedia store where I worked. As an adult, I was able to listen to The Blue Yusef Lateef in its entirety and appreciate the various production details and nuances of performance that had eluded me as a child. At the same, I was more amazed that ever that the music had embedded itself so permanently in my consciousness.
CLICK TO READ PART 2 HERE: Memory-Song Painted Gold: for the Blue Yusef Lateef (1920-2013) Part 2
Encyclopedia of the Harlem Renaissance, first published by Facts On File in 2003 and through Infobase Publishing in 2010, is now available as a Kindle Edition on Amazon and that is big news for a lot of good reasons.
For one, 2013 marks the tenth anniversary of Encyclopedia of the Harlem Renaissance’s publication and a new edition of a new edition of a modern award-winning classic is always a good way to celebrate such occasions.
Secondly, advances in technology proved a powerful component of the Harlem Renaissance just as it has in the contemporary era. During the 1920s and 1930s, important developments took place through the growing radio and the recording industries. Those advances not only allowed African Americans to showcase and preserve the marvels of black music such as jazz, ragtime, and the blues. It gave also them a foothold in an industry that allowed many to earn a living (though just barely for some) and a few to attain wealth.
Another significant development during the period was the growth of the publishing industry in New York City and other urban locales. Without that expansion, the odds of authors such as W.E.B. Du Bois, Claude McKay, and Zora Neale Hurston becoming as well known to readers as they are today would have decreased considerably.
The Kindle story is one of the defining chapters of the digital era. In many ways, it represents the same kind of growth in publishing that the establishment of important literary houses did during the Harlem Renaissance Jazz Age. It has helped make more titles available to more readers while simultaneously increasing opportunities for more authors to publish their books. It has not––and should not––replaced the print industry but it is now an integral part of publishing overall.
The Harlem Renaissance as a whole meant forward movement in regard to the practice of democracy in the United States and astonishing social and political progress for the generations of African Americans who, with substantial cross-cultural assistance, made it happen. A Kindle Edition of Encyclopedia of the Harlem Renaissance means forward movement of different kind: for this specific book and toward the 100th Anniversary of the Harlem Renaissance.
Contemporary award-winning author of classically-styled works in history, poetry, creative nonfiction, speculative fiction, and journalism.