One of the greater joys of my endeavors as an author and poet has been an occasional opportunity to compose poems, essays, and articles to supplement the vibrant works of visual artists with my own literary constructions.
That was the case in 2011 when providing panel text for paintings featured in the extremely gifted artist Michele Wood’s I See the Rhythm of Gospel exhibition. Previously, I had been blessed with a similar honor when composing ekphrastic poems for the art of Luther E. Vann in ELEMENTAL The Power of Illuminated Love. And I’ve written any number of essays reviewing the works or chronicling the lives of other contemporary artists such as Allen Fireall (who currently, heartbreakingly, is challenged by the need for a heart transplant), Jerome Meadows, Phil Starks, and Amiri Geuka Farris.
The year 2012 saw this scenario change in some unexpected ways. In recent months, various readers and inspired techno angels have shared with me a variation on the creative process of me producing words to complement the visual brilliance of fellow creators. Demonstrating Zinta Aistar’s observation (in her review of ELEMENTAL) that “art begets art,” they have employed quotations from my works to lend verbal articulation to specific images–– and vice versa. Their application of these quotes seemed a natural development following the increased popularity of social media sites like Pinterest, Twitter, and Tumblr.
It was an astonishing thing––at first––to experience. The reason was not because I had been unaware these inventive mergers were in progress (although in fact I did not know at the time). It was because the end results so often successfully expanded the original conceptions without excluding the original intent. Others provided fresh interpretations that generated new insights into my own work. How often does that happen for a dedicated pen-pusher who refuses to give up his inkwell and yellow legal pads no matter how awesome the latest generation of notebook tablets may be?
I have often stated that my own involvement in contemporary literature is my way of contributing to the luminous conversation sustained by readers and writers as we journey from one century to another. This new way of art begetting art (new for me at least) is both an expansion of and commentary on that conversation. One of its greatest gifts has been to inspire works like the illuminated phrase posted with this article, and taken from the poem “Holiday Letter for a Poet Gone to War,” published in Visions of a Skylark Dressed in Black:
“You were born a child of light’s wonderful secret--
you return to the beauty you have always been.”
As it happens, the image used with this quote represents yet one more way that art has given birth to art because it is my understanding that it is taken from a forthcoming video.
So long as quotations or excerpts are not used for commercial purposes without authorization, I am more than happy to share them and actually feel they help me fulfill my work as an author. For that I am very grateful. After all, if one of the creative artist’s most important jobs is to address––through his or her specific medium–– the more pressing issues of the times, then surely a major part of any serious author’s role is to help compose a suitable vocabulary that accomplishes exactly that. Moreover, it should probably be one that further empowers fellow citizens of the Global Village to achieve such a goal in a way that proposes to heal lives instead of proposing to destroy them. That, more than anything else, may very well provide the greatest affirmation of art’s ever-commanding timeless value.
author of The River of Winged Dreams
co-author of Encyclopedia of the Harlem Renaissance
Recently I found myself on the verge of crossing over from ambivalence into guilt due to the amount of time and creative energy devoted this year to online journalism and other forms of prose-writing as opposed to a more luxurious immersion into the rich flow of poem-making. There were actually at least two instances in 2012 when I managed to combine the genres: the first came in February when writing about the death of Whitney Houston and the second came, ironically enough, in August when writing about the life of one Michael Joseph Jackson.
Although the poems included with the stories can stand well enough on their own, the fact that they were generated by journalistic concerns instead of employed as an initial means to a necessary end in themselves made me feel somewhat negligent. After all, where journalism was concerned I had written stories on a variety of topics ranging from the creative arts to political battles. And I had even launched two major series projects–– Paradigm Dancing and Guerrilla Decontextualization.
Maybe remorse had crept up on me because in the beginning of my breath-taking literary adventures poetry had been my first great love and journalism a secondary acquired passion. An early reading of essays by Albert Camus, Ralph Ellison, and James Baldwin had hinted at the possibility of a sustainable marriage between the two.
This being the year America decides whether or not its first black president has earned enough love, trust, and respect to grant him a second term, failing to address the political dynamics of the hour journalistically has not proven a viable historical option. Therefore, I eventually arrived at that precipice of doubt and anxiety where I could hear poetry weeping that I had abandoned it while journalism proudly gloated over its ostensible dominance. Had I been writing political poems––such as Claude McKay’s commanding “If We Must Die” or W.H. Auden’s “Spain 1937”–– I likely would not have experienced this crisis of literary conscience.
Then, looking back over some of the articles’ titles, I stopped at Poetics of Paradigm Dancing in the 2012 Presidential Election Campaign. Out of my natural tendency to bend and mix literary genres the way visual artists sometimes combine compositional media, I apparently had not abandoned poetry at all. In one sense I had suffused a number of articles with it, through titles and narrative text alike, and thereby expanded journalism’s capacity for enhanced creativity. Doing so had not only enriched ––as I practiced it––journalism’s ability to communicate the mundane with stylistic appeal. It had also increased the number and variety of venues in which poetry might be regularly featured in a manner that demonstrated its marvelous and flexible utility. Moreover, it expanded considerably the potential audience for such work.
In the end, journalism had presented itself as a metaphorical framework for poetry-- and poetry had allowed its use as an elegant canvas for journalism. Each clarified and intensified the meaning of the other, which perhaps is exactly what writing of intended significance in any form should do.
author of Visions of a Skylark Dressed in Black
and co-author of Encyclopedia of the Harlem Renaissance
From the time he was first placed on trial for the murder of Savannah police officer Mark Allen MacPhail in 1989 until his death by execution one year ago, September 21, 2011, more questions than answers have tended to accumulate where the case of Troy Anthony Davis was and is concerned.
As far as any observers––including such trained onlooker as the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), Amnesty International, and Color of Change–– have been able to tell, Davis was not executed because he was proven guilty. He was executed because technicalities of applied legal practice and questionable choices in regard to his defense failed to confirm his innocence. For the average person, such a distinction is murky at best. For Troy Anthony Davis––and for an as yet undetermined number of individuals––it literally meant the difference between life and death.
The case of Troy Anthony Davis is not one that shall gently disappear inside the shadowy annals of American history. It generated while it lasted too much pain for too many people. Moreover, prior to culminating in the highest dramatic fashion with the executed prisoner’s death, there was that of his mother Virginia Davis only a few months before. And after his death, his courageous sister Martina Davis-Correia succumbed to the cancer she had been battling at the same time she fought on her brother’s behalf.
It shall also continue to linger, inform, and influence because too many issues associated with it remain dangerously relevant. Considerations of race in the American judicial system represent only one such issue. The increasing use of DNA forensics testing ––a technique which the lack of physical evidence in regard to the Davis/MacPhail case rendered inapplicable––under suspiciously unclear circumstances is another.
According to the Innocence Project founded in 1992, “To date, 297 people in the United States have been exonerated by DNA testing, including 17 who served time on death row. These people served an average of 13 years in prison before exoneration and release.”
Troy Davis served 22 years in prison before his execution.
In the case of the slain teenager Trayvon Martin, the shooter George Zimmerman has steadfastly maintained he shot Martin because the teenager had grabbed his gun and was trying to shoot him. This past week, the Florida Department of Law Enforcement issued a statement that none of Martin’s DNA was found on the grip of the gun.
The Capital Punishment Debate
Yet one more reason Davis’s story shall not quickly fade away is because of the ongoing debate over capital punishment. In commemoration of this first anniversary of Davis’s death, a number of prominent advocacy organizations have stamped their names to a mosaic poster of Davis topped by the slogan: “Abolish the Death Penalty.” Towards the bottom of the poster (or to the side in one version) are the words Davis communicated just before his execution: “The struggle for justice doesn’t end with me.”
While people who believe Davis was actually guilty will likely continue to remember him as such, millions have in fact adopted his face as a powerful symbol of both what is most wrong with the American judicial system, and, as what may yet become yet one of the hallmarks of what is most right about it. With that in mind, it is worth noting that the rallying cry used in previous years to bring attention to the case of Davis and others has altered only slightly: from “I am Troy Davis” to “I am still Troy Davis.”
by Aberjhani, founder of Creative Thinkers International
author of The River of Winged Dreams
and co-author of Encyclopedia of the Harlem Renaissance
More on Troy Anthony Davis & 1st Anniversary of His Death
The headlines skyrocketing around the world at the moment are anything but inspiring. They can, in a sense, be condensed to the observation that a few (possibly a single person) ill-intended individuals created an insulting video that has allowed fanatical Islamic factions to goad generally peaceful segments of the Muslim populace into extreme acts of violence. Whereas just a year ago––actually, just a week ago as well–– many in the Middle East were calling on the United States to support rebel fighters throughout the region, now U.S. embassies are under siege from one end of the Arab world to another.
It’s a road down which too many have stumbled bleeding, screaming, and dying before. Nothing of sustained progressive value has ever been found at its end. The only truly useful final resolve may very well be that of the individual who in the face of blind violence and mindless opprobrium insists on anchoring her- or himself in responses committed to peace.
The quote above is from the well-known poem Angel of Healing: for the Living, the Dying, and the Praying. It offers one proposed form of peaceful response. The following quote is from The American Poet Who Went Home Again and offers, as we sometimes like to say, food for thought:
“Peace is not so much a political mandate as it is a shared state of consciousness that remains elevated and intact only to the degree that those who value it volunteer their existence as living examples of the same... Peace ends with the unraveling of individual hope and the emergence of the will to worship violence as a healer of private and social dis-ease. “
I pointed out in the last blog here at Bright Skylark Literary Productions that my muse had surprised me with both an editorial and a poem on Michael Jackson. The surprise part was mostly a temporary after-shock following the completion of the piece, which since has been published as Summer-Song Rhapsody for Michael Jackson: Editorial with Poem. After the initial rush and written expression of creative energy, I relaxed inside the knowledge that it had after all happened before, and MJ himself had talked and written about experiencing such creative outbursts. But the huge difference this time is that only a few days later it was followed by another burst of such activity.
Just as I had made peace with the sudden appearance of Summer-Song Rhapsody for MJ and turned my attention back to the deadlines glaring from my desk, what I now call the MICHAEL energy once again began to crackle unexpectedly. The result was an essay titled Guerrilla Decontextualization and King of Pop Michael Jackson.
Whereas Summer-Song Rhapsody for MJ is very much like a birthday card to Mr. Jackson, the newer essay examines elements of his life in the context of guerrilla decontextualization, a modern phenomenon employed more and more frequently in political, journalistic, and social media strategies. However, as far as my own developing perspectives on Michael Jackson are concerned, I find the new essay intriguing because it is so different from its immediate predecessor. If Summer-Song Rhapsody were a track on one of MJ’s albums it would fit in the mode of a ballad like Human Nature or “Will You Be There?” If Guerrilla Decontextualization and King of Pop MJ was a track, it would fall into the harder rock-funk category of “Beat It” or Scream.
Several commentators have suggested that I publish my different writings on Michael Jackson in book form. The closest that any current plans come to such a likelihood is the work in progress presently titled Illuminated Corners: Collected Essays and Articles Volume 1. But if the flow of MICHAEL energy remains as strong as it has been, and with the number of essays already written, pretty much anything is possible.
Contemporary award-winning author of classically-styled works in history, poetry, creative nonfiction, speculative fiction, and journalism.