Barn’s burnt down -
I can see the moon.
Detroit Becoming, Detroit Jesus
by Susan Leem, associate producer
Kids play at the Campus Martius Fountain in Detroit. (photo: Maia C./Flickr, cc by-nc-nd 2.0)
After listening to this week’s show with Grace Lee Boggs (“Becoming Detroit”), Peter Putnam sent this inspired response:
“Time Inc. was here for a year — and this is the story they missed: Detroit becoming. Full disclosure: I’ve known Grace since 1993. In fact, I met my wife, Julia, through Detroit Summer, Grace and Jimmy’s (r)evolutionary idea to utilize the spirit of young people to revitalize, re-imagine, and re-spirit Detroit. Julia was actually Detroit Summer’s first volunteer and is now deep in the process of creating a place-based school in Detroit, the Boggs Educational Center, that will draw on many of the people and principles that came out in your show. Ending with Invincible’s hip-hop song was also right on.”
He then ended his note with this poem, which he composed for Grace Lee Boggs on her 96th birthday:
Time, Inc., buys a house in Detroit
and tries to track him for a year.
But he’s invisible to those looking for a
blue-eyed dude in a white robe
or for a city gone completely to hell.
He is the cinnamon of my son’s skin
with a green thumb and a Tigers cap
and my daughter’s dove-grey eyes.
He prays into Blair’s guitar,
hangs out on Field St.,
bakes bread at Avalon
and plants tomatoes on the East side.
He rides his old-school bike down the heart
of Grand River,
paints a mural in the Corridor,
shoots hoop in the Valley
with priests and pimps and lean young men
trying to jump their way to heaven.
while the Border Patrol counts cars,
he walks across the water
grabs a bite to eat,
born in Providence,
he lives so simply,
he could live anywhere:
Dublin, Palestine, Malibu.
But Detroit is his home.
It was here one Sunday
a boy invited him down
off the cross
and into his house
for a glass of Faygo red pop.
That was centuries ago, it seems,
and how far he’s come,
reinventing himself more times than Malcolm.
He’s been to prison,
been to college,
has a tattoo of Mary Magdalene on one arm,
Judas on the other,
and knows every Stevie Wonder song by heart.
He’s Jimmy, he’s Invincible, he’s Eminem.
He’s the girls at Catherine Ferguson
and their babies,
and he’s the deepest part of Kwame
still innocent as a baby.
The incinerator is hell,
but he walks right in,
burns it up with love,
comes out the other side,
He can say Amen in twelve religions,
believes school is any place
where head and heart and hands
and wears a gold timepiece around his neck
with no numbers, just a question:
What time is it on the clock of the world?
And every second of every day
he answers that question
with a smile wide as the Ambassador
and a heart as big as Belle Isle,
hugging this city in his arms
and whispering to each soul
words no one else dares to say:
You are Jesus,
this is your Beloved Community,
and the time
on the clock of the world
Without Art, we should have no notion of the sacred; without Science, we should always worship false gods.
Our Twitterscript with Poet Elizabeth Alexander
by Trent Gilliss, senior editor + Shubha Bala, associate producer
On December 1, Krista interviewed Elizabeth Alexander, a poet probably best known for her poem “Praise Song for the Day”, which she delivered at the inauguration of President Barack Obama. We’re producing this show for release on January 6, our first show of the new year!
We live-tweeted the 90-minute conversation and have aggregated them here for those of you who don’t do Twitter, or those of you who do but don’t follow @Beingtweets, or those of you who follow us but missed the stream because a) you were working or studying or b) because you follow so many people that your stream flows as rapidly as a spring thaw during flood season:
- Krista is starting an interview with Elizabeth Alexander, Obama’s inaugural poet, essayist and teacher http://is.gd/i357R
- “Art arrests us. It makes us stop in the midst. It makes us contemplate” - Elizabeth Alexander
- “I was the proverbial child with the jug ears - I was a listener” - Elizabeth Alexander
- Poet Elizabeth Alexander on being a voracious reader: “Why would you like to make things you also wouldn’t consume?”
- “We crave truth tellers. We crave real truth. There is so much bologna all the time.” - Elizabeth Alexander
- “Children know when they’re being bamboozled. And they are drawn towards language that shimmers.” - Elizabeth Alexander
- Elizabeth Alexander tells us about the ‘I’ in poetry by reading us “Ars Poetica #100: I Believe” http://is.gd/i391u
- “I look at my children and think as much as I know you I do not know what’s in your head..and yet I crave knowing you that deeply” Alexander
- Elizabeth Alexander shares a story about reading this favorite poem on the Mall for a soundcheck before the inauguration http://is.gd/i3axu
- “Poems are fantastic spaces to arrive at conundrum-y questions.” -poet Elizabeth Alexander
- There has to be such a thing as love that doesn’t have to preempt grievance. - Elizabeth Alexander
- “Poems are living organisms - they’re so yeasty. They become more than what they are.” - poet Elizabeth Alexander
- “Much to my amazement I’ve been publishing poems for 20 years. And much to my amazement, I’m a middle-aged woman!” -poet Elizabeth Alexander
- “We speak out of what we know and what we have lived. Hopefully from that comes something we call universal.” -poet Elizabeth Alexander.
- “My poet self - she’s all intuition.There’s no program. She’s doing as Adrienne Rich said: ‘Diving into the the wreck.” -Elizabeth Alexander
- “Communities, tribes, people have always told the story of who they are in song.” - poet Elizabeth Alexander
- “You can snatch time to make a poem…They are like grass or flowers coming up in the sidewalk cracks.” -poet Elizabeth Alexander
- Elizabeth Alexander describes poetry as “a poor people’s art form.” She says, “You can’t write a novel without a lot of time to yourself.”
- “We crave radiance in this austere world, light in the spiritual darkness.” - poet Elizabeth Alexander reading from “Allegiance.”
Philip Levine’s “What Work Is”
by Kate Moos, managing producer
I love Philip Levine — poet of the working stiff. I go back again and again to his poetry with its precise cadence, its anger and patience and enduring beauty. Levine, who grew up in Detroit and spent time on its assembly lines, is a veteran chronicler of work, of the work that is labor.
As you rest from your labor, assuming you do rest, enjoy the treat of reading his fine poem about learning what work is, and the further treat of hearing him tell the story behind the poem before reciting it here courtesy of the Internet Poetry Archive.
The sketch to the left is drawn by N.C. Mallory/Flickr and posted here via Creative Commons.
Behind the Scenes: Picking Poems
Nancy Rosenbaum, associate producer
This week’s show, “Black and Universal” with poet E. Ethelbert Miller, features a rich smattering of readings — from The Autobiography of Malcolm X to the poetry of Lucille Clifton, and some poems by Miller himself.
We spent a lot of time deliberating about these selections: which ones to include, how long they should be, who should voice them (Krista? Our managing producer Kate? An outside reader?).
Lucille Clifton’s “won’t you celebrate with me” is one of the poems that made the final cut. The poem is short, easy for a listener to grasp, and flows nicely out of Miller’s musings about blackness, beauty, and Michelle Obama. Here’s the clincher that sealed the deal: audio of Clifton reading the poem in her own voice. The power of her delivery took those words on the page to a whole new level.
We also considered Elizabeth Alexander’s poem “John Col” for this same slot in the show. Alexander explores the wrought beauty of John Coltrane’s music — music that has influenced Miller personally and poetically. Kate was particularly enamored with this poem, and it’s one of my all-time favorites. I especially like these lines and how they read like Coltrane’s music sounds:
a terrible beau-
ty a terrible
beauty a terrible
beauty a horn
Poetry Gone Video Viral
Trent Gilliss, online editor
Poetry. What can I say. Verse slakes our audiences’ thirst; many of us imbibe poetry in binges. Yet, most people — well, I — don’t regularly take the time to sit down and read a chapbook, much less a poem these days. These cinematic tableaux (embedded above and below) commissioned by BBC’s Poetry Season rekindle that flame and force me to reconsider my lethargic attitude.
Perhaps it’s remembering the shared commonality of a poem, the power of it being read aloud and its reminder to us that people living several hundred years ago weren’t so different from us. We, too often, internalize poetry and disconnect ourselves from the communal act. The human condition speaks to the lonely wanderer in a crowded room as much as on a wayward street.
My hope is that projects like this, and even our own efforts as part of the Poetry Radio Project, can reclaim this pop heritage. Poems can elevate the understanding and relevance of complex topics like Alzheimer’s and memory, Argentina’s disappeared, and a geologist’s view of human fragility through more than the intellect.
To be frank, I played rock-paper-scissors with myself and let Blake’s poem “Jerusalem” take the lead. But the slow-motion video of Brit punk rocker Itch of The King Blues reading Byron’s “So We’ll Go No More a Roving” was impossible to ignore.