Sunday, January 21, 2018

Contemplating the Protest

In the spirit of my recent trek to The Bakery in celebration of the #PowertothePolls event sponsored by Georgia Alliance for Social Justice, I googled “social justice poetry” to see what would be kicked up. It didn’t take long before I spied the name Yusef Komunyakaa. A dim bulb in my memory suddenly luminesced. Yusef Komunyakaa! I remember him from that wonderful poetry course taught by David Bottom I took at while studying at Georgia State in the mid 80s!

I dug out my old textbook, The Morrow Anthology of Younger American Poets, (1985, ed. Dave Smith & David Bottoms) which I discover has held up well over the intervening 30 or so years since I took the course, and sure enough, there is Mr. Komunyakaa. And what do you know, he just happens to be from here:

Bogalusa, Louisiana! Born in 1947, Komunyakaa hails from the same place John and I discovered on last summer’s road trip to Bogue Chitto, Mobile, and points in between. Why did we purposefully make Bogalusa a destination? Because for a certain period of time around 1920, it was home to the world’s largest sawmill. Now International Paper dominates the landscape.

For a good bio of Komunyakaa, go here. He was in his late 30s when The Morrow Anthology was published. Today he would be 71; Yusef is about a year and a half younger than my husband. I’ve discovered that many people born 1943ish through 1949ish are super cool; maybe it's because they were the forefront of the Boomers.

At any rate, today’s google search returned Yusef's recent poem, “Ghazal, after Ferguson,”(2015, The Emperor of Water Clocks) which just happened to contain a few lines of poetry that nicely reflected my adventure down in Atlanta this weekend.

Wishing to further engage my brain cells, I next looked up “ghazal.” I thought it might be a city. 


(Pronunciation: “guzzle”) Originally an Arabic verse form dealing with loss and romantic love, medieval Persian poets embraced the ghazal, eventually making it their own. Consisting of syntactically and grammatically complete couplets, the form also has an intricate rhyme scheme. Each couplet ends on the same word or phrase (the radif), and is preceded by the couplet’s rhyming word (the qafia, which appears twice in the first couplet). The last couplet includes a proper name, often of the poet’s. In the Persian tradition, each couplet was of the same meter and length, and the subject matter included both erotic longing and religious belief or mysticism.

From the bio, I learned that Komunyakaa’s poems in his 1988 collection Dien Cai Dau, have been described as relying “on a predicable though powerful set of literary conventions.” That sounds rather dull, but really, it just shows Komunyakaa’s willingness to play with established forms. Apparently he is still studying literary conventions three decades later, because his 2015 “Ghazal, after Ferguson” is a wonderful contemporary example of that particular literary convention.

 Enjoy the first few stanzas of "Ghazal, after Ferguson." For the entire poem, go here.

Someone go & ask Biggie to orate

what’s going down in the streets.

No, an attitude is not a suicide note 
written on walls around the streets

Twitter stays lockstep in the frontal lobe

as we hope for a bypass beyond the streets,

but only each day bears witness

in the echo chamber in the streets.

 So. In closing, I'll just say: GO VOTE. It's the right thing to do.


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