Read an Excerpt
From the Introduction:
Poems are like clouds on a June morning or two scoops of chocolate ice cream on a sugar cone in August...something everyone can enjoy. Or maybe poems are your cold feet in December on your lover's back...he is in agony but he lets your feet stay...something like that requires a bit of love. Or could it be that poems are exactly like Santa Claus...the promise, the hope, the excitement of a reward, no matter how small, for a good deed done...or a mean deed from which we refrained. The promise of tomorrow. I don't know. It seems that poems are essential. Like football to Fall, baseball to Spring, tennis to Summer, love Anytime. Something you don't think too much about until it is in Season. Then you deliciously anticipate the perfection. African American poems are like all other poems: beautiful, loving, provocative, thoughtful, and all those other adjectives I can think of.
Poems know no boundaries. They, like all Earth citizens, were born in some country, grew up on some culture, then in their blooming became citizens of the Universe. Poems fly from heart to heart, head to head, to whisper a dream, to share a condolence, to congratulate, and to vow forever. The poems are true. They are translated and they are celebrated. They are sung, they are recited, they are delightful. They are neglected. They are forgotten. They are put away. Even in their fallow periods they sprout images. And fight to be revived. And spring back to life with a bit of sunshine and caring.
These poems, this book, admit I cheated. The idea of this and no more would simply not work for me. I needed these plus those. My mother's favorite poem by Robert Hayden, plus James Weldon Johnson beginning a world that included the longing of the unfree for a loving God. My own fun "Ego Tripping" reaching to embrace Margaret Walker's "For My People." "Train Rides" and "Nikki-Rosa" read by old and loving friends. But also the newness: Novella Nelson lending that sultry voice to the youngsters; Ruby Dee bringing her brilliance to the Gwendolyn Brooks cycle. My Virginia Tech Family wanted to participate: our president Dr. Charles Steger reading "The Negro Speaks of Rivers," recognizing all our souls "have grown deep like the rivers." We celebrate our Hips; we See A Negro Lady at a birthday celebration. Our friends from James Madison University and West Virginia University came to celebrate poetry with us, too. I love these poems so much. The only other thing I would have loved is Caroline Kennedy reading "A Clean Slate."
At the end of a loving day of laughter in Jeff Dalton's studio, when Clinton's makeup had taken forty years off some of us and twenty-five off others, we all came together with one last great cry: the Dean of our College; the Director of Honors; young, old, professional, professor, and recited in one great voice "We Real Cool." Yeah. We are. This book says Poetry Is For Everyone. What a Treat to be Snowbound with The 100* Best African American Poems (*but I cheated).
I did cheat.
But I did not lie.
12 December 2009