Fractals | Artistry, Magic, and Song

Frax-1

About five years ago, my friend, international poet and scholar, Dr. Jerry W. Ward, Jr., published a collection of poetry entitled Fractal Song. I have yet to speak with Ward about the title of the collection. I assumed it was connected to his interest (and degree) in mathematics. If you’ve been paying attention, you know my relationship with mathematics is an only-when-necessary one. For that reason, I gave the title and cover (which features a fractal) only cursory acknowledgment until I started playing around with my own fractal art.

The poems, which deal primarily with Black experience, possess cadences akin to traditional Black music forms–jazz and blues and maybe, even hip hop. At times, the words mimic the woeful whine of a saxophone, just grazing the deep ache of our longing. At other times, the poems hit the wry tone and rhythm of blues. Reality is matter-of-fact. We note it and we find ways to go on, laughing to keep from crying. Then, there is in some of the poems the flippant, unapologetic, unvarnished truth-telling, which makes hip hop so appealing.

Frax-4

The word fractal has its roots in the Latin fract-, “broken” from the verb “frangere,” which means to break. When I look closely at the fractals created from my photographs, I notice there is a slight break or opening that begins or disrupts (?) the pattern, so I’ve been thinking about the etymology of the word and how it impacts my reading of Ward’s poems.

There is much in Fractal Songs that opens and “breaks.” Traditional and experimental lines break. Time breaks as the poet traverses various historical and literary moments. And, certainly, there is his handling of much that is dark and broken in the African American (particularly) male experience.

Ward’s poems will not leave one feeling warm and fuzzy, as some expect when they encounter poetry. The poems in the collection are gritty and rugged. However, like fractals, there is artistry, beauty, and magic–even in the brokenness.


fractal song coverYour Voice
Jerry W. Ward, Jr.

It’s a magic thing
Sun and rain and poetry
Flooding in my memory,
But all I can remember
Is how you got over
A deep river
With amazing grace
And cursed your blues
With natural rhythms.

Fall in Love…

Daffodil

I had planned to share poetry on the blog every day this month–as I did last year–but reality dictated otherwise. What was I thinking, anyway? Last April we were “sheltering-in-place,” so I had time to read and think about poetry for pleasure. This April, hmm…not so much.

However, I will take advantage of the last three days of National Poetry Month and share a few poems.

For today’s literary treat, I’m sharing one from Morgan Harper Nichols‘ book, All Along You Were Blooming, which I talked about in a previous post. She has a gift for speaking to whatever moment I’m in; I am sure many feel the same way. The poem I share today is a lighthearted reminder to love life in all of its simplicity and complexity.

Fall in love with the art of living.
Fall in love with letting things be.
Fall in love with listening.
Be still in the sun,
where the winds ever-gently blow,
knowing it is here,
in moments like this,
you are living,
and you will grow.

Morgan Harper Nichols, from All Along You Were Blooming

Tomorrow is “Poem in Your Pocket Day,” so let’s have a link party! Join me by sharing a poem on your blog–yours or someone else’s. Be sure to come back here and add your link to the comments. I don’t want to miss your poems! Maybe, I’ll “discover” a new poet!

Let’s share until the very last minute of National Poetry Month, 11:59 PM.

Check out some other ideas for PYP Day by downloading a PDF filled with ideas and poetry from the Academy of American Poets.

Student Post 7: Wisdom from The Magician’s Nephew

Sunflower PhotoArtStudents in my course are encouraged to shape their blogs in the way that serves their blogging purposes, but there are obviously some skills they must exercise to become strong non-fiction writers. To that end, we do some workshopping and writing exercises in class that help them stretch their writing muscles. Some of these exercises are developed into blog posts. Some are submitted to literary journals. Some remain in the students’ writing journals while they continue to work with them.

One of the exercises required students to reflect on a significant quote. In today’s post Markus of Mark’s Art Stew talks about a quote from C.S. Lewis’ The Chronicles of Narnia, “The Magician’s Nephew”, and its recent impact on his life. Be sure to read his post and follow his blog. He offers a little something for everyone.


About the Image: The image above is one of the [far too] many pieces of sunflower photo-art hiding in my files. I might have to compile them into a book or start a sunflower blog. 😉

The Sistren: Their Words Filled Me

“The Sistren: Black Women Writers at the Inauguration of America’s First Sister President.” Photo: (c)
Susan J. Ross. 1988. Used by permission.

Can you name these women?

I cannot remember life without these sister-poets and writers. It seems their words have been with me all my life.

I was young–a preteen in most cases–when I was introduced to Nikki Giovanni, Gwendolyn Brooks, Mari Evans, Sonia Sanchez, Toni Cade Bambara. I don’t remember how I came to meet them, other than through my thirst for books, which often led me to my mother’s or older siblings’ book collections.

I encountered others later–when I was in college and in graduate school. I even met some of them in person.

Their names and words became part of my literary vocabulary, reserved for sacred moments, quiet time. Me and my sister writers. Their words filled me and spoke to an experience akin to my own–of black women speaking, loving, empowering–alive and thriving in their own spaces.

Only the black woman can say ‘when and where I enter, in the quiet, undisputed dignity of my womanhood, without violence and without suing or special patronage, then and there the whole Negro race enters with me.’ —Anna Julia Cooper, A Voice from the South, 1892


How many did you know? Top Row: Louise Meriwether, Pinkie Gordon Lane, Johnnetta Cole and Paula Giddings. Middle Row: Pearl Cleage, Gwendolyn Brooks, and Toni Cade Bambara. Bottom Row: Sonia Sanchez, Nikki Giovanni, and Mari Evans

Many thanks to photographer Susan Ross [website] who gave me permission to share her photo on my blog. You can find also find her on Instagram and Twitter @photogriot.

Berries.

I wish to live because life has within it that which is good, that which is beautiful, and that which is love. Therefore, since I have known all of these things, I have found them reason enough and–I wish to live. –Lorraine Hansberry, To Be Young, Gifted, and Black

“A Valentine”

A Valentine (1906)
Priscilla Jane Thompson

Out of the depths of a heart of love,
     Out of the birth-place of sighs,
Freighted with hope and freighted with fear,
     My all in a valentine, hies.
     Oh, frail little missive
            Of delicate texture,
     Speed thee, on thy journey,
            And give her a lecture! 

Fathom her heart, that seems to me, cold,
     Trouble her bosom, as mine,
Let it be mutual, this that I crave,
     Her ‘yes’ for a valentine.
     Oh, frail little missive,
            In coy Cupid’s keeping,
     Oh! speed back a message,
            To set my pulse leaping.

Happy Valentine’s Day!


Focus on Black: Click the link and learn a bit about Priscilla Jane Thompson.

Love of Freedom

In every human Breast, God has implanted a Principle, which we call love of Freedom; it is impatient of Oppression, and pants for Deliverance.

–18th century poet, Phillis Wheatley (1753-1784), in a letter to Native American ordained Presbyterian minister, Samson Occom (1723-1792)


About the Image: The gorgeous portrait of Phillis Wheatley is the work of artist Erin K. Robinson. It is part of a beautiful collection of postcards, Brave. Black. First. Celebrating 50 African American Women Who Changed the World, published by Clarkson/Potter Publisher, an imprint of Penguin Random House in collaboration with the Smithsonian’s National Museum of African American History and Culture. I received the collection as a gift from my hubby. Thankfully, the box includes two sets of the postcards–I send 50 out into the world and keep 50 for myself! 😉

Tired like Langston

“Langston,” Lynita Solomon. Used by Permission of the Artist

Yesterday, I read a Facebook post by a woman who denigrated Vice President Kamala Harris for no good reason. The woman asserted that Harris is not a role model and no one should have their daughters look up to her.

The post and responses were hateful and extremely disrespectful. I can’t figure out how people can stir up so much hatred for a person they don’t know just because they don’t agree with the person’s policies or positions on certain issues.

Beyond this illogic, some made lewd remarks and [like the original poster] claimed Harris did “anything” to reach the VP position. The whole thing was disturbing. And to make matters worse, the post was “liked” thousands of times and shared more than 17,000 times!

The comments played into the hypersexualized view of Black women that was written into the narrative of American history to cover the multitude of white men’s violations against Black women’s bodies and personhood. The narrative is hurtful and just as dangerous as the one that gets Black men and women shot for just breathing.

Like the speaker in Langston Hughes’s poem, I’m so tired.

Tired
Langston Hughes

I am so tired of waiting.

Aren’t you,
for the world to become good
and beautiful and kind?
Let us take a knife
and cut the world in two —
and see what worms are eating
at the rind.

About the Image: The art above is the work of graphic illustrator, Lynita “Elle” Solomon. She posted the image on Instagram in honor of the day Langston Hughes was born, 119 years ago. Lynita has an amazing way of presenting her subjects “without faces,” but we know exactly who they are anyway. You can see more of her work by clicking the image above.

The Winter of Listening

Winter Walk with Tiff & Lu

My head has been buzzing with “all the things” for the last several days, so it was a gift to pause earlier today and consider the words of David Whyte’s “The Winter of Listening.”  The poem reminded me of winter’s purpose–to slow down, to be still, to rest, to listen, to connect, to give birth to something new.

May this winter “be enough for the new life [you] must call [your] own.”

The Winter of Listening
David Whyte

No one but me by the fire,
my hands burning
red in the palms while
the night wind carries
everything away outside.

All this petty worry
while the great cloak
of the sky grows dark
and intense
round every living thing.

All this trying
to know
who we are
and all this
wanting to know
exactly
what we must do.

What is precious
inside us does not
care to be known
by the mind
in ways that diminish
its presence.

What we strive for
in perfection
is not what turns us
to the lit angel
we desire.

What disturbs
and then nourishes
has everything
we need.

What we hate
in ourselves
is what we cannot know
in ourselves but
what is true
to the pattern
does not need
to be explained.

Inside everyone
is a great shout of joy
waiting to be born.

Even with the summer
so far off
I feel it grown in me
now and ready
to arrive in the world.

All those years
listening to those
who had
nothing to say.

All those years
forgetting
how everything
has its own voice
to make
itself heard.

All those years
forgetting
how easily
you can belong
to everything
simply by listening.

And the slow
difficulty
of remembering
how everything
is born from
an opposite
and miraculous
otherness.
Silence and winter
has led me to that
otherness.

So let this winter
of listening
be enough
for the new life
I must call my own.

To Grieve? To Celebrate?

The holiday season is here in full force. Even though I love it, sometimes, I struggle to get into the “holiday spirit.” However, this year I wanted to begin the Christmas season months ago.

I need the tree, the blinking lights, the decorations, the cheer. There has been so much loss and chaos that it’s a relief to focus on something celebratory.

Conversely, there has been so much loss this year that it is difficult to be present for all the magic and beauty of the season. There are no words to lessen the burden of grief for those who have lost spouses, parents, children, siblings, friends, especially when the entire world seems to be grieving.

I wish I could reach out and hug the world with my words, but nothing I write would suffice.

But there is healing in words. Especially those we speak. I know everyone grieves differently, but I wonder what would happen for us if instead of suffering in silence, we’d wail in agony and expose the gnawing ache and gaping emptiness.

How liberating it would be to not “handle it well,” but give into it en masse!

My favorite bard places words of wisdom in the mouth of his character, Ross, who, after relating the slaughter of Macduff’s wife and children at the hands of Macbeth, urges him [Macduff] to express his grief because unexpressed grief burdens and breaks the heart:

Give sorrow words; the grief that does not speak
whispers the o’erfraught heart and bids it break.

William Shakespeare, Macbeth, Act IV, Scene 3, Lines 245-246

Maybe in speaking, those all-consuming emotions will begin to feel more manageable and we’ll eventually find our way to celebration. Maybe, we’ll breathe and feel alive again and welcome the sadness of loss as only one part of life’s story.