Gwendolyn Brooks: In Her Honor

Gwendolyn Brooks (1917-2000), detail of The Furious Flower Portrait Quilt, 2004. Mixed media collage on canvas. Artist: Malaika Favorite. Card from my collection.

Like the Rita Dove piece I blogged about several months ago, the Gwendolyn Brooks portrait above is part of a 24-poet/panel masterpiece by mixed media artist Malaika Favorite which honors the history of African American poetry. The work was commissioned for Furious Flower, a conference held every decade (since 1994), that celebrates, stimulates, and encourages African American poetry and poetic voices.

Brooks (1917-2000) was a prolific writer with one novel and more than 20 volumes of poetry to her credit. She was the first Black woman to serve as poetry consultant to the Library of Congress, now called U.S. Poet Laureate (1985-1986), and the first African American to receive a Pulitzer Prize. Her book Annie Allen won for the best volume of verse published in 1950.

Sometime between the ages of 13 and 14, I fell in love with the poetry of Paul Laurence Dunbar, Langston Hughes, Claude McKay, Nikki Giovanni, and Gwendolyn Brooks. I gained access to these poets (and many others) through the book collections of my older brothers and sisters.

Gwendolyn Brooks was my favorite. I still know by heart “To Be in Love,” the first poem I read by her:

To be in love
is to touch with a lighter hand.

In yourself you stretch, you are well.

You look at things
through his eyes.
A cardinal is red.
A sky is blue.
Suddenly you know he knows too.
He is not there but
you know you are tasting together
the winter, or light spring weather.

His hand to take your hand is overmuch.
Too much to bear.

You cannot look in his eyes
because your pulse must not say
what must not be said.

When he
shuts a door—

Is not there—
Your arms are water.

And you are free
with a ghastly freedom.

You are the beautiful half
of a golden hurt.

You remember and covet his mouth,
to touch, to whisper on.

Oh when to declare
is certain Death!

Oh when to apprize,
is to mesmerize,

To see fall down, the Column of Gold,
into the commonest ash.

I was “mesmerized” by the way she crafted language. I recall being moved by particular phrases–

you are the beautiful half/of a golden hurt

free/with a ghastly freedom

the Column of Gold/into the commonest ash.

And I was intrigued by how she used opposites and negatives to convey the beauty and pain of love and evoke a powerful sense of loss.

My own (early) poetry was very much influenced by Brooks.

Brooks would have been 101 on June 7, so in her honor, I invite you to read about her contributions to American literature as well as some of her poetry. To get started, see the links below:

Virginia Woolf Wrote Postcards Too!

Instead of showcasing more children’s book illustration postcards today, as planned, I’ve decided to share a few Virginia Woolf postcards. Why? Because today is Virginia Woolf’s birthday, of course. Now, I know we just celebrated A.A. Milne and Winnie-the-Pooh last week, but rest assured, Pics and Posts will not become the blog that celebrates all the birthdays of all the famous people.

I’ve had some Woolf postcards that have been in the “to be blogged” box for quite some time–so what better time to bring them out than her birthday?

Virginia Woolf. Photograph by George C. Beresford/Hulton Archive/Getty Images

This postcard comes from a collection I’m not to crazy about because there are too few women and two few people of color. But I do love this “classic” portrait of Woolf.

Virginia Woolf, Jacob’s Room, 1922. From BIBLIOPHILIA: 100 Literary Postcards, Obvious State Studio, 2015.

The “wild horse” postcard comes from Bibliophilia: 100 Literary Postcards. The collection offers postcards featuring quotes from favorite authors. Most are dead white men, but the quotes and artwork make the omission forgivable.  Somewhat.

Virginia Woolf. Art by Adolfo Falces Delgado. Collection, Literary Celebrities, 2016.

The postcard above is by far the best Virginia Woolf postcard I’ve seen (yet). My friend Cy picked it up for me at a museum in Madrid during her travels last summer.  It has a literary twin that I will share another time.

I didn’t encounter Virginia Woolf till I was working on my master’s degree at the University of Florida (Go Gators!).  I studied her works in both Modern British Literature and Feminist Theories, facilitated by the inimitable Drs. R. Brandon Kershner and Elizabeth Langland, respectively. I appreciated her works–for many “critical” reasons–especially because Woolf and her texts gave me, a person who  studies mental illness in literature, a lot to think about and discuss.

Here are a few of my favorite Woolf quotes– if I can stop at a few!

On madness:

All extremes of feeling are allied with madness.

On bookish people:

When the Day of Judgment dawns and people, great and small, come marching in to receive their heavenly rewards, the Almighty will gaze upon the mere bookworms and say to Peter, “Look, these need no reward. We have nothing to give them. They have loved reading.”

On women and creativity:

A woman must have money and a room of her own if she is to write fiction.

I would venture to guess that Anon, who wrote so many poems without signing them, was often a woman.

If you prefer something a bit more “lowbrow” from Woolf, check out her “most savage insults” at the Literary Hub.

Brain Pickings offers a worthwhile read on media’s misinterpretation of Woolf’s suicide letter.   [There are links to other Brain Pickings articles on Woolf, so you might want to check those out too].

And of course, Woolf wrote lots of letters and postcards too! 😉

I’m tempted to dig through my papers and find my essays on Woolf.  I recall taking issue with a section of A Room of One’s Own, but I still appreciate who she was as a writer and thinker.

Get Up and See!

Today is my birthday!

Normally, I spend the days leading up to my very own day contemplating the past months and making plans for the the days ahead.  My “New Year’s resolutions” begin October 2, not January 1. Not so this year. The last couple of weeks have been filled with anxiety, noise, and internal clutter, and I haven’t been able to grasp the calm I need to get the internal work done. It did not help to wake up in the wee morning hours to the horrible news of an attack in Vegas.

But I am grateful. To be alive (I’m familiar with the alternative). To be well (for the most part). To be accepted. To be showered with love (and brownies, every now and then). For the many, many good people and experiences my many days have brought to me.

Exactly five years ago one of these good people–at that time a new friend–gave me a beautiful card for my birthday. Because it “lives” on my desk, I see it frequently, but today I took a moment to appreciate it again.

“Rita Dove,” detail of The Furious Flower Portrait Quilt, 2004. Mixed media collage on canvas. Artist: Malaika Favorite

The portrait of U.S. Poet Laureate (1993-95) Rita Dove is part of a 24-poet/panel masterpiece by mixed media artist Malaika Favorite which honors the history of African American poetry. The work was commissioned for Furious Flower, a conference held every decade (since 1994), that celebrates, stimulates, and encourages African American poetry and poetic voices.

Dove’s poem, “Dawn Revisited,” from her collection On the Bus with Rosa Parks, is printed on the back of the card.

Imagine you wake up
with a second chance: The blue jay
hawks his pretty wares
and the oak still stands, spreading

glorious shade. If you don’t look back,

 the future never happens.
How good to rise in sunlight,
in the prodigal smell of biscuits –
eggs and sausage on the grill.

The whole sky is yours

 to write on, blown open
to a blank page. Come on,
shake a leg! You’ll never know
who’s down there, frying those eggs,
if you don’t get up and see.
The poem is the swift kick in the butt I need to “shake a leg” and get things done!  Please excuse me while I get up and see…

Zhang Ailing, or Eileen Chang: Meeting a “New” Author

I recently bought a postcard collection of 100 writers.  I pulled out every card, looking for women writers and writers of color.

The black and white photographs were a treat for the eyes, but I was sorely disappointed with the lack of diversity in the collection.  There were only three African American writers in the box–James Baldwin, Ralph Ellison, and Malcolm X.   There were a number of Euro-American women writers and a few Japanese writers–all men.  There were no African American women.  There was only one Chinese woman–Zhang Ailing (Eileen Chang).

Zhang Ailing (Eileen Chang)

Although less than excited about the purchase, I was pleased to find this stunning portrait of Zhang/Chang. Although I’d heard of her, I’d never read any of her works.  After reading a brief biography, my interest was piqued and she was added to my late spring/summer reading list.

I can’t wait to get started!  What’s on your reading list?