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Academics

Thoughtful Thursday: Congratulations Sonia Sanchez

Today’s Thoughtful Thursday pays tribute to the renowned poet Sonia Sanchez, who recently was awarded the 2018 Wallace Stevens Award by the Academy of American Poets. The award is given annually to one poet to recognize his or her outstanding and proven mastery in the art of poetry, and carries a stipend of $100,000.

Poet, playwright, and children’s book author, Sanchez has published more than a dozen poetry collections, including Morning Haiku (Beacon Press, 2010) and Shake Loose My Skin: New and Selected Poems (Beacon Press, 1999). Her many honors include the 2009 Robert Creeley Award, the Frost Medal, the Pennsylvania Governor’s Award for Excellence in the Humanities, and fellowships from the National Endowment for the Arts and the Pew Center for Arts & Heritage. And, last but certainly not least in my book, she was my professor at the University of Pennsylvania, where I studied English. She was amazing–Congrats, Professor Sanchez!!!

Here we have three wonderful poems from Sonia Sanchez, each of them a tribute to a cultural icon: Gwendolyn Brooks, Emmett Till and Ella Fitzgerald. Share them with your sons and daughters and Enjoy.

For Sister Gwen Brooks (1998)

you tell the stars
don’t be jealous of her light
you tell the ocean,
you call out to Olukun,
to bring her always to
safe harbor,
for she is a holy one
this woman twirling
her emerald lariat
you tell the night
to move gently
into morning so she’s
not startled,
you tell the morning
to ease her into a water
fall of dreams
for she is a holy one
restringing her words
from city to city
so that we live and
breathe and smile and
breathe and love and
breathe her…
this Gwensister called life.

Sonia Sanchez

14 haiku

(for Emmett Louis Till) (2010)

1.
Your limbs buried
in northern muscle carry
their own heartbeat

2.
Mississippi…
alert with
conjugated pain

3.
young Chicago
stutterer whistling
more than flesh

4.
your pores
wild stars embracing
southern eyes

5.
footprints blooming
in the night remember
your blood

6.
in this southern
classroom summer settles
into winter

7.
i hear your
pulse swallowing
neglected light

8.
your limbs
fly off the ground
little birds…

9.
we taste the
blood ritual of
southern hands

10.
blue midnite
breaths sailing on
smiling tongues

11.
say no words
time is collapsing
in the woods

12.
a mother’s eyes
remembering a cradle
pray out loud

13.
walking in Mississippi
i hold the stars
between my teeth

14.
your death
a blues, i could not
drink away.

Sonia Sanchez

A Poem for Ella Fitzgerald (1998)

when she came on the stage, this Ella
there were rumors of hurricanes and
over the rooftops of concert stages
the moon turned red in the sky,
it was Ella, Ella.
queen Ella had come
and words spilled out
leaving a trail of witnesses smiling
amen—amen—a woman—a woman.

she began
this three agèd woman
nightingales in her throat
and squads of horns came out
to greet her.

streams of violins and pianos
splashed their welcome
and our stained glass silences
our braided spaces
unraveled
opened up
said who’s that coming?
who’s that knocking at the door?
whose voice lingers on
that stage gone mad with
perdido. perdido. perdido.
i lost my heart in toledooooooo.

whose voice is climbing
up this morning chimney
smoking with life
carrying her basket of words
a tisket a tasket
my little yellow
basket—i wrote a
letter to my mom and
on the way i dropped it—
was it red…no no no no
was it green…no no no no
was it blue…no no no no
just a little yellow

voice rescuing razor thin lyrics
from hopscotching dreams.

we first watched her navigating
an apollo stage amid high-stepping
yellow legs
we watched her watching us
shiny and pure woman
sugar and spice woman
her voice a nun’s whisper
her voice pouring out
guitar thickened blues,
her voice a faraway horn
questioning the wind,
and she became Ella,
first lady of tongues
Ella cruising our veins
voice walking on water
crossed in prayer,
she became holy
a thousand sermons
concealed in her bones
as she raised them in a
symphonic shudder
carrying our sighs into
her bloodstream.

this voice, chasing the
morning waves,
this Ella-tonian voice soft
like four layers of lace.
when i die Ella
tell the whole joint
please, please don’t talk
about me when i’m gone…

i remember waiting one nite for her appearance
audience impatient at the lateness
of musicians,
i remember it was april
and the flowers ran yellow
the sun downpoured yellow butterflies
and the day was yellow and silent
all of spring held us
in a single drop of blood.

when she appeared on stage
she became Nut arching over us
feet and hands placed on the stage
music flowing from her breasts
she swallowed the sun
sang confessions from the evening stars
made earth divulge her secrets
gave birth to skies in her song
remade the insistent air
and we became anointed found
inside her bop
bop
bop dowa
bop bop doowaaa
bop bop dooooowaaaa

Lady. Lady. Lady.
be good. be good
to me.
to you. to us all
cuz we just some lonesome babes
in the woods
hey lady. sweetellalady
Lady. Lady. Lady. be gooooood
ELLA ELLA ELLALADY
be good
gooooood
goooooood…

Sonia Sanchez

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