In today’s Thoughtful Thursday we focus on two young African American poets: Angelo Geter (left photo) and Joshua Bennett (right photo).
Angelo Geter is a poet and performance artist also known as “EyeAmBic.” A National Poetry Slam champion, Geter is releasing his debut poetry collection in late 2020. He is the Poet Laureate of Rock Hill, SC, and an Academy of American Poets 2020 Poet Laureate Fellow.
Geter’s poem “Praise” was written 6 months ago as he mourned the loss of loved ones. But his explanation of his poem resonates today: “This poem focuses on praising the things you should praise, and also praising the things you shouldn’t, such as being a headstone or not being in a police report. So that was the inspiration behind this poem. Praising in the midst of all this chaos.”
Joshua Bennett, the Mellon Assistant Professor of English and Creative Writing at Dartmouth, is the author of Owed (Penguin, 2020), Being Property Once Myself (Harvard University Press, 2020), and The Sobbing School (Penguin, 2016). He is the recipient of fellowships from the Ford Foundation and the National Endowment for the Arts, among others.
Just the title of Bennett’s “Owed to the Plastic on Your Grandmother’s Couch” brings a smile to those of us who remember living room couches encased in plastic. If you were sitting on one on a hot day with a dress on, and you got up too quickly, oof, you’d be feeling that for a while. His exploration of why we need to wrap our treasured furniture in plastic is thought-provoking and rings true.
The second Bennett poem, “Dad Poem (Ultrasound #2)”, was written earlier this year, when COVID restrictions meant he had to attend his grandmother’s funeral on Zoom and had to witness his wife’s ultrasound appointment via FaceTime. Says Bennett, “This poem lives in the space between a kind of inexpressible anxiety at the outset of things, and the world-shifting joy of seeing my son’s heartbeat for the first time”. We all know that space between inexpressible anxiety and world-shifting joy; many of us have lived through it as we celebrate milestones in seclusion.
GCP discovered both of these poets on the poets.org site. This summer, poets.org will be featuring more work by contemporary Black poets in their poem-a-day series. This is part of their “ongoing work to make unequivocally clear the essential and influential contributions that Black poets have made and make to American poetry”. It’s a good time to start subscribing to poem-a-day.
Share these poems with your family and enjoy.
Today I will praise.
I will praise the sun
For showering its light
On this darkened vessel.
I will praise its shine.
Praise the way it wraps
My skin in ultraviolet ultimatums
Demanding to be seen.
I will lift my hands in adoration
Of how something so bright
Could be so heavy.
I will praise the ground
That did not make feast of these bones.
Praise the casket
That did not become a shelter for flesh.
Praise the bullets
That called in sick to work.
Praise the trigger
That went on vacation.
Praise the chalk
That did not outline a body today.
Praise the body
For still being a body
And not a headstone.
Praise the body,
For being a body and not a police report
Praise the body
For being a body and not a memory
No one wants to forget.
Praise the memories.
Praise the laughs and smiles
You thought had been evicted from your jawline
Praise the eyes
For seeing and still believing.
For being blinded from faith
But never losing their vision
Praise the visions.
Praise the prophets
Who don’t profit off of those visions.
Praise the heart
For housing this living room of emotions
Praise the trophy that is my name
Praise the gift that is my name.
Praise the name that is my name
Which no one can plagiarize or gentrify
Praise the praise.
How the throat sounds like a choir.
The harmony in your tongue lifts
Into a song of adoration.
For being able to praise.
For waking up,
When you had every reason not to.
Owed to the Plastic on Your Grandmother’s Couch
Which could almost be said
to glisten, or glow,
like the weaponry
As if slickened
with some Pentecost
-al auntie’s last bottle
of anointing oil, an ark
of no covenant
one might easily name,
apart from the promise
to preserve all small
& distinctly mortal forms
the day she sees sixty.
Consider the garden
of collards & heirloom
her long, single braid
streaked with gray
like a gathering
the child popped
in church for not
sitting still, how even that,
they say, can become an omen
if you aren’t careful,
if you don’t act like you know
all Newton’s laws
don’t apply to us
the same. Ain’t no equal
& opposite reaction
to the everyday brawl
race in America is,
no body so beloved
it cannot be destroyed.
So we hold on to what
we cannot hold.
in Vaseline, or gold,
or polyurethane wrapping.
Call it ours
Call it just
Dad Poem (Ultrasound #2)
Months into the plague now,
I am disallowed
entry even into the waiting
room with Mom, escorted outside
instead by men armed
with guns & bottles
of hand sanitizer, their entire
countenance its own American
metaphor. So the first time
I see you in full force,
I am pacing maniacally
up & down the block outside,
Facetiming the radiologist
& your mother too,
her arm angled like a cellist’s
to help me see.
We are dazzled by the sight
of each bone in your feet,
the pulsing black archipelago
of your heart, your fists in front
of your face like mine when I
was only just born, ten times as big
as you are now. Your great-grandmother
calls me Tyson the moment she sees
this pose. Prefigures a boy
built for conflict, her barbarous
and metal little man. She leaves
the world only months after we learn
you are entering into it. And her mind
the year before that. In the dementia’s final
days, she envisions herself as a girl
of seventeen, running through fields
of strawberries, unfettered as a king
-fisher. I watch your stance and imagine
her laughter echoing back across the ages,
you, her youngest descendant born into
freedom, our littlest burden-lifter, world
-beater, avant-garde percussionist
swinging darkness into song.