From Whitman to Hughes to the Talent at Read to Succeed

Each time I go to Read to Succeed (“Notes for a Poetic Evening”) it gets better. I see folks I’ve seen before and some new faces. One of the women told me that she had read both of my books and had referred Can Anything Beat White? to the archivist at her church, the same church my cousin Harold James attended.

Monday night was poetry slam night, and it was electrifying, led off by Diamond Dove, who runs a theater school and creates poetry on the fly. In true improv style, he received suggestions in the form of words or phrases from the audience and created a lyrical, intense, work that included a piece of a song.

It may have been the longest and most professional poem but the students’ works fulfilled the Robert Graves requirement that it inspire enough to make the hairs on the back of the neck stand up.

The poems I enjoyed the most opened and closed with Langston Hughes’ line “I, Too, Sing America.” They were creative, caring, and beautiful. Re-reading the original when I came home, led me back to Hughes’ inspiration, Walt Whitman’s “I Hear America Singing.” And even though it was written almost 150 years ago, tonight I heard the carpenter, the mechanic, the mother, and the seamstress singing their songs. And they were songs that Langston Hughes would recognize.

            Here’s what I read:



The shadows lie barely visible over the grates for warmth,

Their newspapers, bags and tattered things

form odd shapes with their huddled bodies.

The wide boulevard glitters with light,

Hiding the shadows,

The sparkles appear in limn,

flash of chrome, headlights in the night,

Neon offers the shadows a silhouette.

The shadows hide from the chrome,

the glare and the lines of  light.

A woman sparkles past,

Her hands, her neck, her ears, her feet,

Even the coat of the dead animals she wears

Glitter in the lines of chrome.

Only her eyes are dead.

The shadows move in show, approach the glitter,

She wraps herself in the protection of the light,

It flashes and refracts, but cannot burn within.

She moves.

The shadows claim her for their own.


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