Friday, February 03, 2006

Poems: James Emanuel

EmanuelOne of the superb but less well-known living African-American poets is James A. Emanuel (1921-), who has spent half of his adult life in Europe. A native of Nebraska, his first book of poems appeared under the famous Broadside Press (Detroit) imprint in 1968, and he has sinced published more than a dozen collections of poems, as well as several studies of African-American literature. More specifically, he wrote one of the early scholarly studies of Langston Hughes's poetry, and introduced the study of African-American literature at the City College of New York in 1966. He's subsequently taught at universities in France and Poland.

A precise stylist whose early work explored themes in Black life and history, as well as more personal concerns, in traditional Anglo-American verse forms and free verse, he invented a jazz-haiku form in 1992, which he's employed often since then. Emanuel, now 85, continues to reside in Paris, and is still writing and performing his work. I first learned about his poetry through Michel Fabre's study From Harlem to Paris.

Here are two poems, from his collections Jazz for the Haiku King (1999) and Whole Grain: The Collected Poems, 1958-1989 (1990).

Ella Fitzgerald

Pin-        La-         SCATS :
  ball        dy
tis-               tas-         bumps
 ket raps        ket,                back.

          yel-         bas-
Wins            low          ket.
Copyright © James A. Emanuel

Emmett Till

I hear a whistling
Through the water.
Little Emmett
Won't be still.
He keeps floating
Round the darkness,
Edging through
The silent chill.
Tell me, please,
That bedtime story
Of the fairy
River Boy
Who swims forever,
Deep in treasures,
Necklaced in
A coral toy.

Copyright © James A. Emanuel


  1. Yes, and his "The Force and the Reckoning" is on Lotus Press, but I didn't know these poems, so thankyou.

  2. Mendi, for some reason I thought he'd published several books with Lotus, but you're right, it's just the one. I believe he's still alive, but I wonder....