Saturday, April 10, 2010

RIP + Poem: Carolyn Rodgers

This weekend, a friend at AWP passed on to me the sad news that Carolyn M. Rodgers  had passed away. She was either 65 or 69*. A few years ago, in the fall of 2007, I wrote about a mini-symposium that my colleague Ed Roberson had hosted at the university focusing on the Chicago branch of the Black Arts Movement. One of the revelations for me and others at that event was Rodgers, whom Ed described as one the BAM's "metaphysical" poets. Rogers had studied with Pulitzer Prize-winner Gwendolyn Brooks, and had helped to found the Third World Press, before starting her own press, Eden Press, some years later.  A graduate of Roosevelt University and the University of Chicago, she had taught at a number of schools in the area, including Malcolm X and Harold Washington Colleges, and Columbia College Chicago. Though less well known than many of her peers, she was an accomplished poet, and published 9 books, including Paper Soul, Songs of a Black Bird and how I got ovah.  At John Murillo's book party, poet Randall Horton told me he was working with Rodgers on putting out a new chapbook of her work, and spoke of how excited she was that and other, future projects.

According to the Huffington Post, there will be a memorial celebration for her on May 4 (6 p.m. , at the eta Creative Arts Foundation, 7558 S. South Chicago Ave., Chicago), during which poets will read her work, and I hope to attend it.

*Though one obituary lists her age as 69, this site lists her birth year as 1945.

In honor and memory of her, I'm posting one of her poems below. Like so many of her poems, it focuses on the lives and experiences of black women, speaking directly about and to them. As the poem suggests, the pressures on black women are tremendous, and one of the results is a refrain of the poem, "we are lonely"; this isn't news, but Rodgers' skill endows it with power and beauty, undercutting the pain with sly humor and a cold recognition that one answer to this plight is acknowledge of the pain, of the stresses and struggles, the coping behavior and its results--one answer is knowledge, and recognition, that this is what so many black women go through, and it's that knowledge that Rodgers's work so often imparts, in its distinctive way. And so:

Poem for Some Black Women

i am lonely,
all the people i know
i know too well
there was comfort in that
at first but now
we know each others miseries
          too well.
we are
          lonely women, who spend time waiting for
          occasional flings
we live with fear.
we are lonely.
we are talented, dedicated, well read
we are lonely,
we understand the world problems
Black women’s problems with Black men
          but all
we really understand is
when we laugh,
we are so happy to laugh
we cry when we laugh
          we are lonely.
we are busy people
always doing things
fearing getting trapped in rooms
loud with empty…
knowing the music of silence/hating it/hoarding it
loving it/treasuring it,
          it often birthing our creativity
                              we are lonely
being soft and being hard
supporting our selves, earning our own bread
knowing that need must not show
                              will frighten away
knowing that we must
walk back-wards nonchalantly on our tip-toeness
          if only for stingy moments
we know too much
we learn to understand everything,
to make too much sense out
of the world,
of pain
                              of lonely…
we buy clothes, we take trips,
we wish, we pray, we meditate, we curse, we crave, we coo,
we caw,
                              we need ourselves sick, we need, we need
we lonely we grow tired of tears we grow tired of fear
we grow tired but must always be soft and not too serious…
                              not too smart not too bitchy not too sapphire
                              not too dumb not too not too not too
a little less a little more
                                        add here detract there

Copyright © Carolyn M. Rodgers, 1992, 2010. All rights reserved.

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