Thursday, April 18, 2013

National Poetry Month—Laura Brienza "Jackie Robinson"




Careful longtime readers of this little pop stand at the far end of the cul-de-sac may have noted I have certain interests.  Well, maybe obsessions.  History, poetry, social justice, Civil Rights, and baseball to name a few.  So when I find something that caters to all of these yearnings at once, I am in seventh heaven.
Sixty-five years ago on April 15, history was made when the first Black baseball player in the Major Leagues in the Modern Era stepped up to the plate for the Brooklyn Dodgers.  A couple of Black players reportedly made appearances with pro teams in the sport’s infancy in the 1870’s and ‘80’s and later some light skinned players passed themselves off a Cuban.  But in the 20th Century baseball had been a citadel of Jim Crow segregation.
With all of the interest in Jackie Robinson generated by the release of the bio-pic 42 staring Chadwick Boseman as the man, Harrison Ford as Branch Rickey, Christopher Meloni as Leo Durocher, and John C. McGinley as Red Barber, I went surfing the net for poems.  And there are quite a few, including some popular song lyrics. 
But the poem that really stuck me was posted by Laura Brienza on her innovative blog All the Poems Fit to Print.  She describes her blog thusly:
All The Poems That Are Fit To Print began as an experiment in transformation.  Every day for one year, I decided to write a poem inspired by an article from the New York Times.  I began the project in 2010 unemployed, living with my parents, and heartbroken.  My hope was that an overdose of news and hundreds of poems later, that would all change.  And it did.  By the time a year of current events and metaphors had gone by, I was employed, attached, and living in New York City.
Poetry has long been a means of reacting to and exploring the world. This indefinable method of expression has explored the terrors of war, the joys of love, and the magnificence of science.  Once again, I aim to use it to explore current events in real time. 
Every week, I’ll post poetry inspired by The New York Times
Pretty damned ambitious stuff for a still 20-something writer.  But she seems up to over achievement.
She graduated from Georgetown University in 2009 where she studied poetry under Carolyn Forche and David Gewanter and won the Ora Mary Phelam Poetry Prize.
When she headed to New York not only did she launch this poetry blog, but also a career as a playwright. 
Brienza’s plays have been seen in Washington, DC, New York, New Jersey, and Rhode Island on stages like the Kennedy Center, the Lark Play Development Center, the New York International Fringe Festival, Luna Stage, and Sidecar Theater Company.  Her work has been published by Indie Theater Now and featured in publications such as WNYC, Motif Magazine, the New York Theater Review, Talkin' Broadway, and the Washington Post.
Her first feature film is currently in development.  
Whew!  When I was her age I was just pretending to be a writer, contributing to the old Chicago SEED, and the Industrial Worker, and hanging out on the fringes of groups of real writers in bull sessions at joints like O’Rourke’s Pub.  I mostly succeeded in beer…but that’s my own sad story.
Today we will celebrate Laura, from whom we will all undoubtedly hear much more, and Jackie Robinson.
Jackie Robinson
he knows
this blood diamond
isn’t conflict free as
a small soul's cleats
dig into his soles
approaching first

they threatened to strike

he knows
this square
is symmetrical
in its slurs
as they chant nigger
in a four/four
time signature

they said go back to the cotton fields

he knows
Dodgers in the dugout
are digging themselves in
to the ground and
they’d bleach it white
if they could

they aimed for his head

but there’s no crying in baseball
so he crafts a new back
out of rubber
off which
words and balls can bounce
until gravity
will do them in
—Laura Brienza

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