As you might imagine, I have been reading a ton of poetry this month in search of writers and verse. No matter how much you enjoy it, it can be numbing after a while. Yesterday, for instance, I was frazzled and growing a little desperate in the search. I wanted to find someone new, someone frankly completely outside of my generation and experience. I was web surfing almost at random, dismissing much, contemplating what might be good enough to get by. Then I found it. It was one of those rare experiences of complete electric recognition so powerful that at my desk, my socks exited my feet at terminal velocity.
I am embarrassed to say that I was unaware of the work of Krista Franklin, who lives and works in Chicago. Once again I am reminded of how being exiled to the distant Pluto of the city in McHenry County at the edge of its solar system, removes me too much from the vital cultural life of my old city.
Franklin was born in Dayton, Ohio, which clearly now has more to brag about than the Wright Brothers. She earned her B.A. at Kent State, an institution with its own bitter history. There she, like a generation of young Black women, was influenced by Nikki Giovanni, who was featured in this series yesterday as well as by the whole Black Arts Movement. In Chicago, I see that she received her MFA in Interdisciplinary Book and Paper from Columbia College, where I studied writing back in the Stone Age.
|One of Franklin's stunning collages.|
Franklin is not only a poet, but a stunning and successful visual artist as well, specializing in dramatic collages that have graced both gallery exhibitions and the covers of several poetry collections, including John Murillo’s Up Jumps the Boogie and Lita Hooper’s Thunder in Her Voice both published in 2010.
In an interview with the Experimental Arts Examiner, Franklin said:
Typically my poems and collages start with an image in my head or a line from something that evokes a picture in my head, and I work from there. Over the past year I have been trying to think up ways to connect the poetry to the collages, and I've been engaged in the work of bringing the two together a little more. I used to think of them as two separate roads, but now I’m more interested in the places where those roads converge.
As a poet Franklin has inherited a tradition that fuses elements of Black culture and identity. Just as Langston Hughes and the poets of the Harlem Renaissance made their work sing and swing with jazz, as Gil Scott Heron helped invent hip hop and Nikki Giovanni reveled in it, Franklin has the ear and voice of her generation. But she also has a vision that pushes all of the expected boundaries. Her work has been identified with Afrofuturism and AfroSurrealism.
Willow Press published her chapbook, Study of Love & Black Body in 2012. Her work has also been widely anthologized including The Bust Guide to the New Girl Order in 1999, Bum Rush the Page: A Def Poetry Jam in 2001, Gathering Ground: A Reader Celebrating Cave Canem’s First Decade in 2006, and Haymarket Books’ just released The BreakBeat Poets: New American Poetry in the Age of Hip-Hop which includes our featured poem.
By the way, I found the poem in the April issue of venerable Poetry which demonstrates once again that it continues to promote the work of the most promising and able American poets.
Manifesto, or Ars Poetica #2
Give me the night, you beasts hissing over the face of this dead
woman, I climb into your eyes, looking. To those who would sleep
through the wounds they inflict on others, I offer pain to help them
awaken, Ju-Ju, Tom-Toms & the magic of a talking burning bush.
I am the queen of sleight of hand wandering the forest of motives,
armed with horoscopes, cosmic encounters & an X-Acto knife. My
right eye is a projector flickering Hottentot & Huey Newton, my
left eye is prism of Wild Style, gold grills, lowriders, black dahlias,
blunts & back alleys. At twenty-one, I stood at the crossroad of Hell
& Here, evil peering at me behind a blue-red eye. I armed myself
with the memories of Pentecostal tent revivals, apple orchards, the
strawberry fields I roamed with my mother & aunts in the summer,
& the sightings of UFO lights blinking in the black of an Ohio
nightsky. I am a weapon. I believe in hoodoo, voodoo, root workers,
Dead Presidents, Black Tail, Black Inches & Banjees. I believe in the
ghosts of 60 million or more & black bones disintegrating at the
bottom of the Atlantic, below sea level, Not Just Knee Deep. I believe
that children are the future: love them now or meet them at dusk
at your doorstep, a 9mm in their right hand & a head noisy as a
hornet’s nest later. Your choice.
Black, still, in the hour of chaos, I believe in Royal Crown, Afro-Sheen,
Vaseline, Jergens & baby powder on breasts, the collective conscious,
cellular memory, Public Enemies, outlaws, Outkast, elevations,
“Elevators” & Encyclopedia Britannica. Under my knife, El-Hajj Malik
El-Shabazz laughs with Muhammad Ali, a Lady named Day cuddles
with a Boxer named Mister after traumatically stumbling on strange
fruit dangling from one of the most beautiful Sycamores evah. Under
my knife, Marilyn Monroe enjoys an evening out with Ella Fitzgerald,
meanwhile, Life shows me a gigantic photo. I am a weapon. I chart
voyages of unlove, high on a man called crazy who turns nigger into
prince. I believe in Jong, Clifton, “Dirty Diana” & Dilla, paper, scrilla,
green, gumbo, coins, Batty Bois & Video Vixens. I believe that beads
at the ends of braids are percussive instruments in double Dutch.
In the reflection of my knife, Cab Calloway, Duke Ellington &
Thelonious Monk argue in a Basquiat heroin nod. I am a weapon.
I believe in goo-gobs of deep brown apple butter, alphabets, Alaga
Syrup, Affrilachians, A-salaam Alaikum, Wa-Alaikum-Salaam,
& African Hebrew Israelites. I believe in Octoroons, Quadroons,
Culluds, Cooley High, Commodores, Krumpin, Krunk & Burn,
I am Sethe crawling a field toward freedom with a whitegirl talking
about velvet. I believe in tumbleweaves, hot combs & hair lyes, Chaka
Khan, Shaka Zulu, Mau Mau, Slum Village & Buhloone Mindstate:
“Empty your mind, be formless, shapeless. Like water.” I believe
in water. My body is pulp. I bleed ink. I believe in the Fantastic, Vol.
2, The Low End Theory, Space Is the Place & The Hissing of Summer
Lawns. Tucked in the corner of my right ventricle sprouts a Tree of
Knowledge, lives a Shining Serpent & a middle finger. I’m on a quest
for the Marvelous. My face is a mask of malehood, malevolence, one
big masquerade. Metaphysically niggerish, I am a weapon wandering
the forest of motives, a machete in one hand, a mirror in the other,
searching for the nearest body of water.