Saturday, April 18, 2015

National Poetry Month—Brian Gilmore, Lawyer Poet

Brian Gilmore

The interesting and accomplished poet and Lawyer Brian Gilmore was introduced to me by Jeff Epton who was featured  earlier this month on the recommendation of a reader—keep those cards, letters and suggestions coming!   Jeff was excited enough about Gilmore to send me a copy of his latest and third collection We Didn’t Know Any Gangsters, which, by the way, is a hell of a good book.  Epton and Gilmore both have connections to Washington, D.C. and Michigan but it is the poetry that connects them like transfused blood.
Gilmore is younger than Epton or me with our gray beards and hair. The next generation down the line almost, or by the Government’s way of figuring, the tail end of Boomers of whom we were pioneers.  He was born in 1962 in what he describes as his “beloved D.C.”  And he points out that Hip Hop is dated from ’65.  So what does that make him?
He owes solid values to his father.  He was immersed in Jazz from Ellington to Monk, brushed by ghosts of the Civil Rights Movement and haunted by specters emerging from today’s alleged news.  He knows old movies and can find Abe Vigoda’s Godfather eyes staring back at him from his 18 month old daughter in her crib.  He always wanted to be a writer and a lawyer.  He got to be both.  That’s what it makes him
Gilmore was educated at Frostburg State University in Maryland, and worked as a writing instructor at Catholic University in Washington.  As a member of the D.C. Writers Corps, he also taught reading and writing in a GED program at Lorton Prison, a profound experience for him.
Gilmore went on to study at the David A. Clarke School of Law in D.C., where he graduated in the top 10 percent of his class, and was a contributing writer for the student newspaper,  The Side Bar.  After graduation and admittance to the bar he says he stumbled on the niche of Fair Housing and community service at the Neighborhood Legal Service Program from 1992 to 2002.  Later he was a clinical professor and supervising attorney with the Clinical Law Center of Howard University.  He is currently Associate Professor of law at Michigan State University College of Law.  
That affiliation causes him to split time between East Lancing and Tacoma Park, Maryland where he lives with his wife Elanna, and daughters, Adanya, Lirit, and Pannonica. All during this busy legal career, Gilmore has also been an active writer.  As he told Macomb County Legal News in an interview:
I’m a poet and writer who teaches law, not a lawyer who is a poet-writer. The poetry and the kind of law I practice and teach is the same now, the public interest kind, it has become fused and my clients and work informs my poetry and writings and vice versa. I feel very comfortable in the highly technical world of legal education but also in the world of poets and writers at literary events which I feel is highly technical and important too in its own way.

“Mostly, my career is one thing, not two separate things. Most of my colleagues are one or the other, a law teacher, or lawyer, or a poet/writer. I am both: literature and the law drive me. I’m okay with that.
Gilmore is a columnist with the Progressive Media Project. His first book of poetry, elvis presley is alive and well and living in harlem, was published by Third World Press of Chicago in 1993. His second collection, Jungle Nights and Soda Fountain Rags: Poem for Duke Ellington published by Karibu Books 2000 is an aesthetic biography in verse on the life and work of jazz master Duke Ellington. His latest collection, We Didn’t Know Any Gangsters came out last year from Cherry Castle Publishing which has been nominated for an NAACP Image Award. His poetry, fiction, and other writings have been published in The Progressive, The Baltimore Sun, The Utne Reader, In Search of Color Everywhere, and The Detroit Free Press

Among his honors are the Maryland State Arts Council’s Individual Artist Award, and the Cave Canem and Kimbilo Fellowship.  His work has also been nominated for a Push Cart Award.

Dreamy Blues

for barney bigard, arthur whetsol & lawrence brown

    you ain’t been blue . . . til you’ve
    had that mood indigo . . .

a young girl
is somewhere waiting on
the boy she loves; she
has seen him every day for the last
five years but today he will not come.

an old man
is down by a river
standing at the spot
where he saw his only son drown.

a woman who never knew her
mother but knew her
mother did not love her
is somewhere walking the

i travel to all these places,
long to capture that
which seems to be our shadow,
swells with absurdity
recalls jobs we can’t have,
hotels we can’t enter
restaurants which show us doors
instead of menus.

ours is a deep dyed emotion;
marching bands
banjo pickers
barrelhouse ballers
dangerous dance halls
segregated neighborhoods
too proud to weep what it lives.

we are that drama.
we are this
unusual arrangement
that speaks for the millions,
that is why this song is
full of our dreams

heard in
late hours on our radios
we love ourselves more
sleep well at night
rise from our beds
to work hard
and fancy future
triumphs where
we are wide awake
in the middle
of nightmare,

this sound will
carry us forward
and speak to the world
in a language that does
not lie

just a ditty i wrote down
one day
before the show
while my
mother prepared supper,

and somewhere
we were living
this mood . . .

—Brian Gilmore
From Jungle Nights and Soda Fountain Rags: Poem for Duke Ellington

revolution (for my father)
my father was a dictator.

in 1968 dad suspended the house
instituted a state of emergency
suspended any rights television
made us think we had.
he declared tarzan a fake
nat turner important
malcolm x a brother
we must understand.

it was strange this regime
always looming like lightning
during a thunderstorm, but never
to harm, though we know the sky
is no friend of careless boys
who sometimes end up
walking home in the rain.

often my brother and I rebelled against
this totalitarian despot.
we declared civil war by
staying out until 4 or 5 a.m.

el presidente would be awake
when we returned,
calm in his demeanor, greeting us with
one of those well-prepared speeches,
like castro.

this constant pounding on our brains made us
surrender eventually, and end our unrest after
nearly 20 years of disorganized resistance.
the will of this monarch
became our will:
like, “you will go to school.”
“you will not destroy your life.”

now when I stop by my father’s house
the state of emergency is over
the revolution he declared was successful
the laws he passed are no longer in need
of enforcement.

these presidential duties
are exclusively mine now
and if
i am ever lucky enough to become
a dictator
i shall not hesitate
to crush tarzan and
give really long speeches
another language.

—Brian Gilmore
From We Didn’t Know Any Gangsters

billy bathgate (for Chico)

            all I’ve got is this picture.

it could have been van der zee
gordon parks,
oggi ogburn fresh from
a chancellor Williams

we are capable boys;

up some small mountain
in summertime
from that swamp of a city.

we couldn’t juggle balls
didn’t know any gangsters,

all we had was ice cold michelob
and red juicy melon
holy like water.

we didn’t know about rattlesnakes
that i’ve now been told are
all over that mountain.

all i’ve got is this picture.

i could call up the crew,

though some of them are
gone away now
like wisps of smoke.
others are here,

just floating on skyline
like kite
without string.

we were capable boys,
looking into the future as if we
would live like frederick douglass
or c.l.r. james.

did I mention the michelob?
red juicy melon
holy like water?

and how about those rattlesnakes?
all around us, now that we know
they are there.

all I’ve got is this picture.
unbreakable smiles.
lean frames.
polo shirts gripping young boys,
soon to be walking tightropes
without poles.

            it’s there, all of it.

            ice cold michelob
            melon holy like water.


            we couldn’t juggle balls.

didn’t know any gangsters.

            we were capable boys,

            all i’ve got is this picture.

—Brian Gilmore
From We Didn’t Know Any Gangsters

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