Friday, April 1, 2016

Kicking off National Poetry Month 2016 With Everett Hoagland

It’s National Poetry Month Again!  If you have been visiting here for a while, you know what that means—it’s our sixth annual round up of daily doses of verse!  If you are new, here’s the scoop.  Every day all month I will feature poets and their poems.  I aim to be as broad and inclusive as possible to style, subject, period, gender, race, and neglected voices.  I don’t want just a parade of the usual dead white men, but a lot of them did write some damn fine poetry, so they have their place here to.  As always, selections follow my own tastes and whims.  Yours may be different.  But I am open toeager for—suggestions, especially for contemporary writers.  I do not subscribe to dozens of little magazines or prowl the internet for poetry posts.  I often only stumble on new and unknown poets and I am sure I miss some great stuff.  Please feel free to turn me on to some—or be bold and submit your own.  I don’t and can’t promise to use everything.

Everett Hoagland.

A great place to start is with one of my favorite working poets, Everett Hoagland.  I first encountered Hoagland in the pages of UUWorld magazine back in 2011 when he knocked my socks off with a series of poems dealing with returning to his African roots including the horrors of the slave trade, Middle Passage and the ambiguity and paradox of being African and American at the same time.  I was so impressed with his long form poetry that I wrote a laudatory letter to the editor about it.  Hoagland responded warmly and personally and we have remained in contact.  Last May, just after the conclusion of the Poetry Month series on the blog he was kind enough to send me an autographed copy of his brand new collection, The Music and Other Selected Poems.  I was pleased to see that he excerpted my letter for a back cover blurb:
Everett Hoagland’s…is...substantial poetry… I commend the essential bravery of Hoagland’s work, which connects the intimate and personal now to the vastness of a historic and global outrage… This is self-knowledge on an epic scale. All of us, regardless of our origins would do well to come to such grips with the long shadows of our own histories.
I was even happier to find the poems I had admired included in the new volume—poems that I shared in a Poetry Month posting back in 2012.
Hoagland was coming off of a very good stretch after retiring as a professor of English at the University of Massachusetts at Dartmouth and finishing his tenure as the poet laureate of New Bedford, Massachusetts, the historic whaling and fishing port which has been his long-time home.  In 2012 he published his wonderful book Ocean Voices: An Anthology of Ocean Poems which included some of his gems.  He had just been awarded the 2015 Langston Hughes Award joining the ranks of eminent black poets including Sonia Sanchez, Amiri Baraka, and Gwendolyn Brooks. 
The award was especially meaningful to him in light of special connection to Hughes, the Godfather of African-American verse.  Hoagland was a senior at Hughes’s alma mater Lincoln University in Pennsylvania when the great man visited the school in 1964 and met with selected students.  Hoagland showed up with two poems in hand.  In an interview given to Lauren Daley in South Coast Today, Hoagland recalled:
He was nice enough not to say anything about the cornier of the two, and made concrete suggestions on the other, and that one went on to win the creative writing award at the University. So this whole experience has come full circle.  Hughes helped me win that award, and now I’ve gotten an award for my life’s work in his name. 
Hoagland was deeply influenced by Hughes, but also by other Black poets, especially his personal friend Amiri Baraka.  He explores their voices and influences in The Music which contains work spanning the 1960’s to today.  He also considers music, especially jazz and blues but all forms of expression of the African-American experience including rap.  He touches on historic context not only including slavery and its aftermath, but the labor and civil rights movements and currents of Black Nationalism from Marcus Garvey on.  He weaves all of it together in the collection reflecting a deep and mature understanding of what it means to be Black and American.
Hoagland was born on December 18, 1942 in Philadelphia.  He graduated from Lincoln University, perhaps.   He came of age in the Civil Rights era and matured into a community coming to grips with its identity manifesting itself in the Black Power movement.
He went to work as a teacher in the Philadelphia public school system before returning to academia to get his master’s degree at Brown University and to become a professor of English at the University of Massachusetts at Dartmouth.  He settled with his wife and children in New Bedford.
He has been a prolific poet and writer, highly regarded as a leading voice of new Black literature while, perhaps unsurprisingly, escaping much acclaim among the White poetry establishment.  Among his books are, Ten Poems: A Collection, 1968; Black Velvet, 1970; Scrimshaw, 1976; This City and Other Poems, 1997; and Here: New and Selected Poems, 2002.  He has also been widely anthologized and along the way also picked up the Gwendolyn Brooks Award for Fiction in 1974 and a National Endowment for the Humanities Fellowship in 1984.

The cover of Hoagland's most recent book features a photo of his great grandfather musician Benjamin William Hoagland showing cultural roots that run deep.

The Music
After reading All God’s Dangers:  The Life of Nate Shaw

Your archival voice,
our long blues song,
life’s story
coughed up
the blood-soaked cotton
gag.  Blue blood,

blue steel guitar blues,

Your Smith and Wesson
.32 gun metal voice.

What did they call you
when you resisted?

“If you were
a white man: principled,
mule: stuborn,
nigger: crazy.”

You were a blue steel guitar.

and your wife was
a fiddle and a tambourine,
Hannah.  Soft as cotton
and as strong.
And your wife was
a fiddle and a tambourine
and your sons are
we your daughters
playing your gun metal voice,
playing your blue steel
guitar book-long song


Note:  Shaw was a heroic sharecropper organizer in early 20th Century Alabama.  All God’s Dangers, his transcribed oral autobiography, won the National Book Award for its editor/transcriber, Theodore Rosengarten.

—Everett Hoagland  1974

From The Music and Other Selected Poems by Everett Hoagland, North Star Nova Press.  Copyright Everett Hoagland, 2015.

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