Wednesday, 11 May 2016

Michael. S. Harper ( 18/4/38 -7/5/16) R.I.P - Here where Coltrane Is.

Sad to hear that Michael S Harper acclaimed poet and writer has passed away, known for his innovative use of jazz rhythms , cultural references and personal narrative has passed away.For Harper history and mythology were related. The mythology of white supremacy for instance. 
As an adolescent he was forced into awareness of racism in America. His familt moved from New York to Los Angeles where African Americans were the target of racial violence.
During high school he began experimenting with creative writing. He later attended  the famous Iowa workshop at the University of Iowa in Iowa city. As the only African American student in the poetry and fiction workshop classes, he endured misunderstanding and prejudice. However these experiences motivated him to confirm  the dualism instead in being an African American writer. He refused exclusive containment in either the African American or in the American category. Rather he affirmed his identity in both groups.
Harper's writing manipulated old European and  American myths to create new ones. His first poetry collection was called ' Dear John, Dear Coltrane (1970) for Harper, John Coltrane who he knew personally is both the man and his jazz. Harper included the music of poetry to affirm and articulate suffering in black life and culture, to gain from it and survive it, drawing attention in his work to the many injustices faced by African Americans in the course of his country's history.
Michael S. Harper  was the Poet Laureate of Rhode Island from 1988 to 1993, and was and will be continued to be regarded as a significant powerful voice in contemporary poetry.
The following poem is from his 1971 collection ' history is your heartbeat,' combining philosophical and social concepts and cultural references that is uniquely representative of the Civil Rights movement, mentioning Martin Luther King, Malcolm X, and of course John Coltrane, out of this painful and tragic legacy he makes song.

Michael S Harper R.I.P

Here where Coltrane is 

Soul and race
are private dominions,
memories are modal
songs, a tenor blossoming,
which would paint suffering
a clear colo
r but is not in
this Victorian house
without oil in zero-degree
weather and a forty-mile-an-hour wind;
it is all a wet-knit family:
a love supreme

Oak leaves pile up on a walkway
and steps, catholic as apples
in a special mist of clear white
children who love my children.
I play 'Alabama'
on a warped record player
skipping the scratches
on your faces over the fibrous
conical hairs of plastic
under the wooden floors.

Dreaming on a train from New York
to Philly, you hand out six
notes which become an anthem
to our memories of you:
oak, birch, maple,
apple, cocoa, rubber.
For this reason Martin is dead;
for this reason Malcolm is dead;
for this reason Coltrane is dead
in the eyes of my first son are the browns
of these men and their music.

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