“Poetry is music, and nothing but music. Words with musical emphasis.” This, attributed to the late poet and activist Amiri Baraka, is true of the poetry in this issue of Black Magnolias. The poetry within is musical, rhythmic, metrical, and cadenced, holding to a tradition of powerful voices, some with hymn-like qualities that resonate.
In a sonnet, “Two Bars of Candy,” Richard Evans uses rhyme and strong images to tell a civil rights story both powerful and intense, in which “two bars of candy were his blessed meal / The power of the lord became his shield.” Two modern haikus by Raven Leigh cap the poetry section with these strong lines: “Be a tree in a / field watered with blood reaching / to the rays of life.” A reminder that with great change and progress come sacrifice.
Jacquese Armstrong offers a hymn in a free verse poem, “underground railroad (of the mind),” that takes readers on a journey to freedom, ending with a Harriet Tubman quote also embedded in the poem in the repeated phrase “KEEP GOING” and ending with, “. . . keep going / if you want a taste of freedom / keep going . . .” Armstrong’s four poems are equally powerful and poignant.
The three poems that open the poetry section of this issue are by John Kaniecki and are hauntingly present in their allusions to cultural icons, heroes, and musicians. I am particularly drawn to “The Folk Queen of Sub City (Dedicated to Tracy Chapman)” since I have always been a fan and recognize some lyrical elements of Chapman’s. Kaniecki’s rhythms are captivating and political. His “Redefining Genocide American Style” is reminiscent of Amiri Baraka’s “Black Art” with images of “Violent Gatling gun gore wars / Bayoneted babies and auction blocks / Cruel as Cyclone B showers . . .” The aberrant spelling of Zyklon B notwithstanding, it is a poem that shouts from the page.
Kalamu ya Salaam’s “Govern Yrself Accordingly” is a free verse poem with a cadenced quality ending with, “feel free.” The theme is resonant, evocative, as the speaker has
dismissed“The Supernatural Agency of the African Epic Hero” by Christopher Peace is an academic sojourn into mythology and folklore which offers hope to readers of African narratives that present the epic hero as “a positive image of blackness, whose impression represents a mental recovery of a time when the African culture was powerful and self-sustaining apart from Western impediments.” An important element of literature, to be sure, for readers who may have only experienced an Africa in which “the African epic narrative remains lost or hidden to much of the world” due to the “harsh interruption due to colonial powers.” Peace’s essay continues to show how the epic heroes in the African narratives fit a classical definition of the mythical hero in which the supernatural plays a significant role. Delving into traditional folklore, Peace shares important themes that educate and entertain.
of emotional defenses,
confetti to all the guards and given
faithful and ever vigilant
several days off
The narrative section of fiction fell somewhat short for me, and I did not feel as connected to the stories as I did to the poems or the essay in this issue. “Throw Rugs” by Dane A. Campbell begins as a story about two estranged sisters seeing one another after a hiatus and ends with a tragedy, albeit one reduced by the narrative. The metaphoric use of the throw rugs is evident when the visiting sister, Madeline, observes Sandra covering up a stain, “’Just like mother. Boy, she knew how to throw a rug over any stain. It’s how she did things you know, just cover it up, never fixing it or throwing it away.’” I understand this observation to be the overarching theme of the story, and Campbell, who does a fine job with dialogue, focuses on this throughout.
In Melinda Joyner’s story, “The Worth of Wealth,” I feel a disconnect between the title and theme but note the irony of the plot in which a student in an expensive private school suffers from her own choices and relationships, regardless of wealth. The story is in third person, but I sense that it would work better as a first-person narrative in the voice of Jordan, the school counselor, whose thoughts readers are privy to.
A few editorial inaccuracies are a distraction in the issue, particularly the use of “voyeur” instead of “foyer” and “splitting image” instead of “spitting image.” This issue of Black Magnolias is ambitious and attempts to showcase talented writers in each genre. The pieces convey strong and urgent themes that surface in American society, some truths that we as a society have not been able to shake or refashion. This is the work of great literature, and works in this issue rise to the definition, some more than others. I would come for the poetry alone.