Poet Michael Ellis has written a fantastical treatise on Black Culture in lyric poetry of America.
He has been published in the Los Angeles Herald Examiner, Cross Currents Review, and in anthologies,
Birth O’ The Blues, The Inspired Heart 2014. This is Poet Michael Ellis’ second book
of poetry, the first being Goodbye Langston and is the first book This Writer has reviewed for him.
Of a quiet Summer afternoon, the music and blue skies, “Stand by me, stand by me . . . “ Poet’s souls and cultural differences, like varied bands of colour, have different rhythms and bring life, the fountainhead in celebration. Poet Ellis sees with a Poet’s eyes, despite the violence of his homelife and the violence of the history of Blacks in America, weaving a treatise in truthtelling. They Wouldn’t Let Me Be White has themes of being a father, his family, tells the story of his life and the stories of Black people in America and the violence of white/Black race relations. One of my favourite poems is written for his daughter, titled Percentage Poem.
AND UNITED PRESS
YOU AS A BLACK FEMALE
HAVE A TEN PERCENT CHANCE
OF GOING TO COLLEGE
A FIFTY PERCENT CHANCE
OF DYING FROM STRESS
THEY GIVE YOU
AN EIGHTY PERCENT CHANCE
OF HAVING THREE CHILDREN
THEY EVEN TOSSED IN
A SEVENTY-FOUR PERCENT CHANCE
OF BEING A SINGLE PARENT
TO YOUR DAUGHTERS AND SONS
CNN AND FOX OFFER YOU
A FORTY-FOUR PERCENT CHANCE
OF BEING A WHORE
SO IF YOU EVER SEE
STATISTICS LIKE THESE
JUST TEAR THEM UP
SPIT ON THEM
I YOUR FATHER GIVE YOU
A ONE HUNDRED
OF BEING BLACK AND BEAUTIFUL
AND AN EIGHTY
OF BEING BLESSED
SO LISTEN TO DADDY
AND IGNORE THE PRESS
AND THE REST.
He writes an introduction about his life, of how he spends his entire childhood attempting to define himself in relation to the dominant white culture. Tells of being laughed at for applying to an all white Boy Scout troup. He goes on to champion the Black teenagers (Emmitt Till, Trayvon Martin and more) who have been murdered and compares it to an outbreak of gonorrhea on the Statue of Liberty. (In 2013 the homicide rate of Black male teenagers in the United States was 45 per 100,000 or 135,000 murders per year). The poetry breaks into the silence around racial discrimination and remembers the names of saints who have been lost but not forgotten. The dominant white culture is all pervasive, in mass media, television, movies, it has historically been a reflection of itself. (but becoming more diversified with the see and be seen Internet/computer phenomenon). White culture/politics can be a hard and violent place, from casting people out and cruelty to unofficial plebescites/genocide. America exists on the road, in the flight from heaven, the Holy Spirit way was largely lost. Like a safety valve that sometimes boils over, people take out their self-esteem issues and angst on “the other”, Black people being an obvious target because of their different skin colour and because they may not know the rules of the white elite. What you dwell on grows, release work, prayer, an arts calling, there are many ways to ease the universal angst. The rules of the Holy Spirit are quite simple, do not hurt each other, follow your calling for love, and follow your calling for work, anything more than this is a synthesized hell.
What do you do
When Black folks don’t want you?
And White folks don’t need you?
Tell me what do you do
When Black folks don’t want you?
And White folks don’t need you?
Can’t find no bread or a hand to feed you
When your own Racelessness
Becomes heavy and egregious?
You go to the church at the corner
And start readin’ poems to Jesus
The poetry presents as lyrical Beat poetry, with influences of modern Hip Hop lyric/music. The synchronicity of the intentional rhyme, like rocking the cradle, weaves the light of love into the often horrific telling of Black events and history. Some of the poems suggest the magic of music in Blue. This book of poetry begins with a dedication to Langston Hughes and in the next few poems he addresses Poet Hughes and what unfolds is an imaginery conversation, a quiet humor. Like Hitchcock Presents, the words begin subtle and then grab the pit of your stomach, the edge, the horror of the violence erupts in a quiet scream, as you begin to realize the sorrow of lives lost. This is illustrated in the poem Southern Marinade. It is dedicated to Jessie Washington, and is the story of how he stood trial for the rape and murder of a white woman. The execution scene is poetry unbound, more graphic than a newsreel, the images and poetic wordplay that paints the picture in violence.
The poetry travels in momentum to the last poem, High Yellow. It is the story of a house maid who is made pregnant by her monied employer and how she gave up the child to be raised by the father.
“And that Winter lasted a Century
And Spring came bringing
Birds in a Symphony
And daffodils did daffodil things
And one day in particular for no reason at all
He looked at her
“Mr. Sawyer, I’m four months Pregnant Sir.””
One of my favourite poems is, Maya Angelou Poem a great tribute poem to Maya Angelou with a freedom song ending.
This poetry rises from the fires and flies into the sun as iconic Black sufferage and celebration. From the title and the subtle humour, the cadence and magic of the poetry in truthtelling, the artistry, the Poet triumphs over oppression. When This Writer came to the last poem, she scrolled down looking for more. An impressive book of poetry from Michael Ellis.
Available @ Poet Michael.
Dead Letter Office is a suite of classic unsent love letters that the Poet has published anonymously. The quiet anarchy of
anonymous, anonymous in a sea of faces, this iconoclastic troubled love affair is a voice without a face. Yet, Anonymous could
be Anyone, the frustration of the perfect love affair in the violence of politics and the Western Economy. At the end of
the free read at Philistine Press is a disclaimer “There is no copyright, no expectation of credit. Poetry should be free.”
At first This Writer was rather appalled that someone would write without at least claiming a “nom du plume” and had decided that if they were not going to sign their work, I was not going to Review it. However, it is such a good read, I have fallen for its charms and there is something rather heart rendering about a Poet, a love affair without a name. In troubled times it is a great gift to be able to have access to the artefacts of culture for free, those struggling, the Poets, the Artists, the Students, the lovers of poetry and gives a voice to the Poet, it is important to be read. The Internet has revolutionized the process of art so that it is immensely easier to gain an audience, like going down to the town square to read, it no longer relies on the elites opinion of who should be published.
Like the celebration of an unmarked grave the Poet is writing about a troubled love affair, either a brief entre nous or, perhaps a love affair that did not come into full fruition as if it is passed, could not be. The 15 short unsent love letters in Dead Letter Office is New Age experiential poetry in narrative that records the sights and sounds of the day with the underlying theme of some impossible love.
“Unsent letter # 13
I want to lie with you on a narrow bed
in a simple room; a plain white sheet,
blank walls. There’s one window; outside
a field, then woods. Your arms wrapped
lightly around me. Your blouse, sweater
and green skirt with the frayed hem hang
over the back of a rocking chair; bra and
panties on the floor at the foot of the bed.
There’s a bell, a quiet chime; it’s Sunday
morning. The slant of rain is illuminated
by the moon. We’re unafraid, marooned
as long as we choose; lost on this blue
quilted sea between dreams and sleep.
The poetry is a beautiful, arcane presentation of short letters that begin with Dear, and end with Love, anonymous. The Nature Imagery includes the birds, the moon, the weather, the green of trees mixed with the hard imagery of Cityscape, cars, the subway, the police, the architecture.
“Unsent Letter #4
I think about carefully writing letters then leaving them in random places:
Dear Subway Passenger,
Let me tell you about my lover.
She’s beautiful in that way sadness has of rounding out edges.
She likes to go barefoot; better to feel the earth tremble, she says.
She worries about the sun when it rains,
Likes to sit in her grandmother’s chair; best seat in the house when it thunders.
She believes in long good-byes and wide-open spaces. Last thing she told me was how words
seem to come alive when written by hand.
This love poetry is beautiful in the way all classic love poetry is beautiful. A photo in time. An inspiration, instead of the letters sent without an address to the post office, perhaps a photo and poem could be posted on milk cartons, billboards, the found letter box, at least the treatment deserving of pets and lost cats.
“somewhere my love . . . “ plays into a warm overcast evening, sweet the last days of Summer. Dead Letter Office, a brilliant song of love and anarchy at Philistine Press.
Available @ Philistine Press.