Wednesday, October 05, 2011

My Attempt To Honor Mrs Rose Martin And "The Black Poetry Panorama"

My wife handed me the school assignment for my 4th grade son to come up with a poem that is at least 3 stanzas long for him to learn and recite before the class by the end of the month.

This made me think of Mrs Rose Martin - my 6th grade teacher at the Overbrook Elementary School in Philadelphia.   She put on the renowned "Black Poetry Panorama" each year.

All of the 6th grade classes in the school had to learn various poems and skits months prior to the public show.  We practiced almost daily until we all memorized our lines.   Mrs Martin is my favorite teacher to this day because she made sure of one thing - YOU are not going to embarrass her in her class, on the stage and most importantly - after you depart from her class having graduated.

We all had to purchase blue jeans and jean jackets and then cover them with glitter in the design of our choice.  I remember having my mother run me all over town seeking out a denim jacket that would fit my long arms at the time.

From this experience the first poems that I thought of were from Langston Hughes and Paul Lawrence Dunbar.  This were but two of the featured poets in the "Black Poetry Panorama".

One of the consequences of the integrated school system that I now live in is that there will not be a "Mrs Martin" who will put on a "Black Poetry Panorama" to ensure that the legacy of Hughes and Dunbar will be perpetuated through to another generation.

This is why I am going to take this one chance and offer their works up for insertion into a classroom that is full of diversity which would otherwise not ever learn about these and other literary greatest.

The Negro Speaks Of Rivers
By Langston Hughes
I've known rivers:
I've known rivers ancient as the world and older than the
flow of human blood in human veins.

My soul has grown deep like the rivers.

I bathed in the Euphrates when dawns were young.

I built my hut near the Congo and it lulled me to sleep.
I looked upon the Nile and raised the pyramids above it.
I heard the singing of the Mississippi when Abe Lincoln
went down to New Orleans, and I've seen its muddy
bosom turn all golden in the sunset.
I've known rivers:
Ancient, dusky rivers.
My soul has grown deep like the rivers.

We Wear the Mask by Paul Laurence Dunbar
We wear the mask that grins and lies,
It hides our cheeks and shades our eyes,--
This debt we pay to human guile;
With torn and bleeding hearts we smile,
And mouth with myriad subtleties.

Why should the world be overwise,
In counting all our tears and sighs?
Nay, let them only see us, while
We wear the mask.

We smile, but, O great Christ, our cries
To thee from tortured souls arise.
We sing, but oh the clay is vile
Beneath our feet, and long the mile;
But let the world dream otherwise,
We wear the mask!
If I Could But Forget by Paul Laurence Dunbar
If I could but forget
The fullness of those first sweet days,
When you burst sun-like thro' the haze
Of unacquaintance, on my sight,
And made the wet, gray day seem bright
While clouds themselves grew fair to see.
And since, no day is gray or wet
But all the scene comes back to me,
If I could but forget.

If I could but forget
How your dusk eyes look into mine,
And how I thrilled as with strong wine
Beneath your touch; while sped amain
The quickened stream thro' ev'ry vein;
How near my breath fell to a gasp,
When for a space our fingers met
In one electric vibrant clasp,
If I could but forget.

If I could but forget
The months of passion and of pain,
And all that followed in their train--
Rebellious thoughts that would arise,
Rebellious tears that dimmed mine eyes,
The prayers that I might set love's fire
Aflame within your bosom yet--
The death at last of that desire--
If I could but forget.

1 comment:

Elise Brown said...

Oh my goodness. I was just talking about Mrs. Martin today (which is why I googled her name) as I have so many times in my life. She was the best teacher that I have ever had in my life! She was stern but loving. She sometimes had to be the disciplinarian in order to gain the respect to do her job. She reinforced having respect for not only one another but for ourselves. I do remember the days at Overbrook Elementary when we would have the annual Black Poetry Panorama (along with Mrs. Porter- remember her!) and buy jeans and jackets and dress them up with glitter and studs. I also remember learning all of the black poems and speeches and rehearsing them in front of the class. I remember how she exposed many of us to our first play, "Fiddler on the Roof" which was the foundation of my strong interest in the arts and theatre. I wish every teacher was half as good as she was.