Memory, history, folklore, and the labor that makes a life all shape my writing. Of all these, memory and the aspiration to musical language most shape the poems in Even the Hollow My Body Made Is Gone, while memory and labor most shape the poems in The Hands of Strangers: Poems from the Nursing Home.
In my new book, Primitive: The Art and Life of Horace H. Pippin, I write about the forces that drive us to make art and the way that Pippin’s art provokes memory and intense engagement with history and with the sensual world.
Primitive: The Art and Life of Horace H. Pippin, October 2016. Now available for advance purchase.
From the back cover:
A lyrical and biographical reflection on the art and life of Horace H. Pippin—the best-known African American artist of his time—Primitive offers a searching critique of the condescension to African American folk art as supposedly “primitive,” and it also critiques the underestimation of African American life and imagination in the broader American consciousness. Award-winning poet Janice N. Harrington connects readers to this fascinating, odds-defying artist, all while underscoring the human craving for artistic expression.
SHAKING THE GRASS
Evening, and all my ghosts come back to me
like red banty hens to catalpa limbs
and chicken-wired hutches, clucking, clucking,
and falling, at last, into their head-under-wing sleep.
I think about the field of grass I lay in once,
between Omaha and Lincoln. It was summer, I think.
The air smelled green, and wands of windy green, a-sway,
a-sway, swayed over me. I lay on green sod
like a prairie snake letting the sun warm me.
What does a girl think about alone
in a field of grass, beneath a sky as bright
as an Easter dress, beneath a green wind?
Maybe I have not shaken the grass.
All is vanity.
Maybe I never rose from that green field.
All is vanity.
Maybe I did no more than swallow deep, deep breaths
and spill them out into story: all is vanity.
Maybe I listened to the wind sighing and shivered,
spinning, awhirl amidst the bluestem
and green lashes: O my beloved! O my beloved!
I lay in a field of grass once, and then went on.
Even the hollow that my body made is gone.