devorah major

“political poem” and “Prison Chant”

devorah major at Wild Poppies release, photo by Scott Braley

devorah major reading at the Wild Poppies CD release party, La Peña, Berkeley.
(see larger image)

Photo: Scott Braley

devorah major, San Francisco's third poet laureate, is also a novelist, essayist, teacher and arts activist. Her volume in the City Lights Poet Laureate Series is where river meets ocean (2003). Previous poetry collections include traveling women, ( with Opal Palmer Adisa, Juke Box Press, 1989), and street smarts (Curbstone Press, 1996). Her novels include An Open Weave (Seal Press, 1995) and Brown Glass Windows (Curbstone, 2002).

devorah major and Opal Palmer Adisa together make up Daughters of Yam, performing together since 1984. In their own words, "they lift poetry off the page yet preserve the integrity of language. They infuse the words and resonance with the values of performance by adding music and drama. They continue in the tradition of the African Griot." Visit the Daughters of Yam web site, where you can learn more, hear more, and get their CD, The Tongue is a Drum.

devorah major:
     I also see all art as political, whether by commission or omission. ... The choice of what to focus on is a political act, the choice of what to reveal or conceal is a political act, the choice of what to assert or deny is a political act. The choice of writing for a broad audience, or writing a text that can only be understood with a specialized vocabulary and particular aesthetic training is a political act. The choice of being a formalist and only writing in accepted Euro- specific poetic forms, or writing experimental verse, or writing with a myriad of approaches and styles are all not just artistic choices, but because of their cultural impact, also political acts.
     But that does not mean that creating art is, or should be, an act of creating propaganda. It is not about doctrine, or political parties, but about the body politic. By the same token, bringing poetry as performance, as written art, or as writing workshops to people in schools and jails, libraries and half-way houses, homeless shelters and community centers is also a political act. Encouraging people to not only listen and hear, but also to use their own voices to critically examine their selves, their lives, and the world around them, is a political act.
(Read more from this interview with PoetryBay).

political poem  MP3 of this poem

devorah major

[This poem is read on the CD by the author. MP3 of this poem]

what makes a poem revolutionary
does it violently refuse the page
construct a chaos of grammar
that denies metaphor or defeats meter
is it armed and ready for prolonged struggle
is it loud and insistent assaulting your senses
full of gun powder and iron pellets
is it unavailable for canonization
despite an early death as martyr
or does it instead
find guerrilla survival
exploding in unexpected places
appearing once again     just
when you thought it dead

published in where river meets ocean
© 2003

Prison Chant  MP3 of this poem

Marilyn Buck

[This poem is read on the CD by devorah major. MP3 of this poem]

Cassandra is on the phone
her screams bounce off walls
staccato chant
          Maurice listen to me
          Stop listen to me
          you must be responsible
          I'm not there
          take care of your sister
          help her
          I don't care
          she's young
          you're grown
          20 is grown
          I'm sorry you must
          be responsible
          I'm not there
          Let me talk to her
          LISA LISA
          listen to me
          listen to your brother
          TIME OUT
          what's going on
          Stop STOP STOP
          I'm sorry

no the phone has cut me off
I need more time
please let me call again
I know you're next
please Jesusfathergod
I must call back
I'm going to call again
I know it's your turn
you have to wait

          Maurice I'm sorry
          I'm not there
          what can I do
          I know your brother's dead
          yes I told
          I had to
          to come home
          yes I'm still here
          you're there
          you're alive
          you must be responsible
          I'm not there
          I'm still not there

published in Rescue the Word
© 1999

poems © the authors
compilation © The Freedom Archives