ChickenBones: A Journal
for Literary & Artistic African-American Themes
The blues is emotive on an all-encompassing level. Manish Boy, probably
Waters most noted hit, is as political as it is social. To have a sturdy, confident,
massive black man declaring Ima a Maaaine in 1955 just after the murder
of Emmett Till with women unabashedly affirming his declaration was a political thing
Books by C. Liegh McInnis
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Blues as Secularized Spirituals
Brief Thoughts on Cadillac Records
and the Power and Importance of McKinley Morganfield
In Clarksdale, Mississippi as with all Delta towns, the downtown street that houses all the cafés and juke joints intersects with the street that houses all the churches. Though today there are more churches than cafés, the intersection once was a natural crossroad that echoed if not troped the actual crossroad of Hwy 49 and Hwy 61 where Robert Johnson is alleged to have sold his soul to the Devil to be able to play the guitar and where black people still pass fleeing the Delta for economic opportunity or merely looking for less social hell or returning home to commune with a slower pace of life.
When I was a kid, it was impossible to walk home from choir practice and not pass, hear, or stop and eat in a café. Blues and juke joint culture were as normal to me as catfish and chittlins even though I was constantly told that people who frequented cafés where heathens who were going directly to hell. Funny how all these people would tell me to say hello to my grandmother who always claimed to have only frequented church and work. At the center of my Delta blues life was the shadow of McKinley Morganfield. There was B. B. King. King was/is the superstar and reigning international diplomat of the blues. And I dont know how many times I saw King and others, such as Bobby Rush, Bobby Blue Bland, Johnny Taylor, and many other old men in suits and wet hair perform for free. But, McKinley Morganfield, aka Muddy Waters, cast a shadow of the plantation worker who used music to circumvent the hell of Jim Crow.
The blues presented secular salvation, and Waters was its chief evangelist. It is to him and my father that I refer in my poem Black Man, when I say that Im going to pull myself up by my wingtips and look good doing it. Muddy Waters died in 1983 when I was 13, but by then he was the apex for a country town of men in suites, silk shirts, and processes. At a gut, blues level, Prince was aesthetically familiar to me. He played a guitar. He wore shiny suits and shirts. He had a process. He sang sex songs that my mothers church friends hated. Being a Prince fanatic never seemed to contradict with my love for the blues. It seemed like a natural extension. The falsetto, screams, grunts, and moans were directly linked to the emotional vocabulary and vocal delivery of churches, cafés, and James Brown.
Ive been on a couple of blues panels, but I never had the desire to become an archivist or blues critic. I was probably in my late twenties before I purchased my first blues record. Living in Clarksdale, I was so surrounded by bluesit was blasted from radios through the windows of shotgun houses, it blared from cars up and down the street, and it floated on the night air from the downtown juke jointsthat I never felt a need to purchase a record. All I had to do was keep walking up and down the street, and eventually I would hear the song that I desired. LeRoi Jones/Amiri Barakas Blues People is a very important book for me, but it mostly affirmed things for me rather than taught me anything. It precisely articulated and crystallized general notions that Id always had. It made me say amen or oh yeah a lot.
The same is true for Cadillac Records. For those who are familiar with blues culture, it will not teach them much if anything. But sometimes affirmation is as important as revelation as Aristotle asserts that the beauty of the play is mans recognition of himself. For Cadillac Records illustrates that blues music was created as an emotional and intellectual response to Americas incomplete and abandoned Reconstruction and that the blues is the soil from which springs all other American music, including the style and swagger that goes with it. The movie is, for me, a grade of B+. Having the actors sing diminishes some of the power of the songs, which is important to the story.
The blues is emotive on an all-encompassing level. Manish Boy, probably Waters most noted hit, is as political as it is social. To have a sturdy, confident, massive black man declaring Ima a Maaaine in 1955 just after the murder of Emmett Till with women unabashedly affirming his declaration was a political thing, being as important as a song such as Big Boss Man. Whenever I see the footage of men wearing the I Am A Man signs during the 1960s, I always think of Manish Boy. So the lost power of the songs affects the power of the film. Yet, the actors do a solid job of capturing and articulating the essences of their characters.
Mos Def exudes the wit, intellectual insightfulness, and rambunctious nature of Chuck Berry. Columbus Short sheds his pretty boy façade to become Little Walter and plays him as the spirit of angry black men whose combustible rage battles but does not completely overshadow his kindness. Beyonce gets the sex appeal and internal conflict of Etta James correct. Eamonn Walkers portrayal of Howlin Wolf shows that the intelligent, self-sufficient, militant black man did not jes grew in California and the North, but that he migrated there from Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama, Tennessee, Georgia, and from all parts South. And Jeffrey Wright reveals that it is Muddy Waters who brought the blues from the fields to the streets, from overalls to slick suits and even slicker hair with a mountainous swagger equal to the jazz legends before him and the soul, R&B, funk, and hip hop icons after him.
The other flaw of the film is that the beginning is a bit rushed or hurried. The early scenes with McKinley Morganfield in Mississippi seem as if they exist more as an unavoidable obligation rather than being there to lay the foundation of or to articulate the totality of what actually went North when black people went North. Yet, I understand that one of the reasons you cast Beyonce and Mos Def (both of whom I see as fine talents) is to entice a younger, hip hop audience, which based on the audiences lackluster reaction to the actors being on BETs 106 and Park seems a futile attempt. And since that younger generation is not going to wait forty minutes for a film to establish itself, context must be sacrificed so as not to loose their short attention spans.
Accordingly, the Hollywood movie houses are not going to fund a three hour feature film about the blues for obvious greenback reasons. This movie needs to be three hours long, but Im one of the few people with no life who would sit there that long. People refused to patronize Spike Lees latest effort, Miracle at St Anna, citing it as being too long despite the fact that it is well done and an important conversation about the contribution of African Americans to American freedom and democracy. Yet, the actors ability to deliver and completely fill the screen with the essences of their characters almost compensates for or counterbalances the rushed, underdeveloped beginning.
The strength of the film is that while it is as typical as Clint Eastwoods Bird (1988) starring Forest Whitaker as jazz legend Charlie Parker (a movie that I like unlike most of the folks I know), Cadillac Records ulls back the monolithic cover of stereotypical down-and-out people to reveal blues music as a complex art form created by complex people. Howlin Wolf is presented as the unapologetic ideological opposite of Muddy Waters; yet Wolf is also Waters bookend, proving that the black bodies that were in those southern fields were thinking people that created and embraced various philosophies as to how best survive and/or defeat Jim Crow.
For instance, no matter how stylish, humane, and prolific Waters is, he never does escape or transcend the mentality of a sharecropper. He accepts the pedagogy of the oppressed: he works, the white man makes money, and he hopes that the white man breaks him off a crumb or two. However, both Wolf and Berry are portrayed as the exact opposite. They are black men who verbalize their discontent with the sharecropper systems of the music business and who attempt to remove the heavy hands of white supremacy from the pockets and their lives. Ultimately, we see that just because a blues man or women is cheated of their royalties that does not mean that they are innately or completely ignorant and that blues music is intellectual and humane music created by intellectual and humane people.
Waters relationships with Little Water, Howlin Wolf, Leonard ChessJewish owner of Chess Records, and his love interest Geneva Wade (played by Gabrielle Union) shows that although black life and human neurosis is complicated by the umbrella white supremacy, black art is one of the reminders that black people continue to retain their sanity and dignity even while being forced to live as the wretched of the earth. Thus, blues music is a testament to black people being able to pull beauty from the very bowels of human existence in the same way that soul food and quilting are examples of black people taking the scraps of life and weaving a tapestry of excellence.
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C. Liegh McInnis is an instructor of English at Jackson State University, the publisher and editor of Black Magnolias Literary Journal, and the author of seven books, including four collections of poetry, one collection of short fiction (Scripts: Sketches and Tales of Urban Mississippi), and one work of literary criticism (The Lyrics of Prince: A Literary Look at a Creative, Musical Poet, Philosopher, and Storyteller). He has presented papers at national conferences, such as College Language Association and the Neo-Griot Conference, and his work has appeared in Bum Rush the Page: A Def Poetry Jam, Sable, New Delta Review, The Black World Today, In Motion Magazine, MultiCultural Review, A Deeper Shade, New Laurel Review, ChickenBones, and the Oxford American.
In January of 2009, C. Liegh, along with eight other poets, was invited to read poetry in Washington, DC by the NAACP for their Inaugural Poetry Reading celebrating the election of President Barack Obama. He has also been invited by colleges and libraries all over the country to read his poetry and fiction and to lecture on various topics, such creative writing and various aspects of African American literature, music, and history. McInnis is editor of Black Magnolias Literary Journal.PsychedelicLiterature
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Black Magnolias Literary Journal is a quarterly that uses poetry, fiction, and prose to examine and celebrate the social, political, and aesthetic accomplishments of African Americans with an emphasis on Afro-Mississippians and Afro-Southerners.
We welcome pieces on a variety of African American and Afro-Southern culture, including history, politics, education, incidents/events, social life, and literature. All submissions are to be made by e-mail as a word attachment to firstname.lastname@example.org . Each issue costs $12.00, and a years subscription is $40.00.
posted 10 December 2008
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By Mukoma wa Ngugi
Her womb pressed against the desert to bear the parasite
that eats her insides like termites drill into dry wood.
He is born into an empty bowl, fist choking umbilical cord.
She dies sighing, child son at last. He couldn’t have known,
instinct told him – always raise your arm in defense of your
own -Strike! Strike until they are all dead! Egg shells
in your hands milk bottle held between your toes,
you have been anointed twice, you strong enough to kill
at birth and survive. You will want to name the world
after yourself but you will have no name- a collage of dead
roots, tongues and other things. You will point your sword
to the center of the earth, duel the world to split into perfect
mirrors after your imperfect mutations but you will be
too weak having latched your self onto too many streams
straddling too many continents, pulling patches of a self
as one does fruits from an from an orchard, building a home
of planks with many faces. How does one look into a mirror
with a face that washes clean every rainy season?
He has an identity for every occasion – here he is Lenin
there Jesus and yesterday Marx – inflexible truths inherited
without roots. To be nothing to remain nothing, to kill
at birth – such love can only drink from our wrists. We
storming from our past to Jo’Burg eating wisdom of others
building homes made of our grandparent’s bones. We
gathering momentum that eats out of our earth, We standing
pens and bullets hurled at you, your enemies. Comrade, there
are many ways to die. A dog dies never having known
why it lived but a free death belongs to a life lived in roots,
roots not afraid of growing where they stand, roots tapped all over
the earth. Comrade, for a tree to grow, it must first own its earth.
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By Marcus Rediker
In this groundbreaking work, historian and scholar Rediker considers the relationships between the slave ship captain and his crew, between the sailors and the slaves, and among the captives themselves as they endured the violent, terror-filled and often deadly journey between the coasts of Africa and America. While he makes fresh use of those who left their mark in written records (Olaudah Equiano, James Field Stanfield, John Newton), Rediker is remarkably attentive to the experiences of the enslaved women, from whom we have no written accounts, and of the common seaman, who he says was a victim of the slave trade . . . and a victimizer. Regarding these vessels as a strange and potent combination of war machine, mobile prison, and factory, Rediker expands the scholarship on how the ships not only delivered millions of people to slavery, [but] prepared them for it. He engages readers in maritime detail (how ships were made, how crews were fed) and renders the archival (letters, logs and legal hearings) accessible. Painful as this powerful book often is, Rediker does not lose sight of the humanity of even the most egregious participants, from African traders to English merchants. Publishers Weekly
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Wild Women Dont Have the Blues
By Ida Cox
I hear these women raving ’bout their monkey men About their fighting husbands and their no good friends These poor women sit around all day and moan Wondering why their wandering papas don’t come home But wild women don’t worry, wild women don’t have the blues. Now when you’ve got a man, don’t ever be on the square ‘Cause if you do he’ll have a woman everywhere I never was known to treat no one man right I keep ’em working hard both day and night because wild women don’t worry, wild women don’t have no blues. I’ve got a disposition and a way of my own When my man starts kicking I let him find another home I get full of good liquor, walk the streets all night Go home and put my man out if he don’t act right Wild women don’t worry, wild women don’t have no blues You never get nothing by being an angel child You better change your ways and get real wild I wanna tell you something, I wouldn’t tell you no lie Wild women are the only kind that ever get by Wild women don’t worry, wild women don’t have no blues. Born Ida Prather,25 February 1896 in Toccoa, Habersham County, Georgia, United States. Died 10 November 1967 (aged 71) Genres Jazz, Blues Instruments Vocalist.
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#1 – Justify My Thug by Wahida Clark #2 – Flyy Girl by Omar Tyree #3 – Head Bangers: An APF Sexcapade by Zane #4 – Life Is Short But Wide by J. California Cooper #5 – Stackin’ Paper 2 Genesis’ Payback by Joy King #6 – Thug Lovin’ (Thug 4) by Wahida Clark #7 – When I Get Where I’m Going by Cheryl Robinson #8 – Casting the First Stone by Kimberla Lawson Roby #9 – The Sex Chronicles: Shattering the Myth by Zane
#10 – Covenant: A Thriller by Brandon Massey
#11 – Diary Of A Street Diva by Ashley and JaQuavis
#12 – Don’t Ever Tell by Brandon Massey
#13 – For colored girls who have considered suicide by Ntozake Shange
#14 – For the Love of Money : A Novel by Omar Tyree
#15 – Homemade Loves by J. California Cooper
#16 – The Future Has a Past: Stories by J. California Cooper
#17 – Player Haters by Carl Weber
#18 – Purple Panties: An Eroticanoir.com Anthology by Sidney Molare
#19 – Stackin’ Paper by Joy King
#20 – Children of the Street: An Inspector Darko Dawson Mystery by Kwei Quartey
#21 – The Upper Room by Mary Monroe
#22 Thug Matrimony by Wahida Clark
#23 – Thugs And The Women Who Love Them by Wahida Clark
#24 – Married Men by Carl Weber
#25 – I Dreamt I Was in Heaven – The Rampage of the Rufus Buck Gang by Leonce Gaiter
#1 – Malcolm X: A Life of Reinvention by Manning Marable #2 – Confessions of a Video Vixen by Karrine Steffans #3 – Dear G-Spot: Straight Talk About Sex and Love by Zane #4 – Letters to a Young Brother: MANifest Your Destiny by Hill Harper #5 – Peace from Broken Pieces: How to Get Through What You’re Going Through by Iyanla Vanzant #6 – Selected Writings and Speeches of Marcus Garvey by Marcus Garvey #7 – The Ebony Cookbook: A Date with a Dish by Freda DeKnight #8 – The Isis Papers: The Keys to the Colors by Frances Cress Welsing #9 – The Mis-Education of the Negro by Carter Godwin Woodson
#10 – John Henrik Clarke and the Power of Africana History by Ahati N. N. Toure
#11 – Fail Up: 20 Lessons on Building Success from Failure by Tavis Smiley
#12 –The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness by Michelle Alexander
#13 – The Black Male Handbook: A Blueprint for Life by Kevin Powell
#14 – The Other Wes Moore: One Name, Two Fates by Wes Moore
#15 – Why Men Fear Marriage: The Surprising Truth Behind Why So Many Men Can’t Commit by RM Johnson
#16 – Black Titan: A.G. Gaston and the Making of a Black American Millionaire by Carol Jenkins
#17 – Brainwashed: Challenging the Myth of Black Inferiority by Tom Burrell
#18 – A New Earth: Awakening to Your Life’s Purpose by Eckhart Tolle
#19 – John Oliver Killens: A Life of Black Literary Activism by Keith Gilyard
#20 – Alain L. Locke: The Biography of a Philosopher by Leonard Harris
#21 – Age Ain’t Nothing but a Number: Black Women Explore Midlife by Carleen Brice
#22 – 2012 Guide to Literary Agents by Chuck Sambuchino #23 – Chicken Soup for the Prisoner’s Soul by Tom Lagana #24 – 101 Things Every Boy/Young Man of Color Should Know by LaMarr Darnell Shields
#25 – Beyond the Black Lady: Sexuality and the New African American Middle Class by Lisa B. Thompson
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By Charles C. Mann
Im a big fan of Charles Manns previous book 1491: New Revelations of the Americas Before Columbus, in which he provides a sweeping and provocative examination of North and South America prior to the arrival of Christopher Columbus. Its exhaustively researched but so wonderfully written that its anything but exhausting to read. With his follow-up, 1493, Mann has taken it to a new, truly global level. Building on the groundbreaking work of Alfred Crosby (author of The Columbian Exchange and, Im proud to say, a fellow Nantucketer), Mann has written nothing less than the story of our world: how a planet of what were once several autonomous continents is quickly becoming a single, globalized entity.
Mann not only talked to countless scientists and researchers; he visited the places he writes about, and as a consequence, the book has a marvelously wide-ranging yet personal feel as we follow Mann from one far-flung corner of the world to the next. And always, the prose is masterful. In telling the improbable story of how Spanish and Chinese cultures collided in the Philippines in the sixteenth century, he takes us to the island of Mindoro whose southern coast consists of a number of small bays, one next to another like tooth marks in an apple.
We learn how the spread of malaria, the potato, tobacco, guano, rubber plants, and sugar cane have disrupted and convulsed the planet and will continue to do so until we are finally living on one integrated or at least close-to-integrated Earth. Whether or not the human instigators of all this remarkable change will survive the process they helped to initiate more than five hundred years ago remains, Mann suggests in this monumental and revelatory book, an open question.
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By Randall Kennedy
Among the best things about The Persistence of the Color Line is watching Mr. Kennedy hash through the positions about Mr. Obama staked out by black commentators on the left and right, from Stanley Crouch and Cornel West to Juan Williams and Tavis Smiley. He can be pointed. Noting the way Mr. Smiley consistently voiced skepticism regarding whether blacks should back Obama . . . The finest chapter in The Persistence of the Color Line is so resonant, and so personal, it could nearly be the basis for a book of its own. That chapter is titled Reverend Wright and My Father: Reflections on Blacks and Patriotism. Recalling some of the criticisms of Americas past made by Mr. Obamas former pastor, Mr. Kennedy writes with feeling about his own father, who put each of his three of his children through Princeton but who never forgave American society for its racist mistreatment of him and those whom he most loved.
His father distrusted the police, who had frequently called him boy, and rejected patriotism. Mr. Kennedys father relished Muhammad Alis quip that the Vietcong had never called him nigger. The author places his father, and Mr. Wright, in sympathetic historical light.
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A Novel by Jesmyn Ward
On one level, Salvage the Bones is a simple story about a poor black family thats about to be trashed by one of the most deadly hurricanes in U.S. history. What makes the novel so powerful, though, is the way Ward winds private passions with that menace gathering force out in the Gulf of Mexico. Without a hint of pretension, in the simple lives of these poor people living among chickens and abandoned cars, she evokes the tenacious love and desperation of classical tragedy. The force that pushes back against Katrinas inexorable winds is the voice of Wards narrator, a 14-year-old girl named Esch, the only daughter among four siblings. Precocious, passionate and sensitive, she speaks almost entirely in phrases soaked in her familys raw land. Everything here is gritty, loamy and alive, as though the very soil were animated. Her brothers blood smells like wet hot earth after summer rain. . . . His scalp looks like fresh turned dirt. Her fathers hands are like gravel, while her own hand slides through his grip like a wet fish, and a handsome boys muscles jabbered like chickens. Admittedly, Ward can push so hard on this simile-obsessed style that her paragraphs risk sounding like a compost heap, but this isnt usually just metaphor for metaphors sake.
She conveys something fundamental about Eschs fluid state of mind: her figurative sense of the world in which all things correspond and connect. She and her brothers live in a ramshackle house steeped in grief since their mother died giving birth to her last child. . . . What remains, whats salvaged, is something indomitable in these tough siblings, the strength of their love, the permanence of their devotion.
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By Rita Dove
Selecting poets and poems to represent a century of poetry, especially the riotous twentieth century in America, is a massive undertaking fraught with peril and complication. Poet Rita Dove-a Pulitzer Prize- winning former U.S. poet laureate, professor, and presidential scholar- embarked on what became a consuming four-year odyssey. She reports on obstacles and discoveries in an exacting and forthright introduction, featuring striking quotes, vivid profiles, and a panoramic view of the evolution of poetic visions and styles that helped bring about social as well as artistic change […] Dove’s incisive perception of the role of poetry in cultural and social awakenings infuses this zestful and rigorous gathering of poems both necessary and unexpected by 180 American poets. This landmark anthology will instantly enhance and invigorate every poetry shelf or section.Booklist
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By Rita Dove
This 12th collection from the former U.S. poet laureate and Pulitzer Prize recipient is her third book-length narrative poem: it follows the real career of the violin prodigy George Augustus Polgreen Bridgetower (17801860), a former pupil of Haydn, as well as the grandson/ of an African prince, or so his promoters and teachers in England said. Moving to Vienna during the Napoleonic Wars, the violinist met and befriended the famously moody Beethoven, who was prepared to dedicate his famously difficult Kreutzer Sonata to Bridgetower until a rivalry for the same woman drove them apart. Dove tells Bridgetower’s story, and some of Beethoven’s and Haydn’s, in a heterogenous profusion of short poems, some almost prosy, some glittering in their technique. In quatrains, a double villanelle, what looks like found text, short lines splayed all over a page and attractive description, Dove renders Bridgetower’s frustrated genius: Music played for the soul is sheer pleasure;/ to play merely for pleasure is nothing/ but work. Dove does not always achieve such subtletiesthose who loved her early work may think this book too long: few, though, will doubt the seriousness of her effort, her interest at once in the history of classical music and the changing meanings of race.Publishers Weekly
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By George Lamming
First published in 1960, Season of Adventure details the story of Fola, a light-skinned middle-class girl who has been tipped out of her easy hammock of social privilege into the complex political and cultural world of her recently independent homeland, the Caribbean island of San Cristobal. After attending a ceremony of the souls to raise the dead, she is carried off by the unrelenting accompaniment of steel drums onto a mysterious journey in search of her past and of her identity. Gradually, she is caught in the crossfire of a struggle between people who have “pawned their future to possessions” and those “condemned by lack of learning to a deeper truth.” The music of the drums sounds throughout the novel, “loud as gospel to a believer’s ears,” and at the end stands alone as witness to the tradition which is slowly being destroyed in the name of European values. Whether through literary production or public pronouncements, George Lamming has explored the phenomena of colonialism and imperialism and their impact on the psyche of Caribbean people.
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Edited by William Minter, Gail Hovey and Charles Cobb Jr.
Tell no lies; claim no easy victoriesAmilcar Cabral, 1965. African news making headlines in the U.S.A. today is dominated by disaster: wars, famine, HIV/AIDS. Americans who respond from Hollywood stars to ordinary citizens are learning that real solutions require more than charity. This book provides for the first time a panoramic view of U.S. activism on Africa from 1950 to 2000, activism grounded in a common struggle for justice. It portrays organizations, individual activists, and transnational networks that contributed to African liberation from colonialism and from apartheid in South Africa. In turn, it shows how African struggles informed U.S. activism including the civil rights and black power movements. Intended for activists, analysts, students, researchers, teachers, and anyone concerned with world issues, the authors draw on interviews, research and personal experience to portray the history and stimulate reflection on international solidarity today.
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From The World and Africa, 1965
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update 5 August 2012