ChickenBones: A Journal
for Literary & Artistic African-American Themes
it is precisely because of commentary like that found in Robert Frost’s poem that I often question
quite critically Blacks folks’ employment of “we” when discussing aspects of American society,
as, for example, the way Cornel West does in his latest book, Democracy Matters.
A Discussion of “The Gift Outright”
A Poem by the Pulitzer-Winning Poet Robert Frost
Conversations with Kam, Mackie, Jerry, Floyd
The first inaugural poet, Robert Frost, recited The Gift Outright for John F. Kennedy in 1961. NYTimes
The Gift Outright
By Robert Frost
The land was ours before we were the land’s.
She was our land more than a hundred years
Before we were her people. She was ours
In Massachusetts, in Virginia,
But we were England’s, still colonials,
Possessing what we still were unpossessed by,
Possessed by what we now no more possessed.
Something we were withholding made us weak
Until we found out that it was ourselves
We were withholding from our land of living,
And forthwith found salvation in surrender.
Such as we were we gave ourselves outright
(The deed of gift was many deeds of war)
To the land vaguely realizing westward,
But still unstoried, artless, unenhanced
Such as she was, such as she would become
Responses to “The Gift Outright”
Rudy: Do you think this poem is excessively Eurocentric?
Charles: Damn skippy . . . Who was here before those explorers, debtors from prisons, indentured servants and slave traders???
Kam: Yes, Guthrie-esque before Woody’s This land is your land, this land is my land… The Israelis have the same attitude about Israel. Jewish kids, even in this country are taught to recite a poem from a young age about how the land was empty and given to them by God. The same way white South Africans swear no blacks lived on the land before their arrival.
Mackie: Absolutely not. Just the opposite. It encourages developing a long look away from Europe. It is, however, a blind, perhaps witless, extolling and praise of American imperialism and colonialism. Let’s face it, “Americans” did colonize Amerindians. The First People of this land. The poem is white-skinned, Americo-centric. I think that’s what you sensing about this “poem”. Mistah Chaahlee-centric.
Rudy: I think your assessment is accurate. The poem is to a slight degree anti-Eurocentric in its first half. For it calls for a new nationalism, American rather than British. The last four lines are exceedingly troubling: “(The deed of gift was many deeds of war) / To the land vaguely realizing westward, / But still unstoried, artless, unenhanced, / Such as she was, such as she would become.” Of course none dare call Frost “racist.” Maybe we need indeed to develop new terms to describe the consciousness that produced the poem. Clearly, we cannot place Frost in the same category as America’s white lower middle classes, the so-called “Silent Majority.” His attitude toward nonwhites, I suspect, is much more sophisticated, though “witless”: “The deed of gift was many deeds of war.” Here he seems to glorify conquest (of the Indians, the Mexicans, and the Spanish).
There seems a total absence of the Negro altogether. Maybe that is what Ellison was responding to when he spoke of “invisible men.” They are there but their presence is insignificant. Some might say we ask too much of a single poem.
Kam: I agree, but I feel like I understand those lines: “manifest destiny.”
Rudy: I wonder what comes to mind when politicians speak blithely of the “American people.” It is very narrow in its conceptualization in the imagination of most white Americans, I suspect. It is not altogether that different from Robert Frost’s blind conceptualization in this poem “The Gift Outright.” It’s probably not “overt” but so much a fabric of American society that it becomes the natural state of things. Are you familiar with Ronald Walters’ White Nationalism, Black Interests.
Jerry: Rudy, I do like the phrase you usedblind conceptualization. It fits Frost well. The poem also has a peculiar significance in 2005 as land developers blindly conceptualize progress (profits) by appropriating the property (or trying to) of displaced tsunami victims in Asia. And we know very well what is in the planning for New Orleans. Thanks for giving me a new way of using Frost to communicate lessons about appropriation to students. Frost was following in the tradition of Shakespeare’s The Tempest.
Rudy: Yes, I saw the evening news and some Indonesian fishermen were talking about the results of the tsunami and how developers and the government were coming in seizing their land and that there was nothing that could be done about it but concede. I also remember Shakespeares Caliban.
Frost recited the poem on Meet the Press, initially 50 years ago, and they showed it again last Sunday and so I went online to find the full poem.
As far as New Orleans, there are indeed elites in New Orleans that feel Katrina gave them a gift outright, a New Orleans without the wrong kind of Negroes. Thanks for reminding me that the poem is indeed relevant to the New Orleans situation.
Floyd: Rudy, it is precisely because of commentary like that found in Robert Frost’s poem that I often question quite critically Blacks folks’ employment of “we” when discussing aspects of American society, as, for example, the way Cornel West does in his latest book, Democracy Matters. Who is this “we” and are we as Black people actually a part of the conversation? There are other instances in which generalizations are made. Last semester, a Black student in my bebop course wrote that Billie Holiday was hardly accepted by Americans except as a singer. I asked the student: “Accepted by whom? Black people loved Lady Day. Who gives a damn whether whites valued her?”
We need to break the supposed connection between rightness and whiteness!
posted 28 December 2005
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Robert Lee Frost, b. San Francisco, Mar. 26, 1874, d. Boston, Jan. 29, 1963, was one of America’s leading 20th-century poets and a four-time winner of the Pulitzer Prize. An essentially pastoral poet often associated with rural New England, Frost wrote poems whose philosophical dimensions transcend any region. Although his verse forms are traditionalhe often said, in a dig at archrival Carl Sandburg, that he would as soon play tennis without a net as write free versehe was a pioneer in the interplay of rhythm and meter and in the poetic use of the vocabulary and inflections of everyday speech. His poetry is thus both traditional and experimental, regional and universal. More Frost Bio Material
The Katrina Papers is not your average memoir. It is a fusion of many kinds of writing, including intellectual autobiography, personal narrative, political/cultural analysis, spiritual journal, literary history, and poetry. Though it is the record of one man’s experience of Hurricane Katrina, it is a record that is fully a part of his life and work as a scholar, political activist, and professor. The Katrina Papers provides space not only for the traumatic events but also for ruminations on authors such as Richard Wright and theorists like Deleuze and Guattarri. The result is a complex though thoroughly accessible book. The struggle with formthe search for a medium proper to the complex social, personal, and political ramifications of an event unprecedented in this scholar’s life and in American social historylies at the very heart of The Katrina Papers. It depicts an enigmatic and multi-stranded world view which takes the local as its nexus for understanding the global. It resists the temptation to simplify or clarify when simplification and clarification are not possible. Ward’s narrative is, at times, very direct, but he always refuses to simplify the complex emotional and spiritual volatility of the process and the historical moment that he is witnessing. The end result is an honesty that is both pedagogical and inspiring.Hank Lazer
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For July 1st through August 31st 2011
#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 Melissa V. Harris-Perry
According to the author, this society has historically exerted considerable pressure on black females to fit into one of a handful of stereotypes, primarily, the Mammy, the Matriarch or the Jezebel. The selfless Mammys behavior is marked by a slavish devotion to white folks domestic concerns, often at the expense of those of her own familys needs. By contrast, the relatively-hedonistic Jezebel is a sexually-insatiable temptress. And the Matriarch is generally thought of as an emasculating figure who denigrates black men, ala the characters Sapphire and Aunt Esther on the television shows Amos and Andy and Sanford and Son, respectively.
Professor Perry points out how the propagation of these harmful myths have served the mainstream culture well. For instance, the Mammy suggests that it is almost second nature for black females to feel a maternal instinct towards Caucasian babies.
As for the source of the Jezebel, black women had no control over their own bodies during slavery given that they were being auctioned off and bred to maximize profits. Nonetheless, it was in the interest of plantation owners to propagate the lie that sisters were sluts inclined to mate indiscriminately.
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This book explodes several myths: that selling sex is completely different from any other kind of work, that migrants who sell sex are passive victims and that the multitude of people out to save them are without self-interest. Laura Agustín makes a passionate case against these stereotypes, arguing that the label ‘trafficked’ does not accurately describe migrants’ lives and that the ‘rescue industry’ serves to disempower them. Based on extensive research amongst both migrants who sell sex and social helpers, Sex at the Margins provides a radically different analysis. Frequently, says Agustin, migrants make rational choices to travel and work in the sex industry, and although they are treated like a marginalised group they form part of the dynamic global economy. Both powerful and controversial, this book is essential reading for all those who want to understand the increasingly important relationship between sex markets, migration and the desire for social justice. “Sex at the Margins rips apart distinctions between migrants, service work and sexual labour and reveals the utter complexity of the contemporary sex industry. This book is set to be a trailblazer in the study of sexuality.”Lisa Adkins, University of London
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From The World and Africa, 1965
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updated 26 December 2006
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