|Willie James King|
I became an admirer of Willie James King a few years ago while I was still NC Poet Laureate. Preparing a feature for the NC Arts Council on Pembroke Magazine's African American writers issue, I knew that I liked his poetry right away. Since then I've come to like him, his straightforward presentation of his life and his work, his obvious delight in the written word, and his sense of place and region. Reared in Orrville, Alabama, he is the author of three books of which only one is still in print, The House in the Heart. (Such a great title, isn't it?) It has a foreword by Cathy Smith-Bowers, our current NC Poet Laureate. His poems appear widely in literary print journals and online as well, among them Alehouse, Appalachian Heritage, Confrontation, Cutthroat, The Caribbean Writer, Pembroke Magazine, Obsidian, The Lullwater Review, and The Southern Poetry Review. ( Over a hundred-plus poems, or so. Wow!) He resides in Montgomery, AL. His manuscript, Autumn's Only Blood is scheduled for publication in 2012.
I will be posting more about this book when it appears, but for now my readers will have to be satisfied with the following three poems from the collection and this testimonial that I wrote after reading Willie James's manuscript.
How a poet comes to his voice remains a mystery and so it should remain, for poetic lyricism and passion rise up in the darkest of times, as well as in the most beautiful. It sings those moments when the words in one's mouth taste of blood, as well as those when they taste of ripe plum, sweet, sweet, sweet, as Willie James King reminds us, closing out his powerful new book of poems. Dedicated to Troy Davis, executed by my native state of Georgia after denying an appeal that might have exonerated him, these poems speak honestly of the injustice inflicted by racism, the strength of resistance, and the sheer pleasure, inextricable from the pain, that being alive can bring, and doing so with what I call pure, unadulterated "wordlove." This poet has learned to trust his language, let it lead him where the poem needs to go. His poems sing, mourn, rage, celebrate, their language always remaining true to its source.
It Will Not Slip
To pull away from it all, you know, quit!
without an effort to begin again
is as if you've done enough now to sit,
look, as if there’s so little left to gain.
You are allowed to feel the way you feel.
It’s a given; most journeys do get rough
as oil-slick hands trying to hold a wet eel,
whose struggle makes the slightest grasp too tough.
You just don’t give it only half your heart,
in doing so, expect to reach your goal.
Know that giving up is the hardest part
(a bud must strain before its flower shows).
Take a handful of grit to gird your grip;
then, let the eel struggle! it will not slip.
Ah, winter blew-in hard, with it came snow,
and those who said they wanted it grew tired
too soon, in just a few drab days or so.
On T.V., a white world seems gentrified
but none of us had seen snow this far south;
and most would rather not since those who tried
found out how hard it is to get about.
Some want it if it would remain soft-ice,
think it might be better and fun no doubt.
But ice outside, in any form’s not nice
to me. Drivers just don’t know how to steer.
Taking on roads here is mere sacrifice.
Once out there one feels like a lane-locked deer
craving the safety of the woods, that fear.
More than once, I dreamt the world was on-fire
A blond, thick blaze sloping down the mountain,
unstoppable in its famished desire,
weaving a dark, monochromatic plain,
pitch darkness that contradicted its flame,
moving like lava-milk 'cross the landscape.
Waves from another planet was to blame.
And so it seemed there would be no escape.
Spew and soot like snow was all about us,
sedulous mainly, making good its threat;
but soon it dawned, I was dreaming; and thus
I woke in fits, starts, and all wet with sweat.
If you think something is out to get you,
don’t be surprised only to find it's true.