Piedmont (North Carolina) Poet Laureate Influences a Generation of American Artists, Writers and Women
Wealth is often times hidden in plain site. Think about it- Apple iPods and iPhones are everywhere. They are as commonplace as blue skies and sunshine. Apple computers, however, is a company with a $599.70B market capitalization and the most profitable company in the world with profits at $57.3B. There you go- right in plain site.
It is no less with the spiritual and creative wealth that buttress our nation and world culture, era after era. Think of Pulitzer Prize poet Gwendolyn Brooks, Maya Angelou or Muhammad Ali and what they have meant not only to our country but the world. The world we live in is not possible without these ancestors underwriting the struggle with such savoir fair. Their body of work and words are emblematic of the American citizen on the highest possible frequency. They literally represent and remix the struggle into sweet poetry. They wrote the original recipe for which Beyonce’s Lemonade has become a multi-million selling album. Or as Cornel West heir apparent, Nate Howard, has said, “Their poetry really changed society. It’s how we change the world... And it’s not entertainment.” Only, I would add, these assets are priceless.
“[Poetry is] about the spirit. The serious writer who wants to work with an editor, the serious artist who wishes to workshop her work. My measurement of success is creating someone who is serious about the writing process. This is editing. This is refinement and curation of the spirit.”
When it comes to the literature and advocacy of our flowering global renaissance, American poet and Duke University professor Jaki Shelton Green is North Carolina’s ubiquitous, though not exclusive, treasure. She is the national treasure hiding in plain site. In nearly six decades of work, she has mentored hundreds of authors, poets and women across the country and globally. Her poetry has appeared in The African American Review, Essence Magazine and Ms. Magazine... dozens of literary journals, trade magazines and periodicals. She is a 2014 Pushcart Prize Nominee, the 2009 North Carolina Piedmont Laureate and in 2003 recipient of the North Carolina Award for Literature (the highest award the state can bestow for significant contributions in science, literature, fine arts, and public service). I could go on to list countless awards and acknowledgments from her most recent with Duke University, going back to appointments in the 1960’s, but that would not be worthy of her electric alkaline poetry.
Griot Jaki Shelton Green does not measure her success by such programmatic measures. “Success?”, she sings in the sister sass and airy melody of her voice, “Success based upon hallowed standards is not something I aspire to or want to participate in. Poetry is about so much more - it is about the work we do here on the planet. It is about crafting quality work and saving lives, elevating lives. It’s about the spirit. The serious writer who wants to work with an editor, the serious artist who wishes to workshop her work. My measurement of success is creating someone who is serious about the writing process. This is editing. This is refinement and curation of the spirit.”
However, the accolades are unending. In 2014, Green was inducted into the North Carolina Literary Hall of Fame. She has authored of Dead on Arrival (Carolina Wren Press) and 7 other poetry collections. Her poetry has appeared in Callaloo, Cave Canem African American Writers Anthology, Home is Where: An Anthology of African American Poetry from the Carolinas, and Idodine Poetry Journal, among many others.
“The operative word for her is dynamism. Her readings are electrifying. She is a presence at the podium, a meld of panache and humility that embraces every audience, regardless of its orientation. She is North Carolina poetry’s Billie Holiday.” The North Carolina Hall of Fame
i know the grandmother one had hands
i know the grandmother one had hands/ but they were always in bowls/ folding, pinching, rolling the dough/ making the bread/ i know the grandmother one had hands/ but they were always under water/ sifting rice/ blueing clothes/ starching lives...
© Jaki Shelton Green, Breath of the Song (Carolina Wren Press)
Some of Jaki's other publications include “Feeding the Light,” “Masks,” “Dead on Arrival,” “breath of the song,” and “Conjure Blues” which was cited as one of two Best Poetry Books of the Year by the Independent Weekly. She has performed her poetry, conducted workshops and residency programs throughout the United States, Caribbean, Europe, Central and South America.
“Rooted in hypnagogic logic and deeply seated in the tradition of Jayne Cortez, Quincy Troupe and Ntozake Shange, Jaki Shelton Green’s verse narratives pay homage to the orphic ethos of the mythmaking South with all the viscous verve of Van Gogh with a palette of syllables, images and words blurring through our senses like the thick, sleek wax of magnolia leaves... Her poems are totems and tomes; they are percussive, convulsive and constructive.” —Tony Medina, author of Broke Baroque, The President Looks Like Me & Other Poems, and An Onion of Wars. (Jacar Press)
In her time, ancestor griot Maya Angelou set a tone as one millennium ended and another would begin with her poem "On the Pulse of Morning" at William Jefferson Clinton’s inauguration. Her tenure as America’s Griot and as a living national treasure also ran through a number of presidential terms. She was awarded the 2010 Medal of Freedom in the East Wing of the White House her ancestors built and by the president who was the full realization of visions written by her and her Harlem Renaissance coterie nearly 100 years ago. One might argue, that Queen Maya Angelou’s tenure as America’s Griot was more spiritually and artistically powerful, more culturally relevant than the tenure of the 7 presidents in her term who are limited by the 22nd Amendment of the United States Constitution. As the first African-American woman to win a Pulitzer Prize, Gwendolyn Brooks set the pedigree for Toni Morrison and Ta-Nehisi Coates. Likewise with the people’s king, ancestor Muhammad Ali, the immortal fighter who will forever float like a butterfly/sting like a bee... before Hip hop was even a cultural catch phrase. He is the Greatest of All Time for did he not pound the enemies of racism and systemic discrimination into submission? I submit, upon the life Cassius Clay, he did.
“She helps people work with the craft of their soul. Women will go on retreats to the beach and they deal with what it means to be a woman in this society. She helps people refashion and build themselves up. She is dealing with the matter of life and the repercussions living has upon our souls and bodies. She recognizes that poetry is a spiritual exercise.” American Author Richard Krawiec, Instructor of Advanced Fiction at University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill
It is no less with Queen Poetess Griot Jaki Shelton Green whose work is seeded and nourished within thousands of students who are nurses and postmen, rich folk and poor folk, mechanics and poets, professors and students, black and white brothers and sisters, strivers and achievers, home-makers and attorneys, doctors and janitors ... every day people who do what they do with the song of poetry informing their work, the melodies of Love, Hope and Faith in the details to which they attend. They have been touched immaculately by the lyrical je ne sais quoi of a master supreme poetess.
American author and University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill faculty member Richard Krawiec, has noted of her signature work with Sista Write, “She helps people work with the craft of their soul. Women will go on retreats to the beach and they deal with what it means to be a woman in this society. She helps people refashion and build themselves up. She is dealing with the matter of life and the repercussions living has upon our souls and bodies. She recognizes that poetry is a spiritual exercise.”
Indeed, she is poet laureate for the people, by the people, of the people, an American Griot and treasure. And it seems she need only be anointed by the One as she is not interested in the accolades that are heaped higher than the biblical towers of Babel. In the timeless tradition of our Griots, our people and the earth, she is the messenger of this land in the traditional call/response form our African Americanized language:
who will be the messenger of this land/ count its veins/ speak through the veins/ translate the language of water/ navigate the heels of lineage/ who will carry this land in parcels/ paper, linen, burlap/ who will weep when it bleeds/ and hardens/ forgets to birth itself...
we are the messengers/ new messengers/ arriving as mutations of ourselves/ we are these messengers/ blue breath/ red hands/ singing a tree into dance
© Jaki Shelton Green
Jaki Shelton Green, 2009 Piedmont Poet Laureate, reads That Boy during an event marking the release of Literary Trails of the North Carolina Piedmont at the Regulator Bookshop in Durham.