Welcome to The Beat, Knox County Public Library’s poetry podcast. Today we’ll hear three poems by the poet Bernard Clay. The first two, “Mr. Nap’s Fight” and “Appalachian Smitten,” are from Clay’s book English Lit. The third poem, “Dr. Booker T. Washington to the National Negro Business League,” was written by the poet Joseph Seamon Cotter, Sr. And published in 1909.Bernard Clay:
"MR. NAP’S FIGHT"
brothas and sistas never gave you dap
you rose from the scalp
of the black gene pool
but since you ain’t stringy you ain’t too cool
so the first people yank you with afro picks
cook ya clean-straight with hot comb tricks
so you could be manageable
at least for a day
after work and sweat
you come back anyway
so to combat on you some more
folks chemically bombarded
you with conks galore
get a perm every four to six weeks
but you still bulge and you peek
through that mop of devilish straight hairs
look like we got you in noose snares
you’re drowned in jheri-curl juice spray
electric clippers grind you into a stubbled grave
stocking caps suppress you into bumpy waves
straight asian bobs slipped over african knobs
disguising you so we can stay in school
and keep our jobs
horsetails bring up a debate
stapled, braided, or glued-in at a snail’s rate
you’re bleached farrah fawcett gold
or dyed at your roots
but you continue on with the spending
of much much loot
all done to keep you down
but mr. naps... you still hang around?
making appearances in
’fros, naturals, and dreads
keeping a strong presence
on the face of our heads
though she is more mature
than her terrestrial sisters
rocky, andes, or himalaya
though osteoporosis has set in
on her nooks and valleys
she still survived
mastectomies daily for decades
she is so grand
not all her tears are slurry
some of her kisses
are still spring pure
her rain-worn curves
still the smoothest
i’ve ever explored
still framing some of my
most sensual moments
she is lena horne
regal eternal beauty
The next poem I picked because it's written by a native Louisvillian, Joseph S. Cotter Sr., who is, for all intents and purposes, my poetic ancestor 'cause I'm from Louisville also--Louisville, Kentucky. The poem is sort of a fun rhymey poem, also, so I like reading it. So here's "Dr. Booker T. Washington to the National Negro Business League."
’Tis strange indeed to hear us plead
For selling and for buying
When yesterday we said: “Away
With all good things but dying.”
The world’s ago, and we’re agog
To have our first brief inning;
So let’s away through surge and fog
However slight the winning.
What deeds have sprung from plow and pick!
What bank-rolls from tomatoes!
No dainty crop of rhetoric
Can match one of potatoes.
Ye orator of point and pith,
Who force the world to heed you,
What skeleton you’ll journey with
Ere it is forced to feed you.
A little gold won’t mar our grace,
A little ease our glory.
This world’s a better biding place
When money clinks its story.Alan May:
You just heard Bernard Clay read his poems “Mr. Nap’s Fight” and “Appalachian Smitten.” Clay followed by reading the poem “Dr. Booker T. Washington to the National Negro Business League” by Joseph S. Cotter, Sr. Clay was kind enough to record these poems for us at his home in Eastern Kentucky.
Bernard Clay was born in Louisville, KY, and spent most of his childhood and high school years there. He holds an MFA in creative writing from the University of Kentucky, and he is a member of the Affrilachian Poets collective. His work has been published in Appalachian Heritage, The Limestone Review, Blackbone: Twenty-Five Years of the Affrilachian Poets, and various other journals and anthologies. His book English Lit was published by Swallow Press in twenty twenty-one. He lives on a farm in eastern Kentucky with his wife Lauren Kallmeyer, an herbalist who serves as the director of Kentucky Heartwood's Forest Council.
Joseph Seamon Cotter, Sr. was born on February second, eighteen sixty-one, in Bardstown, KY. He learned to read at the age of three. When he was just eight years old, he had to leave school to help support his family. At the age of 22, Cotter returned to formal education and eventually served for more than fifty years as a teacher and administrator in several Louisville schools. In eighteen ninety-one, he married Maria F. Cox; they had three children, including his eldest son, Joseph Seamon Cotter Jr., who was also a talented poet and playwright.
According to Oxford Reference, Joseph Cotter Sr. provided an important “voice during one of the most difficult eras of African American history, and he was a man who backed his words with action in building the African American community.” He died in his Louisville home in nineteen forty-nine.
Look for English Lit by Bernard Clay in our online catalog. You can also find poems by Cotter, Sr. and Jr. in the anthologies African-American Poetry of the 19th Century and African American Poetry: Two Hundred and Fifty Years of Struggle and Song, edited by the poet Kevin Young. Also look for links in the show notes. Please join us next time for The Beat.