In an audio recording (with thanks to this Brain Pickings post) of a reading the poet gave, Gwendolyn Brooks says that in this poem “I have Winnie Mandela consider herself as a poet”. Brooks spent the summer, before writing the poem, “impersonating Winnie”. This is a balm. I have an affinity for poems that attempt to answer the question: what is poetry? The shade in the answer provided by the Ancestors Gwendolyn/Winnie is delicious. “I am tired of little tight-faced poets sitting down to/shape perfect unimportant pieces./
Poems that cough lightly — catch back a sneeze.”
Song of Winnie Mandela
Yet I know
that I am Poet!
I pass you my Poem.
A poem doesn’t do everything for you.
You are supposed to go on with your thinking.
You are supposed to enrich
the other person’s poem with your extensions,
your uniquely personal understandings,
thus making the poem serve you.
I pass you my Poem! — to tell you
we are all vulnerable —
the midget, the Mighty,
the richest, the poor.
Men, women, children, and trees.
I am vulnerable.
Hector Pieterson was vulnerable.
My Poem is life, and not finished.
It shall never be finished.
My Poem is life, and can grow.
Wherever life can grow, it will.
It will sprout out,
and do the best it can.
I give you what I have.
You don’t get all your questions answered in this world.
How many answers shall be found
in the developing world of my Poem?
I don’t know. Nevertheless I put my Poem,
which is my life, into your hands, where it will do the best it can.
I am not a tight-faced Poet.
I am tired of little tight-faced poets sitting down to
shape perfect unimportant pieces.
Poems that cough lightly — catch back a sneeze.
This is the time for Big Poems,
roaring up out of sleaze,
poems from ice, from vomit, and from tainted blood.
This is the time for stiff or viscous poems.
Big, and Big.
—- by Gwendolyn Brooks
Here is the entire recording. Listen to the poet in her own voice.
The featured image for this post is a collage of pictures of young Ms. Brooks and young Ms. Winnie Madikizela-Mandela (photo credit: Peter Magubane)