William Michaelian

Poems, Notes, and Drawings

Tag Archive for ‘Library of America’

Black Thunder

Halfway through, I am haunted by Arna Bontemps’ Black Thunder. Knee-deep in mud, I am shaken by the roar, the clouds, the lightning, the rising streams. The shadows are alive. The horses scare me. Everything is an omen. I want to be free — as free as a bird, as free as Thomas Jefferson — free from the lash, free from the trunk of a tree. I pick your crops. […]

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The Conjure-Man Dies

Rudolph Fisher’s The Conjure-Man Dies is an interesting, entertaining, beautifully and concisely written detective novel set in 1930s Harlem. It’s spiced with psychology and suspense, humor, wit, and just the right amount of scientific, philosophical, and medical knowledge. Like his main character and sleuth, Dr. John Archer, it’s clear that Fisher — a physician himself in addition to being a gifted student and musician — was no mean observer. His […]

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Emerson, Thoreau, and a Compost Pile

In addition to the Harlem Renaissance novels and Thoreau’s journal, I have begun reading the two-volume edition of Emerson’s journal published ten years ago by the Library of America. Reading Emerson’s words aloud, as I do Thoreau’s, is more than a daily exercise in tongue and skill; the vibrations in my chest and skull create a conversational, dreamlike, philosophical intimacy that makes me feel we are together in the same […]

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Canvas 468 — Not Without Laughter

Langston Hughes’ll cure your blues — give em to you too. Say you don’t want em?but you do — you do, like all the boys and girls. Greasy cold fish sandwich,box a crackerjacks — his trumpet and his banjo’ll cut you through and through. Twister blew his front porch then set it in a field — kingdom of a front porch,flat dab in that field. Blew his door off like […]

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The Blacker the Berry

This bright frosty morning, the world smells like a million lonely breakfasts. “November Postcard” Songs and Letters, November 15, 2008 . The Blacker the Berry You’re too dark. You’re too light. You’re the wrong shade of brown. So it goes, from Boise to Los Angeles, from Los Angeles to Harlem, in the sad story of the very black Emma Lou Morgan, as plainly, painfully, and artfully told by Wallace Thurman. […]

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Let Me Fix That For You

In its romantic aspect, Plum Bun is a lumpy little package with a very pretty bow. Everything fits, but after you have opened the package and taken out the gift, it is impossible to restore the contents just so; they now rise above the rim; the lid atop, askew, will fall off at the slightest bump or cough or sneeze. Let me fix that for you, someone near might say, […]

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Prune, Persimmon, Plum Bun

This afternoon I swept the walk, the driveway, and the moss-covered patio area behind the house, which was buried in dry, frosted birch leaves. Then I ate two dates, two prunes, a piece of dried mango, and a fresh ripe persimmon. Lately I have had to delete several telephone messages, in which were the recorded voices of people telling us in ignorant, angry tones how we should vote. One man […]

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Juncos, Seaweed, and Mold

Poor Helga Crane. I must confess, I did not expect that within its last thirty pages, Nella Larsen’s Quicksand would turn into an out-and-out tragedy. But that is exactly what it did, all seemingly the result of an ill-timed walk in the rain. Heartbreaking it was, to this reader at a distance of nearly a century, that even death would say, No, you have not suffered enough — heartbreaking especially […]

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Smoke and Quicksand

Yesterday afternoon, after reading several chapters of Nella Larsen’s novel, Quicksand, I had put the book aside to rest my eyes when a question came to mind: how long, I wondered, has it been since I would rather be doing something else? As I thought about this, the days, weeks, and months of my strange quiet life quickly gave way to years — so it is, at least, that long. […]

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Reply

Claude McKay’s Home to Harlem, the second offering in the Library of America’s two-volume collection of nine Harlem Renaissance novels, is an outstanding, refreshing, exhilarating, musical work full of sweet longing and suspense, an artful record of the timeless love affair between pain and laughter in which each, mutually and gratefully dependent on the other, flowers and bleeds. The source of pain: American history, ignorance, hatred, prejudice. The source of […]

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