Tuesday, November 15, 2016

Poetry and Protest

      One of the fine new anthologies of 2016 is Of Poetry and Protest:  From Emmett Till to Trayvon Martin, published by W W Norton -- put together by Phil Cushway (Compiler), Michael Warr (Editor), and Victoria Smith (Photographer).  Here, from that collection, are the opening stanzas of Marilyn Nelson's "Cells and Windows" -- a poem that gains much of its power from the awful truth conveyed by its numbers.
Cells and Windows          by Marilyn Nelson
             after work by neogeo painter Peter Halley   

Black men in their prime
working years, especially
those without a high school
diploma, are much more likely
to be in jail than white men are.
(a) true   (b) true    

Blondes (a) have more fun
(b) are beautiful but dumb

While institutionalization rates
rose for both blacks and whites
from 1980 to 2000, the rise was
especially sharp among the less
educated black men -- from 10%
in 1980 for those ages 20 to 24
to 30% in 2000.  In 2010, the
institutionalization rate for this
group dropped to 26% but, as
was the case in 2000, they were
more likely to be institutionalized
than they were to be employed
(19% employment rate in 2010).
Institutionalization and employment
trends were similar, if not more
dramatic, for black men with no
high school diploma ages 25 to 29.

Our forefathers
(a) wore wigs
(b) were whipped

In 2010, all black men were six times as likely
as all white men to be incarcerated in federal,
state and local jails, according to a 2013 study
which also found that black-white gaps in median
household income and wealth had widened
in recent decades, while gaps in high school
completion and life expectancy had narrowed.
     . . . 

Please go to the fine anthology Of Poetry and Protest for the rest of Nelson's poem -- and for many others.  And you will want also to visit the website of artist Peter Halley.   Since the early 1980s, Halley's work has focused on abstractions of barred windows and prison cells—over time his paintings have evolved to become complex and intricate.

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