Thursday, February 4, 2021

Rubee Rancourt Interviews William Seaton on His New Book “Planetary Motions”

 

photo of William Seaton by Dan Wilcox


 

Rubee Rancourt: Giant Steps Press has just published your new book of poems, Planetary Motions. Would you to share what inspired you to become a writer and how your academic experience influenced your voice as an author?

 

William Seaton: Ah well, I was inspired by the poetry of Freddy the Pig in Walter R. Brooks’ children’s books and the scintillating display of the playful potential of words in Walt Kelly’s Pogo comic strips.  As a child I passed a bit of time with the likes of Ogden Nash and Robert Service, but I was interested in everything then including the sciences.  By middle school I had decided that the likeliest professions I might follow were religious mystic (I loved the Evelyn Underhill books), socialist revolutionary (on the model of the Wobblies), or poet.  I suppose I selected the most practical choice of the three. 

 

Just as I was approaching adolescence, the Beat writers were attracting attention even from those who never read a word of their writing, and by the time I was in high school I was attending Paul Carroll’s Big Table readings at Second City in Chicago.  Then followed the hip youth movement of the sixties when I went to the Haight-Ashbury in the days when we wanted not only to write great poetry but also to transform society.  We declaimed poetry in the streets and strove to make each act of daily life into art.

 

As for academe, some may conceive the ivied halls as an isolated and remote realm, but for me it opened up the globe and the centuries past.  I spent an absurd amount of time living on pennies in graduate school, but that allowed me to study many languages, dead and alive, and to feast on the broadest variety of writing while living on scholarships, fellowships, and assistantships. 

 

The traditional canon is not, however, sufficient.  To learn the real nature of literature requires familiarity with work outside the English Literature curriculum.  To know what poetry can do one must know not only Keats, but Du Fu and Kalidasa and blues songs and anthropological reports of oral texts. 

    

I did not always fit in.  When I showed some Sappho translations to my Greek professor and asked his opinion. he said that he could not comment as he really cared little for poetry.  In the most advanced Classics seminars we never did more than translate, construe, and note unusual forms.  I am grateful for the knowledge gained through historical philology, but my goal was simply to read poetry.

 

Rubee Rancourt: You have been able to live what many consider a nontraditional lifestyle. Taking into account this unique lens on the world, what would you say has been the most impactful lesson or experience that has stayed with you throughout your writing career?

 

William Seaton: My inclination was clear from the start.  I happen to have a college application essay I wrote ever so long ago.  Probably imprudently, I said nothing about any specific career but simply said I wished to learn as much as possible and experience as much as possible.  I was quite honest – I despaired of ever earning a living, so I pursued other goals.  Although I led a gypsy career and never made much money, I cannot complain. 

    

When I graduated from university and married my dearly beloved, she and I agreed that our first priority, apart from my evading the draft, was to see the world, so we worked as long as necessary, living on the super-cheap, and then spent almost a year in Europe and North Africa.  Since then we have traveled all over and lingered to teach in West Africa.  The experience of seeing up close how other people live, checking out other cultures’ visions, is really akin to reading which can place your consciousness suddenly in another gender or country or era.  If there is a lesson available, it is probably “there are many ways to be human.”  Second lesson is “all those ways have a lot in common.”

 

Rubee Rancourt: One of the many things that I appreciate about your work is the humor with which you convey deeper messages to your audience. Where does the inspiration for your humor come from and how would you say your authorial voice has evolved over the process of writing your books?

 

William Seaton: I regret the decay of light poetry.  Poetry today is often passionate and loud when it isn’t too cool for any affect.  Humor is highly poetic, using multiple meanings, wordplay, and sudden realizations for effect.  Both the visionary and the comedian depend on poking and sometimes overturning preconceptions.  Looking around in a slightly pixilated state of mind, leads to goofing in the sense of Philip Whalen’s Goof Book, looking at the world agog and grinning, recreational living, one might say.  In performance, the most certain ways to stir an audience are transgressive sexual content, revolutionary social content, and humor.  The last has, perhaps, the best chance of lasting impact. 

    

Everyone has a unique voice, of course, and in the case of a writer there is the additional complication that the mind on the page is mediated by words and cannot be identical to the thought.  Since Shelley: “I fall upon the thorns of life!  I bleed!” lyric poetry has often been self-dramatization.  In Planetary Motions I have included several kinds of poems I had earlier excluded from collections as lacking gravitas.  Let multiple voices coexist!  I tend to shrink from the single continuous confessional voice, but language is such a subtle instrument that the ego always shows up on the page.  Think of Fernando Pessoa, the Portuguese poet who wrote using dozens of personae with different names, styles, and ideas, but he is still discernably there behind each of them. 

 

Rubee Rancourt: When reading “How to be a Poet” I was most impressed with the line “Think of when you’ve been highest and lowest and what the colors of the planets smelled like then.” What would you like people to take away after reading your books? And what would you say to other aspiring writers who wish to explore the world of poetry?

 

William Seaton:  In my opinion writers have no privileged access to reality.  All anyone can do is to record flashes of consciousness accurately enough that the reader might sympathetically see through the author’s eyes.  A precise description of an experience of the world will be beautiful because people find humanity, the world, and the cosmos beautiful in the end, terrifying, too, but beautiful.  Somehow in the end even tragedy and suffering may be redeemed by art.  As the Buddha realized, we cannot alter the conditions of existence, but we can alter our own minds. 

    

As for advice to aspiring writers, I would begin with the old prudential cliché “don’t go into the arts unless you can’t help yourself.”  If you do, blessings upon you.  Poetry is a performance skill, like lifting weights.   Regular practice is the way to improve.  Reading and workshops may play a role, but writing is the way to get better at writing. 

photo of William Seaton by Celia Seaton

Wednesday, January 27, 2021

An excerpt from “Under the Whitestone Bridge: Death at the Music Mansion Reunion” by Kirpal Gordon

 


Chapter 1

 

Playing the birthday concert for Faith, my mentor’s mentor, was a love supreme.

But if I knew that the concert’s aftermath would result in the felony arrest of my mentor Pavel Trzaska, I never would have entertained the idea of going. Nor convinced him to go. Nor convinced him that I, Orfea Goodnight, his twenty-two-year-old female writing apprentice and fellow musician, should come along on the journey from New Orleans to New York City.

From the second story bathroom window of Faith’s house, I watched red and blue colors flash like strobe lights from multiple police vehicles making the officials appear to be moving in slow motion. Under a dark orange moon that rose above Manhattan’s skyline in the west, police were cordoning off the side of the house with yellow NYPD tape just outside the parlor’s window where Faith spent much of her time. That’s where Gil and Red earlier in the evening had unveiled their birthday gift to her: a rocky grotto shaped in a semi-circle with a gurgling water feature. It was landscaped by Gil and the small wooden deer drinking at the pond’s edge was sculpted in wood by Red.

Now it was the scene of a crime.

At the end of a winding unpaved lane the Faith’s property sat hidden on three sides by Norway spruce, cedar of Lebanon and black pine. Bordering the East River near Boosters Beach, between the Bronx-Whitestone Bridge to the left and the Throgs Neck Bridge to the right, the house—what everyone calls the Music Mansion—was a sprawling three-story Victorian structure. With its wrap-around porch and large parlor that opened into a living room, it proved to be an excellent location for the Saturday night concert—at least until the last song when a gun shot rang out.

We heard a scream and then a splash.

Immediately, band members rushed to the grotto and pulled the victim’s bloody head out of the small rock-rimmed pond. I happened to be outside at the time talking on my cell phone with my boyfriend Rogelio, and I saw the whole thing go down.

My bandmates checked for a pulse, found none and called 911. A patrol car, which I later learned was sitting at Whitestone Park three blocks away, arrived two minutes later, took one look at what happened and called in. More police cars rolled up.

Watching the cops move around the crime scene showed me how clueless they were.

Compared to what I witnessed, all that they gathered from their interviews with the band and the audience was a four-word chronology: shot, scream, splash, death. How many variations would they consider: Was the victim shot dead by a bullet or frightened to death by getting shot at? Was the shot unrelated to the victim? What was that splash: the sound of a human head hitting the water or maybe just the victim’s foot or a rock that had been dislodged by the bullet? Was the bullet and the splash even related? As for who uttered the scream that followed the shot, was that the victim, the shooter or a third party caught by surprise chancing upon the scene? 

The evidence would not add up; it kept telling a different story.

I’m no expert on forensic science, but things appeared to be getting most foul, mon ami. When the medical examiners’ team patted down the victim, they found no entry wounds and no bullets. Instead, they found wads of cash in the pockets of his pants and shirt. I watched as they photographed and bagged five wallets, a collection of jewelry, a snub-nosed gun (possibly just fired) and a small vial (possibly of poison) from inside his overcoat.

Didn’t this new evidence suggest the alleged victim might also be a victimizer, likely to be found guilty of criminal trespass, theft, possible armed robbery and attempted assassination?

Back to shot-scream-splash-death: What if the victim had been rifling through people’s coats in the vestibule of the house, stashing the valuables in their coat and pockets, got discovered and called on it, ran at top speed out of the front door and down the steps, made a left, headed toward the water feature, turned their head, saw the gun in the hand of their pursuer and at the sound of its discharge simply dove for cover accidentally slipping on the wet mossy rocks and crushing their skull or drowning? That’s certainly not murder, but could be construed as involuntary manslaughter for the trigger-happy pursuer.

Instead, what if the fleeing victim/victimizer approached the water feature, turned their head, fired their snub-nosed gun at their pursuer, turned too quickly, lost their balance, screamed and made a splash by smashing their head into the pool or its rocky edge or its metal pipe? Involuntary manslaughter for the gardening team of Red and Gil would be a long shot. But suicide could be on the table just as easily as an accidental death.  

The slope was getting slippery, and until the arrival of the autopsy and toxicology reports, anything was possible. For example, was the alleged victim in bad health, inebriated or under the influence of drugs? In that case, merely running from a pursuer could give our victim a heart attack. To take it a turn darker and make everyone at the concert a suspect: Since poison is already in possible play and there’s food and drink everywhere, what if the victim had eaten or drank something intended to take their life? Such a possibility would prove pre-meditation and justify a claim of murder. But what if the victim had an allergy and died from eating something as common as peanuts or shellfish—then who’s to blame?

Nothing was clear and so much of the story seemed improvisational.

Who was the victim and who were their victims?

Little was said among the detectives, but the plot was thickening.

With their wall of lights turned up to superbright, the CSI unit inspected the grotto and sculpture. Sure enough, they found a bullet buried in the deer’s wooden left foot at water’s edge. When extracted with needle-nosed pliers and put it a plastic evidence bag, I got a bad feeling. Because the concert’s last song was a solo instrumental played by Hope, the police would soon realize that anyone else in the band—Smokey, Gil, Red, Liv, me or Pavi—could have slipped out of the parlor and onto the lawn or porch with time enough to shoot the escaping victim/victimizer at the grotto.

I’m not saying Pavi shot anyone, only that his return home was growing catastrophic.

The cops finished taking the last of the photos, put the dead body into a black bag, zipped it up and headed toward the flashing vehicles. Once the ambulance left the gray-pebbled driveway, I could see what had been hidden from my view: a blue squad car over whose trunk stood lanky, gray-haired, dumbfounded Pavi, spread eagled. New York’s Finest frisked him and handcuffed him, mirandized him and accordioned all six feet and three inches of him into the back seat.

Hope and Liv ran out from the porch.

“You got the wrong person,” Hope shouted.

“Come back and arrest us,” Liv shouted. “We did it.”

They failed to outrun the squad car which left for the police station.

From her room below me I heard Faith crying.

In the driveway under a taxus shrub Red and Gil were consoling a distraught gal who I had seen at the concert. I got the impression she was their old friend, but the news they shared did not seem good.

As for me, spying on everyone from the safe distance of the second-floor window, I felt less like an observer and more like an accomplice. I ought to have prevented this death from happening, and no matter how I tried to play it off, I knew I was responsible. I may only be Pavi’s sex-crazed, know-nothing writing apprentice and music nerd, but I had promised his girlfriend Cajun Karen in New Orleans that I would look after him. I owed it to her. Not only that, in a long line of writing apprentices he had mentored, I was only his second female apprentice—the first didn’t work out so well—and I felt a sisterly duty to those who might come after me.

I should add that I love the guy, you know, platonically.

I knew I had to do more than just watch the police haul his ass away. So I dashed down the stairs, collected what I thought of as relevant evidence of my own guilt, slipped into my blue Jetta and followed at a safe distance the caravan of civilian and law enforcement vehicles headed for the 109th Precinct in downtown Flushing.



Sunday, November 8, 2020

GSP Announces Publication of William Seaton's Planetary Motions

 


(Freeport, NY) Giant Steps Press is pleased to announce the publication

of Planetary Motions, a new book of poetry from Hudson Valley writer William Seaton. The volume includes lyrics written since the author’s last collection Spoor of Desire as well as Seaton’s sound poems, which he calls “adult nursery rhymes,” and translations from German, Greek, Latin, and French. In the foreword Seaton describes his works as “snapshots of consciousness reflecting glints of shattered truth which I wave in the dark like a blessedly naïve child with a sparkler.” 

In advance reviews Kirpal Gordon praised “the music these poems make and the momentum they create” with a “just-so-ness of phrase and sound.”  Steve Hirsch said Seaton reveals “new heart-treasure and insight into who we are.”  For Janet Hamill “he establishes an elegant pattern with this kaleidoscope of words.” 

Seaton has long been active in the Hudson Valley poetry scene.  He ran the Poetry on the Loose Reading/Performance Series, co-founded the Northeast Poetry Center and taught in its College of Poetry, and worked with the Seligmann Center for the Arts, producing numerous artistic and scholarly events including the Surreal Cabarets of performance art.  He maintains a “largely literary” blog at williamseaton.blogspot.com.

The book is available from Amazon at https://www.amazon.com/dp/B08MS5KNJB/ref=sr_1_1?dchild=1&keywords=seaton+planetary+motions&s=books&sr=1-1.  

Founded in 2011, Giant Steps is a small New York City press named in tribute to the classic John Coltrane album, specializing in publishing books on jazz and jazz-influenced poets. 




Tuesday, October 6, 2020

“If 45 Was 16 & 16 Was 45” by Jim Cohn: A Poem and Interview

 

 


 

 

 


 

If 45 Was 16 & 16 Was 45

 

 

 


 

 

Jim Cohn

 

 

 

 

 

 


 

Museum of American Poetics Publications

2020

 


 

 

IF 45 WAS 16 & 16 WAS 45

Copyright © 2020 by Jim Cohn. All rights reserved by the author.

 

Full-Deck Annotated and Fact-Checked Notes to the Poem

Copyright © 2020 by Jim Cohn. All rights reserved by the author.

 

 

Any part of this chapbook may be used or reproduced in any manner between its publication in September 2020 until the results of the 2020 U.S.A. presidential election are known.

 

 

Once it is public knowledge who won the 2020 presidential election, no part of this chapbook may be used or reproduced without written permission of the publisher except in the case of brief quotations embodied in critical articles and reviews. Send all requests for permission to reprint via email to the Contact Us page at the top of the Museum of American Poetics website: www.poetspath.com.

 

 

CHAPBOOK EDITION

Manufactured in the United States of America.

 

 

The author thanks the following readers who offered valuable feedback while “If 45 Was 16 & 16 Was 45” was in various stages of composition: Cindy Bedell, Scott Cohn, David Cope, Vernon Frazer, Kirpal Gordon, Jackie Henrion, Eliot Katz, John Oppenheim and William Seaton.

 

 

Cover art of Abraham Lincoln by Richard Rownak.

Cover photo of Donald Trump by Andrew Harnik.

 

 

 

 

 


If 45 Was 16 & 16 Was 45

after Jimi Hendrix

 

If Donald Trump was the 16th president,

& Abraham Lincoln was the 45th,

The Confederacy would have won the Civil War.

 

Trump follows James Buchanan, considered by many

Historians to be the worst president in U.S. history.

Buchanan has no interest in ending slavery.

He leads the country into recession

As war approaches.

 

Trump derides the Democrat front-runner, Stephen Douglas,

calling him “Little Wannabe Giant” Douglas,

& in a furious, chaos-drenched realignment of the party,

Jumps into the 1860 presidential race

As a militant pro-slavery Southern Democrat,

Siding with the Fugitive Slave Act of 1850,

The Dred Scott decision of 1857.

 

On a platform consisting of personal tirades, lies & insults

Propelled by a svengali-mesmerist anti-science disinformation campaign

Attacking interracial love with miscegenation laws

Meant to discredit the Abolitionist Movement as a fiendish plot

For amalgamation, the “mixing of the races,”

Trump shocks the pundits, stuns the field of candidates,

Wins the Democratic National Convention of 1860 nomination

& then goes on to beat a Republican candidate nobody remembers.

 

 

Before he became president, Trump made his money

In Mississippi River casino-riverboats

& river towns that attracted professional gamblers,

Card sharks, planters, farmers, merchants

& travelers carrying large amounts of cash.

He invests in slave port properties in St. Louis,

Memphis and New Orleans.

 

(Trump has a reputation as an infernal slave trader.

He likes to see his “fancy maids” dance in their chains.)

 

Heartless, that’s how his slaves see him,

From the moment he laid those snake eyes

On the auction block.

Mothers, fathers, sons, daughters gripped in irons,

Separated from family, kept in pens, slave jails.

 

39 lashes.

Trump’s payment

For violating slave codes.

39 lashes. One less than the Bible says’ll kill a man.

The crack of the whip against Black skin,

Long welts crisscrossing the back,

Writhing when small pieces of flesh are bit out,

The lash wet with blood,

Cries & screams suddenly dying away,

Final supplications no more than a low moan.

 

Trump buys large slave plantations,

Turning them into opulent country clubs.

 

(Each Trump property enjoys a workforce of slave labor.)

 

Behind his transparent, divisive mask of genteel pretention,

Trump hires only the most sadistic overseers to run his estates.

One grown boy was tied down next to a rousing fire in the negrohouse.

With his broad axe, Trump’s slave-driver cut off the boy’s feet

& threw the feet in the fire.

Next, he severed the boy’s legs from his trunk

& threw the legs into the fire.

And so, his arms, head and lifeless trunk were thrown into the fire.

This, for the crime of breaking a pitcher while fetching water.

 

In the early 1840s,

Flush with cash and wanting to expand his slave holdings

Along the Cumberland River,

Trump seeks out his hero, former President Andrew Jackson,

Who owned 110 enslaved Black children, women and men.

 

A regular at Jackson’s Hermitage outside Nashville, Trump

Leverages a $500,000 loan from him that he never repays.

Still, Jackson grooms Trump for a run at the presidency,

Even as the former president finds the self-described “dealmaker”

Obsessed with the conspiracy theory that

The Union is planning mass murder of slaveowners

& their families across the South.

After Jackson’s death in 1845,

Jefferson Davis gave a eulogy in Vicksburg that Trump attended.

From then on, Trump’s political fortunes are tied to Jefferson Davis

Like two leaves torn from the Book of Fate.

 

What Trump is really obsessed with is control.

He sees how susceptible the South is to suggestion,

Verbal suggestion, indirect, insinuative, authoritative suggestion.

“How well cared for slaves are & content,”

Trump harps at the press. “How could you build any

Better life for yourselves with freedom?” he asks

His Black man-servant every morning.

 

Nashville is known as a city where prostitution flourishes.

Smokey Row goes from being the city’s dirty little secret

To its full-blown red-light district.

Trump is a regular

Among the torch-lit clapboard-shanty Gomorrah palaces

Operating in all their copper-colored votaries

Of the Cyprian queens of glare & glory.

 

He spends the next decade

Testing the waters for a White House run,

Consolidating his slave trade wealth

& building whorehouses.

 

(The thrice-wedded Trump has many mistresses.)

 

He lobs smears on heroic “Low Class Snob” Sojourner Truth

After she delivers her 1851 “Ain’t I a Woman” speech in Akron,

Calls white suffragists Elizabeth Cady Stanton “Lyin’ Lizzy Shady Cady”

& Susan B. Anthony “Lightweight Suzy” or simply “Dogface,”

Jails African American abolitionist Frederick Douglass, mocking his 1852

“What to a Slave is the Fourth of July?” speech in Rochester,

Calling him “Pathetic Dopey Douglass.”

 

 

Once elected, the Secession Crisis is well underway.

On 21 January 1861, Jefferson Davis delivers his Senate farewell address.

Mississippi, he announces, has just seceded from the Union.

By the time Trump, in cadet grey wool frock suit, takes office on 4 March,

Seven states have already seceded from the Union,

Seizing federal property within their borders.

 

In the opening days of the Civil War,

Trump has a chance to sign the Lieber Code,

An executive order that would have made rape by soldiers

A crime for the first time in the nation’s history.

When a reporter asks him why

He refused to sign the order, Trump says,

“I never heard about it. I was never told about it at all.”

 

Sometimes Trump’s security detail picks out

Women soldiers taken as prisoners-of-war.

These are women who obscured their gender in order to enlist.

Trump has sex fantasies of all-female militias,

Never understanding that for these women,

They would rather die on the battlefield to avoid marriage,

Preferring to distinguish themselves in combat as equals to men

& find better pay.

 

When asked about the soaring rate of STDs among both armies,

Trump is quoted as saying,

“With less testing, we’d show fewer cases.”

 

The White House is in bad shape.

The state floor and private quarters in miserable condition.

Plumbing, heating and lighting upgrades are underway

With Trump unconcerned by overrun-costs to taxpayers

While soldiers freeze to death without blankets,

& battlefield surgeons, dressed in pus-stained coats,

Use undisinfected saws to hack through bone,

Tossing amputated limbs into a growing pile.

 

The president is all over the War Department wire service,

Telegraphing his every depraved thought.

He torments abolitionists,

Calling them “Losers.”

“Those Failing Abolitionists.”

 

The telegram people remember best made no sense at all.

(Codebreakers believed “Covfefe” was shorthand for “Confederacy.”)

 

Trump harnesses poor Southern white resentment against Blacks

By condoning acts of KKK & Red Shirt racial violence

& White League anti-Black terrorist paramilitary groups

Who shoot into houses and burn them down,

Drive Black farmers off their land,

Maul, disfigure & kill Freed men & women & white allies alike

To disrupt their political organizing

& keep them from the polls.

 

Trump fosters Black disenfranchisement

In legal, social and political status,

Bullies his way for Redemption,

The Confederate program to pass laws enforcing white supremacy

And the removal of all Black people’s rights.

 

Most of Trump’s base comes from the Lily-White Movement

& the Knights of the White Camelia

Whose tactics included the Devil’s harassments:

Beatings, floggings, brandings & murder

In efforts to oust Blacks from political party leadership positions.

 

Although Trump promises to pardon the Cherokee Nation for hindering

The Union’s advancement over Appalachian mountain passes,

He reneges, says they are disloyal, calls them “Phony Injun Clowns,”

& revokes all their rights,

Says, “If we’d stopped issuing death certificates,

Nobody died on the Trail of Tears.”

 

To show he’s a supporter of the Indian Removal Act of 1830,

The murderous act his mentor President Jackson carried out,

Trump holds a big rally at the site of the Sand Creek Massacre

Where in 1864, he authorizes the U.S. Army to slaughter

between 150-500 Cheyenne and Arapaho people.

 

He ridicules Asian Americans,

Calling them “those opium den smoking yellow contagion hordes,”

Says, “Asian women are whores, Asian men convicts,”

Blames Asian workers for all the ongoing delays in completion

Of the first transcontinental railroad,

Supports efforts in Congress that will eventually lead to

the Page Act of 1875 and Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882.

 

Trump prefers mockery towards Latinx Americans, including

Colonel Diego Archuleta of the First New Mexico Volunteer Infantry

& the Hispanic “Spanish Company” of the Garibaldi Guard,

39th New York Volunteer Infantry Regiment,

Claims the only reason he didn’t fight in the

Mexican-American War of 1848 is because of heel-spurs.

“How do you stop these animals from crossing the border

& invading our country?” he asks a group of reporters.

“You build a big beautiful wall & make ‘em pay.”

 

 

Whitman writes a volume of anti-Trump poems

Under the influence of calamus root

(with ten times the potency of mescaline)

& begins to consider Leaves of Grass

A delusional failure.

(Whitman radicalizes as the Mean & Muddy War proceeds.

Leaves of Grass is a different book than the one we know.)

 

Trump hijacks the construction of the Washington Monument

Which is stalled due to lack of funds.

 

(A giant Red Tie with solid gold giant letters

Spells out “Trump” down the length of

What becomes Trump Monument.)

 

Expanding the Confederate Secret Service,

With the goal of rooting out the

“Deep Underground Railroad State,”

Trump’s spies locate William Still and Harriet Tubman.

Slave-catchers take them to a black box

Torture site, but neither talk.

 

Slave bounty hunters make good money catching fugitives.

They charge by the day & the mile

& often use “negro dogs,”

Tracking dogs to sniff out their targets.

Sanctioned destructionists, privateers &

Licensed operators deracinate the

Underground Railroad.

 

Trump forms a secret alliance with Napoleon III.

 

While the National Mall is under construction,

Trump builds a “temporary coliseum” in which recaptured slaves,

Born-free Northern Blacks & Black Union POWs are fed to the lions

While he watches from the “Emperor’s Box.”

 

Racism in the United States

Thrives under the disinformation-spreading Trump administration

Which installs strict zero-tolerance rules for non-white immigrants

& explicit policies of racial discrimination & abject servitude.

Open displays of white bias and prejudice prevail.

Escaping Blacks caught by slave hunters

Are manacled and force-marched back to their owners.

Others, like Solomon Northup, author of Twelve Years a Slave,

Grew up free, but were drugged, kidnapped & sold into slavery.

 

James H. Birch, the slave trader who captured Northup,

Presided over Alexandria’s largest slave pen.

Birch is brought to trial in the District of Columbia,

But is acquitted because the law does not allow Northup,

A Black man who has been living free his entire life, to give evidence.

 

Trump claims he should get

An award for saying that slave catchers are

“The Reverse Underground Railroad.”

 

A right-wing Democratic Party emerges dominant after the Civil War

& long after Trump leaves office, his stamp on the nation prevails.

Key Trump-era laws to impact Reconstruction

Are all pro-slavery, pro-white Nationalism.

 

(There is not even the broken promise of 40 acres + a mule.)

 

 

By the mid-1880s, Black community leaders in Baltimore

form a nationwide Liberty Movement that leads to open rebellion

Against slavery across the States.

In June 1885, Reverend Harvey Johnson calls together

Five clergy and close confidants to orchestrate challenges

To public transportation, segregation, and Maryland’s

Prohibition of Black attorneys.

 

Liberty Race Wars break out for the next 100 years.

 

The National Afro-American League led by Timothy Fortune

& the Niagara Movement led by W.E.B. Du Bois

Seek equal opportunities for Black Americans

In voting, civil rights, education, accommodation, housing

& legislation to make lynching a federal crime.

 

Between 1882 and 1951,

4,730 people were lynched in the United States.

1,293 were white. 3,437 were Black.

Between 1882 and 1968,

Nearly 200 anti-lynching bills were introduced into Congress.

Between 1890 and 1952,

Seven presidents asked Congress to pass anti-lynching legislation.

 

Because it is what it is,

Ma Rainey went to the Rabbit’s Foot Minstrels,

Robert Johnson went to the Crossroads,

Bessie Smith went on the T.O.B.A. Vaudeville circuit,

Son House went to Parchman Farm Penitentiary,

Victory Spivey went to the Lincoln Theater in Dallas,

Muddy Waters went North from Stovall Plantation.

 

By 1940, the African American vote

Shifts from the Republican to Democrat Party.

Roosevelt issues Executive Order 8802,

Which creates the Fair Employment Practice Committee,

The most important federal move in support of Black rights

Before the Civil Rights Act of 1964.

 

Following the outbreak of World War II,

Everybody learns how impressed Hitler is

With Confederate America.

Nazis take great inspiration from America’s codified racism.

 

They praise the Old Antebellum South,

Its principles of slavery and inequality.

To Hitler, a Northern victory represented the

Destruction of the possibility of a “truly great America.”

Nazi lawyers incorporate American race law

Regarding American Indian and Black citizenship

Based on a political, not scientific,

Construction of white supremacy

To operationalize their own racist regime.

 

From 1933-1945, the heyday of the Third Reich,

Nearly half of all Democrats in Congress

Represent Jim Crow states.

Neither Democrats nor Republicans succeed

In curtailing U.S. race laws so admired by German lawyers & judges.

 

African Americans are denied the right to vote,

Barred from public facilities, subjected to insults,

Indignities, violence, denied justice in the courts,

Face discrimination in housing, employment & education.

 

Not until 1954 and the Supreme Court’s historic

Brown v. Board of Education decision finding

Segregation in public schools unconstitutional

Does the American Civil Rights Movement truly begin

To coalesce around growing protests & sit-ins.

 

Because it is what it is,

Mary Lou Williams’ white neighbors threw bricks at her window,

John Coltrane joined the Navy the day we A-bombed Japan,

Sarah Vaughn went to the Montgomery Street Skating Rink,

Charles Mingus went to the Five Spot,

Billie Holiday went to the House of the Good Shepherd,

Thelonious Monk went to Minton’s Playhouse.

 

But it’s not until Presidents Kennedy & Johnson

Embrace the Civil Rights Movement

That the Party of Trump begins to lose its chokehold on America.

 

 

Lincoln is, if nothing more, a man of his Time…

Minus all the pennies, the five-spots, Illinois license plates,

The Presidential Library & Museum, Disney animatronics,

Over 15,000 historical books, The Thirteenth Amendment,

Films, images, plays, music, speeches, fiction, A.L. statues in

Mexico, the U.K., Cuba, Ecuador & the Dominican Republic,

Lincoln in the bardo, Lincoln the vampire hunter, Lincoln in the

1905 Thomas Dixon Jr. novel The Clansmen: A Historical

Romance of the Ku Klux Klan, D.W. Griffith’s adaptation

In the 1915 racist film The Birth of a Nation, Lincoln in

The original Star Trek floating through space, with Captain

America & Spider-Man on cover of a “Presidents’ Day Special,”

Comixology’s Lincoln series––the Great Emancipator, freed

From time, his sculpted face on Mount Rushmore…

 

Lincoln’s father was battle-hardened.

He’d survived Normandy, Austria, Italy.

He’d seen the face of death time & again.

He served in the U.S. Seventh Army’s Infantry Division

That arrived at the gates of Dachau in April 1945.

Just outside the camp’s gates sat a train.

Pushing open one of the rail car doors,

The sight sears itself into his brain.

Legs & arms reduced to skin & bone,

Bullet holes in the backs of heads.

American troops find 2,300 bodies in those cars.

 

Inside the gates of Dachau, from all directions,

Skeletons start rushing forward.

In torn & tattered clothes, they scream, holler & cry,

Arms no bigger than broomsticks,

Waving little American flags made from paper.

 

Upon his return from the war,

Lincoln’s father became a high school American history teacher.

Try as he may, he never speaks to his son

About what he saw in Germany.

 

Lincoln’s mother worked in Manhattan’s garment district as a designer.

She was raised in Los Angeles where she had an early love affair

With Richard Berry, before he became best known for “Louie Louie,”

The classic 1955 garage rock standard.

Whenever she heard the song on the radio,

She thought Richard wrote it for her.

 

She’d never fought for any political cause until the Equal Pay Act of 1963

Aimed to abolish wage disparities based on sex,

But in becoming an activist, she saw herself as a bridge,

A bridge that linked her to the first feminists that fought for

Women’s political rights & the new wave of militant women

Who promoted equality between the sexes in all areas &

Who raised young girls and boys to overcome the prejudice

& patriarchy of their fathers & male employers.

 

Young Abe Lincoln had a twin who died stillborn.

He grieved over his twin, a grief that haunted him all his life.

Very young & tall, Lincoln learned to persevere, to dream.

By the time he was thirteen,

He found solace in Henry David Thoreau at Walden Pond,

& in Gandhi, who’d been impressed by Thoreau’s advice to

Resist things that were wrong, including immoral governments,

By simply refusing to cooperate.

Lincoln studied how Gandhi had worked Thoreau’s idea

About civil disobedience into Satyagraha (non-cooperation) or

Truth Force.

 

The family lived in New York City’s Lower East Side.

Young Abe attended the Friends Seminar, a Quaker school.

One day, he runs into an older student, Anne Waldman,

Knocking the books she’s carrying from her arms.

Picking her books up off the floor, Waldman

Tells Lincoln, “For this world, where authoritarianism and celebrity

Are combined and fascism will be packaged through social medias,

I call out the perpetrator. I expose him. I question every authority figure.

Every celebrity. Every corporation. I question the star-spangled jingoism.

I question the costumed champion who wears a cape like the flag. I

Question the insurmountable odds, the personal vendetta, the crude

Language & over the top violence, the misanthrope, the cynicism, the

Pejorative, the travel bans, threats of caravans coming across the border

And killing us all, the white nationalism, the xenophobia & racism, how

The assault had ramifications. I question the trauma, the conglomerates

Powerful enough to regard the United States as a nuisance. I question

Budding love affairs, the deserts of misery, would-be adversaries. I talk

About the things that plague us. I empower myself.”

 

As a teenager growing up,

Lincoln stands out at Gerde’s Folk City on 16 April 1962

When Bob Dylan debuts his original two-verse song,

“Blowin’ in the Wind.”

Hearing the song, a pain stabbed Lincoln’s heart.

A vision of slave auction blocks rose up inside &

Black soldiers marching for the Union with a spiritual on their lips.

 

He wondered “how many roads” he’d have to walk down

Before others would call him a man.

The melody made him feel he had no idea who he was.

It was a strange sad feeling, who he was as somebody else,

Some stranger, his whole life a haunted life, the life of a ghost.

 

Lincoln suddenly felt there was no place to stay & everywhere to go.

 

He’s in the crowd when Dr. King gives his

“I Have a Dream” speech in August 1963

 

(Which is not held at the Lincoln Memorial

Because there is no Lincoln Memorial).

 

Lincoln’s in Dallas later the same year,

On that gorgeous sky-blue day J.F.K. is assassinated,

The head shot a pink cloud explosion of brain matter.

 

In 1964, while at the Second Coming Records shop,

He buys Nina Simone’s

single “Mississippi Goddam.”

The song is about the assassination of Medgar Evers

& the bombing of

The 16th Street Baptist Church in Birmingham, Alabama,

That killed four Black girls & blinded a fifth.

Simone’s career begins at her church when she’s twelve.

In her recital debut, she would not begin until

Her parents returned to the front row from where they’d

Been removed to make way for white people.

 

Over at the Free Being record shop the next week,

Lincoln buys another 45-single,

Sam Cooke’s “A Change Is Gonna Come.”

The song, based on the soul singer & his entourage

Being turned away from a whites-only motel in Louisiana,

Becomes the anthem of the 1960s Civil Rights Movement.

Cooke is shot to death

At the Hacienda Motel in Los Angeles later that same year.

 

Lincoln’s walking into the Audubon Ballroom

To hear Malcolm X speak just as he is gunned down in 1965.

 

Later that year, also in New York, he meets Amiri Baraka

& has his eyes opened wide by the radical-militant

Black Arts Movement poet-founder.

He reads Baraka’s 1965 poem “A poem for Black Hearts.”

 

One winter night in 1966,

Lincoln shares a cab with Miles Davis

Who’s heading to Columbia Studios where

Miles is recording with his quintet featuring

Wayne Shorter, Herbie Hancock, Ron

Carter and Tony Williams.

 

On 23 July 1967, Lincoln is in the crowd

At the Straight Theater in San Francisco,

Listening to a sledgehammer-flipping Neal Cassady,

Accompanied by the Grateful Dead,

Deliver 12th dimension crazy rap on

“Greek torso” “insights” “Double parked in Winnemucca”

“Six days it was” “where we had an Acid Test” “so he loved her”

“Kerouac” “always looking for a colored girl.”

SF Black Rimbaud Beat poet Bob Kaufman is there with his wife

Eileen who wrote early news stories about the Dead.

Bob Kaufman, who is in the middle of a 10-year vow of silence since

Kennedy’s death, hands Lincoln

A brand-new City Lights collection of his poetry, Golden Sardines,

With a note on the title page that says,

“To A.L. Check out ’67 Bl Writers Conf Fisk U.”

 

The following year, Lincoln meets Gwendolyn Brooks in Chicago,

Reads her 1968 book of poems In The Mecca

& Larry Neal’s essay “The Black Arts Movement.”

 

He attends anti-Vietnam War rallies & meets Abbie Hoffman

Who tells him that in politics, unlike spirituality,

There’s a difference between

Finding God & knowing his address.

 

After Democratic National Convention 1968,

Lincoln hears Allen Ginsberg, 9th witness

At 1969 Trial of the Chicago Seven,

Explain to the judge & jury

That protesters came to Chicago

Not to cause violence,

But for a Festival of Life.

 

He reads Jayne Cortez’s 1969 Pissstained Stairs and the Monkey Man’s Wares,

Carolyn Rodger’s essay “Black Poetry––Where It’s At,”

Dudley Randall’s The Black Poets: A New Anthology.

 

Lincoln exits court proceedings Chicago to travel to Oakland,

Meets Black Panthers Bobby Seale, Huey Newton & Angela Davis

After news of Fred Hampton’s assassination.

He reads Nikki Giovanni’s 1970 book

Black Feeling, Black Talk / Black Judgment,

Audre Lorde’s Cables to Rage,

Sonia Sanchez’s We a BaddDDD People,

Mari Evans’ I Am a Black Woman,

June Jordan’s anthology Soulscript: Afro-American Poetry,

Toni Cade Bambara’s The Black Woman: An Anthology.

 

On 4 May 1970, the first newspaper photograph of Lincoln appears.

In the photo, his nearly seven-foot frame, compared by a reporter

To the living embodiment of Mary Shelley’s monster,

Can be seen weeping over the body of Jeffrey Miller,

One of four unarmed white students killed at anti-Vietnam war

Protests Kent State University by Ohio National Guard.

 

At college, Lincoln double majors in American History and Black Studies,

Reads James Weldon Johnson’s The Book of American Negro Poetry (1922).

His area of concentration: Abolitionist Literature. Lincoln earns his

Constitutional law degree and upon graduation begins working at the

Southern Poverty Law Center.

 

In his first case, against the Klan, Lincoln tells judge and jury,

“There’s no real distinction to be made between everyday

Prejudice and radical bigotry. You may be an expert in racist activism.

You may plant bombs, burn crosses,

Run cars into crowds of peaceful protesters, but that will only reinforce

Your place in the terror community,

Inflicting terror upon others.”

 

 

At campaign rallies, Lincoln says he is a forensic politician,

A detective of political Truth.

He calls Spike Lee the most important

Filmmaker of his generation,

Especially Lee’s 2012 film Trump: Sic Semper Tyrannis

In which we see the 16th president at one with the ravages of war,

A slave-owner, running for his life through the woods,

Chased by a posse of freed men & women

For his son’s actions as Grand Wizard in the KKK,

Trump cornered high on a hill,

Holding his grown daughter by the hair

& raising his pistol to her head

Should the Blacks come one step closer.

 

The guts of Lincoln’s stump speech go like this:

“Sometimes it takes a white person to say these things for white people

to listen. Americans need to decide whether this is a multicultural nation

or not. A multicultural nation cannot happen until we acknowledge

Black intelligence, until resistance to Black intelligence is no longer a

toxicity in the air we all breathe, until I myself take the opportunity to

understand I am a white product of this, our white supremacist society,

that is dependent on inequality and an exploited underclass.”

 

The Hollywood Reporter prints a story in 2015 saying that Lincoln

Was on set in 2004 when Dave Chappelle recorded

“Charlie Murphy’s True Hollywood Stories––Prince,”

& rumors that Chappelle might be in negotiations to do a sketch on

The candidate known as “Railsplitter.”

Meanwhile, Lincoln beats out a crowded Democrat field at the 11th hour,

Scorching the 2016 hobbled Clinton campaign to a crisp,

Winning President Obama’s endorsement at the eleventh hour.

 

In his run for the 45th presidency, Lincoln

Tours the country with Cornel West & Kimberlé Williams Crenshaw

For a series of philosophical debates on institutional racism in America.

Their discussions often begin with an analysis of

“Trump, the Human Vampire” using the Civil War as a cover

For his own personal gain.

 

“Hell,” West said at one Wisconsin gathering. “Trump called Union &

Confederate troops ‘suckers’ for getting killed.”

If elected, Lincoln vows to work with Congress to pass an

African Americans

Wealth Reparations

Emancipation Proclamation Act.

 

Lincoln tells crowds how he lost a son

At the Battle of Tora Bora

Cave complex near Khyber Pass

In December 2001 after U.S. troops

Failed to prevent Osama bin Laden

From slipping into Pakistan.

Having a son die in war,

Lincoln won’t denounce the NRA,

(Not even on the basis of his own assassination

That no one, including him, knows about in this timeline.)

 

He gives an election eve address on the NRA,

Calling the national gun-rights organization the “last living vestige of

White Supremacist fear.”

 

Lincoln tells the crowd, “This is the grim awareness of national failure, a

failure so manifest our grief is raw. But as John Lewis said, ‘You cannot

stop the call of history.’ Originally, there were 13 Freedom Riders, Black

and white activists who challenged segregated travel in the South back

in 1961. They faced tear gas, bullwhips, rubber tubing laced with barbed

wire, billy clubs. There were troopers waiting in riot gear. There were

literacy tests Black people were compelled to take before they could even

register to vote. This wasn’t politics as usual. This was not the politics of

bipartisanship. This was the politics of the Declaration of Independence.”

 

 

As 45th president, Lincoln builds on Obama’s criminal justice reforms,

Expands the role of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau

To include actual student college debt relief,

Creates public works projects for national green energy grid

Dedicated to ridding the country of its fossil-fuel addiction,

Raises & modifies Obama-era fleetwide average fuel economy

For new vehicles from 51.4 mpg in 2025 to 75 mpg in 2030

Which will be the final year before all new cars are electric with

A minimum 300 miles-per-battery charge rate.

 

Over 800,000 sworn law enforcement officers serve in the United States.

Twelve percent of those are women.

While the Me Too Movement pursued sexual assault perpetrators in

Entertainment, fashion, Silicon Valley, media, and in Congress,

Police sexual misconduct remained immune from prosecution.

Lincoln orders percentage of women-in-blue increase to 50%

& that police force diversity mirror the demographics

Of the area in which they serve.

He orders all federal & metropolitan police forces,

From commissioners to the cops-on-the-beat,

To diversify so three-fifths all officers are of color.

He signs legislation on police accountability for unarmed Black killings

In new contracts with cop unions

& redistributes funds away from Stormtrooper

Grotesque shows of federal force against peaceful protestors,

 

Offers Medicare for all,

Signs congressional bill into law

Making day care free,

Undoes Citizens United,

Taxes the rich––Warren Buffett style,

Gets Congress to approve a living wage,

Requires air & water quality to exceed

Paris Climate Accord standards,

Leads global efforts to clean up ocean-space debris & trash,

Tears up tar sand bitumen pipeline contracts

Through sovereign tribal lands

Of the Great American West Riverways.

 

Lincoln gives a speech up at Mankato––

Mankato, Minnesota, where

On 26 December 1862,

Trump ordered 303 Santee Dakota warriors

Convicted of war crimes to be publicly hanged.

 

(Trump also chides Blacks for their traumatic relationship with trees.)

 

Lincoln, in prime-time national address,

Goes into the ghost world

To apologize on behalf of the

Original People of the United States––

To the spirits of the slaughtered,

To the spirits of the incarcerants,

To the spirits of all those demeaned & denied.

 

(Trump’s Indian extermination campaign

Ends with him pardoning the military.)

 

After the Supreme Court spares DACA,

Lincoln politics his way into resolving

Asylum seekers path to citizenship,

Disbands ICE after legacy of privatized

Concentration camp detention centers

Separating children from parents fleeing for their lives

At southern border.

 

He speaks out about the common

Thesis that the great threat to Democracy is its reliance

On freedom from censorship.

 

“A far more destructive attack on

Democracy,” Lincoln says, “is the

Freedom to falsify.

A falsifying press is worse than a censoring government.”

 

“For example,” he says during a press conference,

“Can anyone legitimately disagree that the entire history

Of these United States, from independence to this very day,

Is nothing but one long Civil War over the consequences of slavery?

Are we accurate when we construct in language,

As news, the idea that we are only now descending into a

Second American Civil War?

As far as I can tell, the first one never ended

& that before Trump took us there, the laws were always rigged.

It was always about white men’s supremacy & greed.”

 

In his second year as president,

Lincoln works with Congress to pass a

Black Lives Matter Act

That codifies African Americans right to live in an America without

State-sponsored systemic white privilege, violence & racism

Purposefully enforced & enacted against Black people.

The BLM Act automatically registers all voters to receive mail-in ballots.

Standing beside him

At the signing ceremony are

Patrisse Cullors, Alicia Garza & Opal Tometi,

Black Lives Matter Movement founders.

 

In his third year of office, Lincoln signs the

Sovereign American Indian Lands Reparations Act

That guarantees all Indian Treaties

Signed with the U.S. Government

Will be upheld, letter & spirit, of original intent

With equal diplomatic recognition of tribal governments and Indian consent

That the broken promises over territories Indian nations ceded ends,

That resources, services, goods promised but never delivered ends,

That languages, literatures, religions, Old Ways

& histories of each Nation are preserved.

 

The act also calls for restructuring the Nazi-like Bureau of Indian Affairs

So that this war-crime U.S. agency, through which much of the brutal

First Americans genocide policy was carried out, ends.

 

The law outlaws any representation of American Indian people

In the public sphere that conveys a racist & demeaning figure.

 

The new law also calls for the demolition of Mount Rushmore,

It’s white-faced Presidents: Washington, Jefferson, Trump & Roosevelt,

& the Black Hills returned to the Lakota.

Air Force One carries Lincoln & a cast of tribal dignitaries

Out to the sacred Black Hills to see

The first American Indian U.S. Poet Laureate, Joy Harjo,

Lead the demolition ceremony that cancels out the worst of

The four presidents sculpted faces,

That of the 16th president, Donald Trump.

 

In Lincoln’s fourth year as president,

The Democratic-held Congress

Strikes down the South’s Reconstruction

Laws that encoded Jim Crow

For over a century.

With Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, Ilhan Omar,

Ayanna Pressley and Rashida Tlaib standing alongside him

At the Resolute desk, Lincoln signs a bill officially

Ending all involuntary servitude.

Raising his head up slowly to the camera,

He says, quoting Lyndon Johnson,

“Our beautiful America was built by a nation of strangers.”

 

 

Trump used blatantly false propaganda

To solicit endorsements from foreign powers.

In an 1863 lie, he said, “Pope Pius IX has granted

Diplomatic recognition

Of the Confederacy.”

 

Before completing his first term, there is pushback in Congress

Over the executing Trump’s

United Confederate States of America takeover of the Union.

 

In a suit that goes to the Supreme Court, the president’s lawyers argue that all

U.S. Congress members are to be replaced by current

Confederate States Congress members

As the permanent legislative assembly

Of a new United Confederate States national government.

 

The 1864 U.S. Congress unanimously brings Articles of Impeachment.

The charges: Treason against the United States

For flagrant dereliction to uphold the office & duties of the President

To defend American Democracy from invaders without

& terrorists within.

 

Saved from prison by invoking the insanity defense,

Trump spends the rest of his life in a mental hospital.

 

 

Lincoln is known to go into a trance

When he’s writing his speeches

& to love the poetry of William Blake,

Especially Blake’s America: A Prophecy,

Where Orc, the embodiment of the colonies,

Provokes the Angel of Boston to rebellion.

 

It must have been the Angel of Boston, he told his Treasury Secretary,

That made 2020 the time to replace Trump’s hero, Andrew Jackson,

With the face of Harriet Tubman on the $20 bill

& to replace Trump’s mug shot on the $5 with Black Elk,

The great heyoka medicine man of the Oglala Lakota people.

 

There remained all the myriad violent embers of the Confederacy:

Rebel flags, memorials & statues glorifying white supremacy.

Lincoln listens to many historians, academics, politicians

From around the country on what to do with these symbols.

He wants to understand as well as any white person can what

Impact these artifacts have on the African American Mind.

 

The Reverend James Lawson Jr. tells him

“The forces of spiritual wickedness are strong in our land

Because of our history.

We did not create them, we inherited them.

It is our task to see these spiritual forces:

Racism, sexism, violence, plantation capitalism,

The poisons that dominate too many of us, and to resist.”

 

When asked by a FOX News anchor what he thinks about

The role of Confederate flags, memorabilia, and statues,

Lincoln looks into the camera and says,

“You can fool all the people some of the time

And some of the people all the time,

But you cannot fool all the people all the time.”

 

In the summer of 2020, on the 100th anniversary

Of the passage of the 19th Amendment & women’s right to vote,

Lincoln honored the day by paying tribute to Black suffragist &

Abolitionist poet Frances Ellen Watkins Harper

Who in 1866, told the white women gathered in Union Square

At the 11th National Women’s Rights Convention,

 

“While you speak of rights, I can only speak of wrongs.”

 

“Make no mistake,” Lincoln says,

“Lest we here today speak of rights, and ignore the wrongs.

Today we find ourselves, as ever, at the intersection of

Misogyny and white supremacy.

We face angry white men devoted to toxic masculinity,

Who see themselves as the return-of-kings,

Who refer to women as thots,

Who are threatened by feminists of any color,

Who explicitly advocate for wife beatings, cage lock-ups & rape,

Who refute a woman’s reproductive rights & bodily agency.

After spending these five-score years

Trying to bring about social justice for all women,

& the last twenty years

Trying to root out terrorism across the globe,

We cannot be blind to the tactics of ghost skin rogue militias,

Gun nuts, day-of-the-rope trolls, incel Proud Boys & hate groups

Within our own borders.”

 

 

As the death toll climbs, Lincoln visits the pandemic sick, culled

Front line medical workers, doctors & nursing staffs, sanitarians,

Garbage haulers, farm laborers, grocery clerks, manufacturers,

Pilots, train engineers, mechanics, plumbers, electricians, fire fighters,

Contact tracers, loggers, warehouses distributors, educators, tutors,

Scientists, wordsmiths, coffin-makers, grave-diggers, athletes, artists,

Publishers, journalists, slaughterhouse workers, street-sweepers,

Weather disaster mitigation workers, cybersecurity managers,

Emergency rescue personnel, renewable energy techs, grid operators,

Post office workers, transit & delivery drivers, election boards,

Census workers, weary clergy, elevator servicers, homeless vets,

In-home aids, addicts, help-line listeners, vaccine makers, social workers,

Mom & pop shops, senior centers, Indian reservations & prisons

Where he does magic shows for the inmates, including tricks using a

Hand-made deck of cards from milk cartons and a photograph of

A dog with the card Lincoln-the-magician predicted a jailhouse

Prisoner would choose during the trick.

 

Some of Lincoln’s visits occur amidst scenes of climate change carnage.

He inspects the homes and property lost, the work of generations

Gone in the blink of an eye.

 

He visits those struggling in shelters, put up in hotels,

Living in their cars, camped out in parking lots,

Wherever flood, wind & fire evacuees have gone.

 

 

To the youth of America,

Lincoln recites these lines of

Whitman’s Democratic Vistas, written during

The corrupt and chaotic days of Trump:

 

Of all dangers to a nation, as things exist in our day,

There can be no greater one than having certain portions

Of the people set off from the rest by a line drawn —

They not privileged as others, but degraded, humiliated,

Made of no account.

 

And then, one pandemic night,

Lincoln has a dream about meeting Walt Whitman.

 

In Lincoln’s dream, Whitman comes to the White House

To read his poem about the death of President Trump

“When Lilacs Last in the Madhouse Dooryard Bloom’d.”

 

In his dream,

Lincoln tells Whitman that all his life he’s believed in

The poet’s idea that without an original American literature,

There can be no democracy.

 

Politics, protests, demonstrations, rallies…

This is how you gain people’s attention.

But it’s in America’s original poetry

That you’ll find the best

Of who we are.

 

 

The tall man with the black felt stovepipe hat is seen

Praying inside refrigerator trucks, holding mass

Epicenter bereavement ceremonies for the dead in

 

New York City, San Francisco, Chicago,

Boston, Las Vegas, Detroit, New Orleans,

Philadelphia, Atlanta, Seattle, Kansas City,

Washington D.C., Houston, Dallas, Phoenix,

Miami, Charleston, Portland, Minneapolis,

Savannah, Montgomery, Rapid City, Gallup,

Iowa City, Pine Bluff, Winona, Grand Island,

Milwaukee, Los Angeles, Denver, Raleigh,

Charlottesville, Muskogee, Navajoland.

 

City-wide circles form wherever Lincoln appears.

He speaks for the traumatized, the hand of the dying,

To eulogize the dead...

 

When that is all

Silence

Can bear.

 

 

 

Hoboken, New Jersey, Louisville, Colorado

10 May 2018, Revised 15 June-13 September 2020

 

 

 

 

 

Notes for “If 45 Was 16 & 16 Was 45”

 

For persons mentioned herein who have passed on, birth and death dates are provided.

For those living persons at the time of publication, no dates are given.

 

 

Page

 

“If 45 Was 16 & 16 Was 45”: A trading-places alternate fictional-history poem in which Presidents Trump (the 45th U.S. President) and Lincoln (the 16th U.S. President) switch places in time. The poem takes the form of a Mexican corrido, a popular narrative metric tale in poetry that corresponds to the ballad and was composed in three sections. The first section explores Trump as the 16th president (1860-1864) and the Confederacy winning the Civil War. The second section features a countercultural investigation of what is described in the poem as the “100-Year Liberty Race Wars” against an openly white supremacist government, roughly the period from 1865-1965, and focuses on Black people’s struggles against Jim Crow America. The final section imagines what Lincoln might have done as president from 2016-2020, and how he might have worked to assist the country in freeing itself from its racist and sexist history by embracing its diversity and multicultural future during a period when the nation and the world reeled from global pandemic. American poet David Cope described the poem as a “serio-comic masterpiece” that offers “a judicious and sly look at the nation’s own historical and cultural processes as they play out on the larger canvas of Time itself.”

1.  

AFTER JIMI HENDRIX: The poem’s title pays homage to “If 6 Was 9,” written by Jimi Hendrix (1942-1970), and performed by the Jimi Hendrix Experience on the 1967 album Axis: Bold as Love.

JAMES BUCHANAN: American lawyer, supporter of slavery and 15th president James Buchanan (1791-1868) is generally ranked as one of the worst presidents in U.S. history for his inability to mitigate the economy and the national disunity over slavery that led to the Civil War.

TRUMP DERIDES THE DEMOCRAT FRONT-RUNNER: In the poem, Trump is running for president as a Democratic, the party of the pro-slavery South at the time of the Civil War.

STEPHEN DOUGLAS: American politician from Illinois, Stephen A. Douglas (1813-1861) was the Democratic candidate for president in the 1860 election. Douglas, who was considered a pro-slavery moderate, was short in stature. It was quite ordinary for Trump, a man in his 70s, to make up provocative and immature names as part of his overall schoolyard bully personality.

FUGITIVE SLAVE ACT: Known as part of the “Compromise of 1850” between Southern slave-owners and Northern free-soilers, the Fugitive Slave Act was enacted by the 31st U.S. Congress and required all escaped slaves to be returned to their masters. There were 3,953,752 slaves in the United States according to the 1860 census. Approximately 100,000 African American slaves, 2.5% of the slave population, escaped to freedom.

DRED SCOTT DECISION: Enslaved African American Dred Scot (c. 1799-1858) sued unsuccessfully for his family’s freedom in Dred Scot v. Sandford, the landmark 1857 racist Supreme Court decision that said the U.S. constitution was not meant to include citizenship rights and privileges for Blacks, free or enslaved.

MISCEGENATION LAWS: Miscegenation refers to a false and racist perspective prevalent in the white supremacist Confederacy, yet pre-dating it, that the interbreeding of people from different races produces mixed-race offspring who rob, not preserve, a race’s “purity and nature.” The term first appears in the U.S. in 1863 and was used in disinformation campaigns to discredit the Abolitionist Movement by stirring up debate over the prospect that the number of interracial marriages would skyrocket as a result of the abolition of slavery. Miscegenation laws were passed by most states and defined mixed-race marriages and interracial sex as a felony. While primarily passed to ban marriages between whites and non-whites, including not just Blacks, but also American Indians and Asians, the laws were also applied to marriages and sexual relations between differently racial non-white couples. Not until 1967 did the Supreme Court rule in Loving v. Virginia that such laws were unconstitutional.

DEMOCRATIC NATIONAL CONVENTION OF 1860: The DNC convention of 1860 was held in Charleston, South Carolina, the most pro-slavery city in the U.S. at the time. A majority of the platform committee, as well as voters who attended in the galleries, were all explicitly pro-slavery. Although Douglas led the voting for all 57 ballot counts, he never won by the required two-thirds votes. The DNC needed to call a second convention, this time in Baltimore, for Douglas to receive the necessary votes to be the party’s nominee. In the poem’s alternate history, Trump and his militant pro-slavery base overwhelm Douglas’ moderate position during convention voting and amidst the chaos Trump wins the party’s nomination.

2.

FANCY MAIDS: Enslaved Black women sold as sex commodities in the 19th century domestic slave trade. These women would be sold at auction into concubine service or prostitution, also known at the time as the “fancy trade.”

MISSISSIPPI CASINO RIVERBOATS: As towns along the river passed their own gaming laws, gamblers and cheats, pikers and high-rollers moved to the unregulated waters of the Mississippi.

SLAVE PORTS: Major 19th century U.S. slave-trade ports along the Mississippi River included St. Louis, Memphis and New Orleans.

39 LASHES: The roots of the number 39 for punishment by flogging goes back to the Old Testament and the Talmud (Maccot, 22a.)

SLAVE CODES: Subset of laws related to chattel slavery in America. Most slave codes were about the rights and duties of white people in regards to enslaved Black people. Slaves codes left much unsaid.

TRANSPARENT, DIVISIVE MASK: Perhaps the only redeeming “quality” Trump offered to all American citizens as president was transparency. Aided by social media, the transparency of Trump’s divisiveness was on full display for all the world to see on an almost hourly basis.

ONE GROWN BOY: This gruesome “Axe-murder case” of a dismembered 17-year-old slave named George was adapted from Letters on American Slavery (1823, 1833, 57-58) by abolitionist Reverend John Rankin (1793-1886) whose home in Ripley, Ohio, on the Ohio River, became one of the busiest stations on the underground railroad.

PRESIDENT ANDREW JACKSON: American soldier and statesman Andrew Jackson (1767-1845) was the 7th president of the United States (1829-1837). He served two terms and survived the first assassination attempt on a U.S. president. He signed the Indian Removal Act of 1830 and opposed the Abolitionist Movement. Jacksonian Democrats founded the Democratic Party in 1825 after the long dominant Democrat-Republican Party factionalized over Jackson winning the 1824 election. The poem suggests that Jackson played a key role in Trump’s decision to run for president as a pro-slavery Democrat in 1860.

3.

JACKSON’S HERMITAGE: Jackson retired from public life to his plantation home, The Hermitage, outside Nashville, Tennessee.

$500,000 LOAN: Jackson’s estate was worth approximately $4 million in 1845 dollars, the year of his death, so an imaginary loan of $500,000 to Trump at that time wouldn’t break the bank. Jackson, whose wealth in 2016 dollars would be $132 million, is considered the 5th wealthiest president in U.S. history. As of 2020, Donald Trump was considered the wealthiest.

CONSPIRACY THEORY: In the lead up to Civil War, warnings circulated in pamphlets and the press that an antislavery federal government would inspire a wave of violent slave revolts and then allow the South to burn.

JACKSON’S DEATH: Jackson died at his Hermitage home outside Nashville on 8 June 1845. Nearly 3,000 people attended his funeral. A few weeks later, on 28 June, Jefferson Davis (1808-1889) delivered a eulogy for Jackson in Vicksburg, Mississippi. Implicit to the poem, Trump would effectively collude with Davis in their campaigns for president of the United States and the Confederacy.

CONTROL: Not simply control, but mind-control. Trump’s tactics included hypnotic suggestion and were part of the transparency with which he communicated. Seldom scripted, he often spoke off the cuff, with digressions, false starts, parentheticals, conversational tics and with a good deal of body language thrown in––a shrug here, a raised eyebrow there––all as a means to suggest elections were rigged, the news was fake, judges were biased, science was wrong. Typical salesperson tricks. Trump had such powerful suggestive control over his base that his audiences would inevitably finish his sentences or fill in a verbal gap for him. American Beat Generation writer William S. Burroughs’ (1914-1997) essay “The Limits of Control” (1978) is useful in understanding Trump’s use of speech.

SMOKEY ROW: During the Civil War, Smokey Row was a 4-block red light district, close to the river, within the shadows of Nashville’s capitol building. The 1860 census identified 207 women whose occupation was listed as prostitute. They were known as “soiled doves,” “nymphs du pave,” and “frail but fair women.”

SOJOURNER TRUTH: American abolitionist and women’s rights advocate Sojourner Truth (c.1797-1883) was born into slavery, but escaped to her freedom in 1826. Her “Ain’t I a Woman” speech was delivered extemporaneously at the Women’s Convention in Akron, Ohio, on 29 May 1851. The speech has been credited as an intersectional critique of homogenous activist organizations and as a deconstruction of major claims about gender and identity in Black women’s relation to white women and patriarchy, whether it is Black men, white men, or both.

4.

ELIZABETH CADY STANTON: American suffragist, activist, abolitionist Elizabeth Cady Stanton (1815-1902) is known for her “Declaration of Sentiments” speech at the 1848 Seneca Falls Convention. She is credited with initiating the first women’s rights and women’s suffrage movements in the U.S.

SUSAN B. ANTHONY: American social reformer and women’s rights activist Susan B. Anthony (1820-1906) played a critical role in the Women’s Suffrage Movement. At 17, she began collecting anti-slavery petitions. In 1863, Anthony and Stanton founded the Women’s Loyal National League to conduct the largest petition drive in U.S. history at the time, collecting nearly 400,000 signatures in support of the abolition of slavery.

FREDERICK DOUGLASS: African American social reformer, abolitionist, orator, writer and statesman Frederick Douglass (1818-1895) delivered his famed 5 July 1852 “What to a Slave is the Fourth of July?” speech in Rochester, New York. The speech explores the constitutional and values-based arguments against the continued existence of slavery within the U.S.

THE SECESSION CRISIS: Lincoln was elected president on 6 November 1860 (Trump would follow the same timeline). His inauguration did not take place until 4 March 1861. Between his election and inauguration, the Confederacy emerged. In January 1861, South Carolina was the first state to secede from the United States, followed by Mississippi, Florida, Alabama, Georgia, Louisiana and Texas. Four more states: Virginia, Arkansas, Tennessee, and North Carolina were threatening to secede. These eleven states eventually formed the Confederate States of America. On 18 February 1861, Jefferson Davis (1808-1889) was named provisional president of the Confederacy until elections were held. Davis was elected to a six-year term as president of the Confederacy on 6 November 1861 and was inaugurated into office on 22 February 1862.

SENATE FAREWELL ADDRESS: On 21 January 1861, it’s said that “a fearful capital” awaited farewell addresses from five Southern senators. It was reported that there was a feeling of “blood in the air.” After the senators from Florida and Alabama completed their farewell speeches, all eyes turned to the acknowledged leader of the South in the U.S. Congress, Jefferson Davis. Implicit to the poem, Trump backed Davis and the two colluded to leverage a Confederate takeover of the governance of the nation.

4 MARCH: Lincoln’s first official day in office (as it would be for Trump). He gave his first inaugural address on the East Portico of the United States Capitol. The Civil War officially began on 12 April 1861 when South Carolina Confederate forces fired on Fort Sumter.

LIEBER CODE: Also known as General Order No. 100, the Lieber Code was a rules-of-conduct-during-wartime instruction to troops, signed by Lincoln on 24 April 1863. Paragraphs 44 and 47 contain language explicitly outlawing rape by Union soldiers. Court martial records list over 100,000 incidents of sexual misconduct.

STDS AMONG BOTH ARMIES: The Surgeon General of the U.S. Army during the Civil War documented 182,000 cases of venereal disease in the Union Army: 73,000 for syphilis and 109,000 for gonorrhea. Incidents of venereal disease among African American troops was less than half that of white troops. Confederate records were destroyed.

THE WHITE HOUSE: Although the White House had been extensively refurbished twice in the decade before the Civil War, when the Lincolns moved in they found once glittering areas of the state floor––the first floor, where formal receptions of state are held––and residence run down, faded, worn, untidy, and with deplorably shabby furnishing. First Lady Mary Lincoln (1818-1882) launched and oversaw the enormous project. Both Buchanan and Lincoln administrations were given $20,000 each in furnishings appropriations for White House redecorating, repairs and building improvements. For the bachelor President Buchanan, his niece Harriet Lane (1830-1903) acted as First Lady to carry out the decorating.

5.

THE TELEGRAM: The Twitter platform of mid-19th century America. By 1850, the telegraph markets were multilateral oligopolies. One could assume that Trump would gravitate toward the telegram based on his overuse of Twitter during his administration.

“COVFEFE”: A misspelling Trump used in a viral tweet that instantly became an internet meme. The tweet, sent out on 31 May 2017 read, “Despite the constant negative press covfefe.” Many media outlets presumed the president meant “coverage.” In the poem, “covfefe” is ironically presumed to be a code word for the Confederacy.

KKK: The Ku Klux Klan, founded in 1865, spread throughout every state in the South by 1870. The secretive vigilante group wage campaigns of intimidation and violence directed at Black and white leaders working to provide political and economic equality for African Americans. In the early 20th century, and after a period of decline, white Protestant nativist groups revived the Klan, burning crosses, staging rallies, parades and marches denouncing immigrants, Catholics, Jews, African Americans and organized labor.

RED SHIRT: Originating in Mississippi in 1875, the Red Shirts were a domestic paramilitary terrorist group established at the end of Reconstruction to threaten Southern Republicans who supported civil rights for African Americans.

WHITE LEAGUE: Also known as the “White Man’s League,” the White League domestic paramilitary terrorist group originated in Grant Parish, Louisiana, in 1874 to intimidate freed Blacks from voting and politically organizing.

THE REDEMPTION: A political coalition, made up of mostly wealthy conservative and pro-business Southern U.S. Bourbon Democrats who called themselves Redeemers, set out a policy known as the Redemption that dominated Southern politics during the Reconstruction era. The goal of this pro-slavery Redemption Movement was to oust radical Republican coalitions of freed Blacks, carpetbaggers and scalawags from the South.

LILY-WHITE MOVEMENT: An anti-African American movement within the Republican Party in the late 19th and early 20th centuries.

KNIGHTS OF THE WHITE CAMELIA: Another American South domestic terrorist organization similar to the KKK.

CHEROKEE NATION: The Cherokee Nation was an autonomous tribal government in the American Southeast. In 1830, the Cherokee were part of a group known as the Five Civilized Tribes (Cherokee, Chickasaw, Choctaw, Muscogee and Seminole). Members of Cherokee Nation partnered with the Confederacy during the Civil War.

6.

TRAIL OF TEARS: The Cherokee Nation was among some 60,000 American Indians forced off ancestral homelands in the Southeastern U.S. to areas west of the Mississippi River designated as Indian Territory following the passage of the Indian Removal Act of 1830. Suffering from exposure, disease and starvation while forced to march on foot, between 2000 and 8000 Cherokee people, of the 16,543 who were removed, died along the way.

SAND CREEK MASSACRE: A massacre of 150-500 Cheyenne and Arapaho people, mostly women and children, in Southeastern Colorado, by the 675-man force of the Third Colorado Calvary under Colonel John Chivington (1821-1894) on 29 November 1864. Returning to Denver after their butchery, Chivington and his troops publicly displayed scalps, fetuses and genitalia, both female and male, at the Apollo Hall, located at 1425 Larimer, and neighboring saloons. Condemned by a joint congressional committee investigating the slaughter, no criminal charges were brought against Chivington or his soldiers.

OPIUM DEN: Opium smoking arrived in the U.S. with the influx of Chinese who came to strike it rich during the California gold rush (1848-1855). San Francisco’s Chinatown became the site of numerous opium dens.

PAGE ACT: The first restrictive federal immigration law to close the U.S. border. The law, passed in 1875, was directed at Chinese women.

CHINESE EXCLUSION ACT: This 1882 immigration law would effectively ban all Chinese men.

DIEGO ARCHULETA: A member of the Mexican Congress, Brigadier General for the Mexican army in the Mexican-American War, Diego Archuleta (1814-1884) went on to join the Union Army as a Colonel before becoming the first Latino to rank as a Brigadier General in the U.S. Army during the Civil War.

HISPANIC “SPANISH COMPANY”: The 39th New York Infantry Regiment, also known as the “Garibaldi Guard,” served the Union Army. Initially, the regiment was divided up into eleven companies of men from different nationalities, one of which was of Spanish heritage. It is estimated that 3,500 Hispanics, mostly Mexican American, Puerto Ricans and Cubans joined in the opening of the war: 2,500 for the Confederacy and 1,000 for the Union. By the end of the war, estimates are that 10,000 Hispanics fought for the Union.

MEXICAN-AMERICAN WAR: The Mexican-American War (1846-1848) was fought over the annexation of Texas by the United States, and a border dispute over whether Texas ended at the Nueces River, as Mexico claimed, or at the Rio Grande Rio, as the U.S. claimed.

HEEL SPURS: After graduating from college in 1968, Trump received a diagnosis of bone spurs in both of his heels although he played football, tennis, squash, and was taking up golf. The diagnosis resulted in a 1-Y medical deferment that exempted him from military service during the Vietnam War.

ANIMALS: Trump used extremely harsh rhetoric to pursue his racist immigration policy, referring to undocumented Mexican immigrants as “animals” both during his campaign for office and during his administration. In reference to illegal immigrants and asylum seekers from Mexico, Central and South America, Trump said, “These aren’t people. These are animals” numerous times during his tenure in office, and particularly around 15 May 2018, when the president was in California, meeting with officials in opposition to sanctuary cities.

BIG BEAUTIFUL WALL: Trump’s signature campaign promise, a wall along the Southern U.S. border with Mexico, symbolized his contempt for illegal immigrants, some of whom worked for him at his properties, and was the centerpiece of his draconian immigration policies. Trump’s “big beautiful wall” was first announced in June 2015 when he declared his candidacy for president.

WHITMAN: In this alternate timeline, American poet Walt Whitman (1819-1892) finds it impossible during the Trump presidency to maintain the romantic vision of American Democracy he incorporated into Leaves of Grass.

WASHINGTON MONUMENT: Construction on the obelisk, built on the National Mall, began in 1848, but after six years of work sat dormant for 23 years (1854-1877) due to lack of funding. The monument was not completed and officially opened until 1888.

7.

CONFEDERATE SECRET SERVICE: The Confederacy had its own official, semi-official and unofficial secret organizations and operations, as well as its own espionage agents and spy networks.

WILLIAM STILL: American abolitionist, writer, civil rights activist and businessman William Still (1821-1902) was a conductor for the underground railroad who directly aided fugitive slaves and kept detailed records of the clandestine escape system as well as accounts of the experiences of refugees who used it.

HARRIET TUBMAN: Iconic American abolitionist and political activist Harriet Tubman (1822-1913) escaped the life of a slave she was born into on 17 September 1849, and then made thirteen trips back into slave country, trips that after passage of the Fugitive Act of 1850 involved longer treks to the Canadian border, to rescue some 70 people, including friends and family, as a conductor using the network of anti-slavery activists and safe houses known as the underground railroad.

NAPOLEON III: While the Second French Empire remained officially neutral during the American Civil War, Napoleon III (1808-1883) did send troops into Mexico, a move he believed the Confederacy would support.

NATIONAL MALL: In the original 1791 plans, the National Mall in Washington D.C. was designed as a garden-lined “grand avenue,” approximately a mile in length and four-hundred feet across. That road was never built.

SOLOMON NORTHUP: American abolitionist Solomon Northup (1807?/1808?-1857?/1875?) was the primary author of the 1853 memoir Twelve Years a Slave. James H. Birch (fl. 1841), the slave trader who captured Northup, presided over Alexandria’s largest slave pen. Later, Birch was brought to trial in the District of Columbia for capturing Northup, a free man, but was acquitted because the law did not allow Northup, a Black man, to give evidence.

8.

REVERSE UNDERGROUND RAILROAD: The contemptuous name given to the 80-year pre-Civil War practice, made legal by the 1793 Fugitive Slave Act, of kidnapping escaped slaves, freed Blacks and free Blacks in free states and then transporting these people back to the slave states where they were sold into slavery.

40 ACRES + A MULE: The post-Civil War promise to freed Blacks of a plot of land and a mule was made by Union General William Tecumseh Sherman (1820-1891) in 1865. Lincoln’s successor, Andrew Johnson (1808-1875), annulled the proclamation.

LIBERTY MOVEMENT: By the 1830s, Baltimore was home to the largest free Black population in the U.S. As such, the port city played a strong role in African American activism. The Liberty Movement, founded by the Mutual United Brotherhood of Liberty in the mid-1880s, made Baltimore the epicenter for Black civil rights struggles that challenged the Jim Crow laws of the late nineteenth century.

REVEREND HARVEY JOHNSON: American pastor, civil rights activist and leader of the Union Baptist Church Reverend Harvey Johnson (1843-1923) organized the first meeting of the Mutual United Brotherhood of Liberty in his Baltimore home on 2 June 1885.

LIBERTY RACE WARS: In this poem’s alternate history, institutional racism and slavery are accepted legal racist norms across the U.S. from the 1860 Trump presidency for the next 100 years. But Black civil rights activism, given the name “Liberty Race Wars” in the poem, continued undeterred, even if continuously suppressed, outlawed, and met with overwhelming violent force.

NATIONAL AFRO-AMERICAN LEAGUE: As the prototype of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), the National Afro-American League, founded in 1890, was dedicated to racial solidarity and self-help.

TIMOTHY FORTUNE: American civil rights leader, orator, journalist, writer, editor and publisher Timothy Fortune (1856-1928) founded the National Afro-American League to right wrongs against African Americans authorized by racist laws accepted by public opinion.

NIAGARA MOVEMENT: Founded in 1905 near Niagara Falls (on the Canadian side), the Niagara Movement was dedicated to the end of segregation, discrimination in unions, courts, and public accommodations, as well as equality of economic and educational opportunity for Black people.

W.E.B. DU BOIS: American sociologist, historian, civil rights activist, Pan-Africanist, author, writer and editor W.E.B. Du Bois (1868-1963) rose to prominence with the founding of the Niagara Movement. His life and work had one central polemic: racism.

LYNCHING A FEDERAL CRIME: According to the Tuskegee Institute, between the years 1882-1951, some 4,730 people were lynched in the U.S. Of those, 3,437 where Black and 1,293 were white. Not until 1918 was the first anti-lynching legislation proposed by Congress. The Dyer Anti-Lynching bill was introduced to the House by American politician, civil rights activist and reformer Leonidas Dyer (1871-1957), a Missouri Republican, who was horrified by race riots in St. Louis and East St. Louis in 1917, and with the high rate of lynching of African Americans throughout the South. His bill passed the House by wide margin in 1922, but was defeated by white Southern Senate Democrat filibusters in 1922, 1923 and 1924. From 1882 to 1968, nearly 200 anti-lynching bills were introduced into Congress. Three passed the House. Between 1890 and 1952, seven presidents asked Congress to pass anti-lynching legislation into law. Not until 2018 did the Senate pass the anti-lynching legislation Justice for Victims of Lynching Act, on which the House took no action. In 2020, the House passed a revised version of the 2018 Senate bill, the Emmett Till Anti-Lynching Act by a vote of 410-4, but that bill had still not passed into law as of the writing of these notes.

9.

IT IS WHAT IT IS: American political journalist and columnist William Safire (1929-2009) noted in his 5 March 2006 New York Times “On Language” essay that the phrase “It is what it is” dates to a column by James E. Lawrence (1889-1957) in a 1949 issue of The Nebraska State Journal to describe the way pioneer life in the U.S. molded character. Lawrence wrote, “New land is harsh, and vigorous, and sturdy. It scorns evidence of weakness. There is nothing of sham or hypocrisy in it. It is what it is, without apology.” The phrase generally signifies a resigned acceptance of an unchangeable situation, but critics also see “It is what it is” used as a defeatist excuse for people who think a real solution is too difficult to achieve, or simply as a cynical response for those who do not want to change the status quo at all. On 4 August 2020, President Trump used the phrase “It is what it is” to describe the staggering U.S. death toll, 155,478, from the coronavirus under his administration. The U.S., with 4% of the world’s population, had 22-25% of all covid-19 deaths, the worst death toll by far of any nation on Earth. On 18 August 2020, Former First Lady Michele Obama used the phrase in a speech she gave during the virtual Democratic National Convention to emphasis the failure of the Trump presidency. She said, “Let me be as honest and clear as I possibly can: Donald Trump is the wrong president for our country ... He is clearly in over his head. He cannot meet this moment. He simply cannot be who we need him to be for us. It is what it is.”

MA RAINEY: American blues artist Ma Rainey (1886-1939), known as the “Mother of the Blues,” was one of the earliest African American professional blues singers and one of the first to record. One of her first engagements was touring with the Rabbit Foot Minstrels tent-show variety troupe.

ROBERT JOHNSON: Legend has it that American Delta blues master guitarist, singer and songwriter Robert Johnson (1911-1938) sold his soul to the devil at a local crossroads in exchange for musical success in 1936. In this alternate history, Johnson’s “Crossroads Blues” takes on even greater political and mythic significance.

BESSIE SMITH: Renowned American singer Bessie Smith (1894-1937), known as the Empress of the Blues, was a major influence on both blues and jazz vocalists. Early in her career, she performed in shows on the Black-owned Theater Owners Booking Association (T.O.B.A) circuit.

SON HOUSE: American Delta blues singer, songwriter and guitarist Son House (1902-1988) did time at the notorious Parchman Farm penitentiary in Sunflower County, Mississippi, early in his career. After Sun House’s release, Charley Patton (1891?-1934) invited him to share performance engagements and join him at a 1930 recording session.

VICTORY SPIVEY: American blues singer, songwriter and musician Victory Spivey (1906-1976) was hired to accompany silent films at the Lincoln Theater in Dallas in 1918 before starting her career playing local bars and nightclubs as a teenager.

MUDDY WATERS: American blues singer, songwriter and musician Muddy Waters (1913-1983), who grew up in a cabin at Stovall Plantation near Clarksdale, Mississippi, is known as the “father of the modern Chicago blues.” His playing was best described as “raining down Delta beatitude.”

BY 1940, THE AFRICAN AMERICAN VOTE SHIFTS: The African American vote shift from the Republican to Democrat Party began in the 1920s with the continued refusal by Republicans to pursue civil rights. The presidential election of 1932, in which Franklin Roosevelt (1882-1945) beat Herbert Hoover (1874-1964) is considered the turning point because Hoover’s Republican economic policies failed to help African Americans laid low by the Great Depression.

ROOSEVELT ISSUES EXECUTIVE ORDER 8802: In June 1941, President Franklin Roosevelt issued Executive Order 8802 banning discriminatory employment practices by Federal agencies, unions and companies engaged in war-related work. The order also called for the establishment of a Fair Employment Practice Committee to oversee FDR’s prohibition of ethnic and racial discrimination in the nation’s defense industry. Executive Order 8802 had been demanded by civil and labor rights activist A. Philip Randolph (1889-1979), NAACP leader and writer Walter F. White (1893-1955), and others in order to pressure the U.S. government into providing fair working opportunities for African Americans. A planned March on Washington was called off in 1941 after FDR issued the order.

NAZIS TAKE GREAT INSPIRATION FROM AMERICAN CODIFIED RACISM: See Yale law professor James Q. Whitman’s 2017 book Hitler’s American Model: The United States and the Making of Nazi Race Law. If you wonder how authoritarian foreign leaders look at U.S. history and our laws, look at Nazi Germany’s study of U.S. policy as a blueprint for oppression and genocide.

10.

BROWN V. BOARD OF EDUCATION: The court’s decision in the landmark case, establishing that racial segregation in public schools is unconstitutional, was unanimous (9-0).

GROWING PROTESTS & SIT-INS: In 1960, four Black college students in Greensboro, North Carolina, sit at a Woolworth’s lunch counter and ask to be served. Denied service, they refuse to leave their seats. Within days, 50 more Black students volunteer to continue the Woolworth’s sit-in and within weeks, the protest movement spreads to other colleges. By the end of the year, protests and sit-ins have taken place in 65 U.S. cities and 12 Southern states. Some 50,000 young people joined in the protests.

MARY LOU WILLIAMS: American jazz pianist, arranger and composer Mary Lou Williams (1910-1981) wrote hundreds of compositions and was friend, mentor and teacher to a number of jazz greats. A musical prodigy at three-years of age, her white neighbors threw bricks through her window until she would play piano in their homes.

JOHN COLTRANE: American Jazz saxophonist and composer John Coltrane (1926-1967) worked

in bebop and hard bop idioms. He was on the forefront of the free jazz approach to experimental improvisation. In the Navy, he joined the Melody Masters, the all-white military base swing band as a “guest performer” to avoid alerting superior officers of his participation in the band. By the end of his service, he had a leadership role in the band.

SARAH VAUGHN: American jazz singer Sarah Vaughn (1924-1990) was said to have “the ageless voice of modern jazz.” Frank Sinatra (1915-1998) said of her vocal ability that she was so good listening to her made him “want to cut my wrists with a dull razor.” As a child growing up in Newark, New Jersey, she would go to the Montgomery Street Skating Rink to see local and touring bands.

CHARLES MINGUS: American jazz double bassist and bandleader Charles Mingus (1922-1979) is considered one of the greatest jazz musicians and composers of all time and a proponent of collective improvisation, similar to the old New Orleans jazz parades. Mingus went regularly to the Five Spot in New York City in 1960 to witness Ornette Coleman’s (1930-2015) legendary and controversial appearances at the club.

BILLIE HOLIDAY: American jazz singer Billie Holiday (1915-1959) was an innovative influence on jazz and pop singing, phrasing and tempo. Inspired by jazz instrumentalists, Lester Young (1909-1959) was a friend and musical partner. As a child, Holiday was sent to the House of the Good Shephard, a Catholic reform school, at 9-years-old for truancy from school.

THELONIOUS MONK: American jazz pianist and composer Thelonious Monk (1917-1982) had a unique improvisational style. He is the second-most recorded jazz composer after Duke Ellington (1899-1974), which is remarkable in that Ellington composed over a thousand pieces of music while Monk composed 70. At 17, Monk toured with an evangelist playing the church organ. He was house pianist at Minton’s Playhouse, a Manhattan nightclub, in the early through mid-1940s.

PRESIDENTS KENNEDY & JOHNSON: Civil rights were crucial issues during both presidencies. The Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King (1929-1968) was arrested in Atlanta on 19 October 1960 while leading a sit-in protest less than a month before the 1960 election. John F. Kennedy (1917-1963) phoned King’s wife, Coretta Scott King (1927-2006), on 26 October to express his concern while Bobby Kennedy (1925-1968) called the judge in the case to help secure King’s release. The Kennedys personal intervention led to a public endorsement by Martin Luther King Sr. (1899-1984), the influential father of the civil rights leader. More than 70% of the Black vote in the 1960 election went to Kennedy. A comprehensive civil rights bill was approved by both Congressional chambers’ Republican leadership, but the bill did not pass before Kennedy’s assassination on 22 November 1963. It was left to President Lyndon B. Johnson (1908-1973) to get the Civil Rights Act passed into law on 2 July 1964.

THOMAS DIXON JR.: American white supremacist Thomas Dixon Jr. (1864-1946) is the author of the 1905 novel The Clansmen: A Historical Romance of the Ku Klux Klan. Lincoln, a character in the novel, is portrayed as sympathetic to the plight of the South. The Klan is portrayed as saviors to protect white Southerners. Upon its publication, the novel caused significant uproars in both the North and the South. The work is often contraposed to the 1852 novel Uncle Tom’s Cabin by Harriet Beecher Stowe (1811-1896).

D.W. GRIFFITH: American film director D.W. Griffith (1875-1948) made the racist silent film epic The Birth of a Nation in 1915. The screenplay for the film came from Thomas Dixon Jr.’s The Clansmen: A Historical Romance of the Ku Klux Klan. The film’s plot remains roiled in controversy: Lincoln as a friend of the South, racist depictions of African Americans portrayed by whites in blackface as unintelligent and sexually aggressive, and glorification of the Ku Klux Klan as a heroic force necessary to preserve American white supremacist social order values.

LINCOLN IN THE ORIGINAL STAR TREK: In the third season, twenty-second episode of the original Star Trek series, titled “The Savage Curtain,“ Lincoln makes an appearance sitting in a chair floating in outer space.

11.

U.S. SEVENTH ARMY’S 45TH INFANTRY DIVISION: On 29 April 1945, soldiers from the Seventh Army’s 45th Infantry Division approached the Dachau concentration camp from the southwest and discovered thirty-nine railway boxcars containing some 2,300 skeletal corpses parked on tracks just outside the complex. The smell of decaying bodies and human excrement, as well as the sight of naked, emaciated bodies induced vomiting, crying, disbelief and rage in the advancing U.S. troops. Upon moving inside the complex to the prisoner area, soldiers reported seeing a row of concrete structures that contained rooms with hundreds of naked and barely clothed dead bodies piled floor to ceiling, a coal-fire crematorium and a gas chamber. The stench of death was overpowering.

DACHAU: The Dachau Nazi concentration camp opened in 1933 and ran until April 1945. 36,000 prisoners died there over its 12-years in operation. American soldiers saved 30,000 prisoners, 10,000 of whom were sick. The complex was divided into two areas: the camp area and the crematorium. The camp area included 32 barracks, including one for clergy imprisoned for opposing the Nazi regime and one for medical experiments. A courtyard between the prison and the central kitchen was used for summary execution of prisoners. The camp was surrounded by an electric fence and seven guard towers.

RICHARD BERRY: American singer, songwriter and musician Richard Berry (1935-1997) performed with several Los Angeles doo-wop groups and is best known for his 1955 rhythm and blues composition “Louie Louie.” In 1963, The Kingsmen, an all-white band from Portland, Oregon, had a major hit with the song which has become an enduring classic. The Kingsmen’s singer, Jack Ely (1943-2015), was wearing braces when recording the vocals which compounded the already infamously slurred lyrics. The song was recorded in one take on 6 April 1963 at 10 a.m. In the poem, Lincoln’s mother dated Berry when she was younger and living on the west coast. Every time she heard the song, she wondered if the lyrics were about her.

EQUAL PAY ACT: The Equal Pay Act of 1963 was signed into law by President Kennedy (1917-1963). When the law was enacted, women’s earnings were 62.3% that of men’s earnings. In 2009, Congress passed the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act. The bill was based upon an employment discrimination case involving American worker Lilly Ledbetter that went to the Supreme Court in Ledbetter v. Goodyear Tire & Rubber Company. The Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act was President Obama’s first bill signed into law as president. A key provision of the Fair Pay Act makes it clear that discrimination occurs not just when the decision to discriminate is made, but also when someone becomes subject to or affected by that decision, including each time women are issued a discriminatory paycheck. In 2018, women’s earnings in the U.S. were 81.1% that of men’s.

12.

HENRY DAVID THOREAU: American essayist, poet and philosopher Henry David Thoreau (1817-1862) is best known for his book Walden, first published in 1854, and his earlier 1948 essay “Resistance to Civil Government,” known as “Civil Disobedience” for short. The essay calls upon individuals to not permit governments to overrule their own conscience, and argues that people have the civic duty to not become agents of injustice. Thoreau’s motivation in writing “Civil Disobedience” was, in part, his disgust over American slavery.

MAHATMA GANDHI: Indian lawyer, anti-colonial nationalist and political ethicist Mohandas Gandhi (1869-1948) employed Thoreau’s concept of civil disobedience to adopt nonviolent resistance in his successful campaign for India’s independence from British Rule. Gandhi’s development of the word satyagraha (“holding onto truth” or “truth force”) is a particular form of nonviolent civil resistance. Satyagraha Theory influenced Martin Luther King Jr.’s campaign during the Civil Rights Movement in the U.S., and also Nelson Mandala’s (1918-2013) campaign against apartheid in South Africa.

ANNE WALDMAN: American experimental feminist Outrider poet, performance artist, professor, director of the Poetry Project at St. Mark’s Church from 1968-1978, co-founder of Naropa University’s Jack Kerouac School of Disembodied Poetics in 1974, and cultural/political activist Anne Waldman grew up in New York City’s Greenwich Village. Waldman attended the Friends Seminary, a Quaker school, on Rutherford Place. In the poem, Lincoln is imagined as a younger fellow-student attending the same school.

ORIGINAL TWO-VERSE SONG, “BLOWIN’ IN THE WIND”: Shortly after Bob Dylan’s first live performance of the song at Gerde’s Folk City in Greenwich Village, he added the middle verse.

Upon its release in 1963, “Blowin’ in the Wind” was received with astonishment by members of the Black community who could not believe a white person was capable of capturing the frustrations and aspirations of Black Americans. The song became an anthem of the Civil Rights Movement and catapulted Dylan into media hype proclaiming him the “spokesman for a generation,” a claim that he refused to accept or acknowledge. The song’s theme was taken from a passage by Woody Guthrie (1912-1967), who in his autobiography Bound for Glory (1943) compared his political sensibilities to newspapers blowing in the winds of New York City streets and alleyways. Like many Dylan compositions, “Blowin’ in the Wind” has its roots in earlier folk tunes. The song’s melody echoes the anonymous Civil War spiritual, “No More Auction Block,” a song sung by marching Black Union soldiers fighting to bring an end to slavery. The music critic Greil Marcus wrote this about “Blowin’ in the Wind”: “There are songs that are more written by their times than by any individual in that time, a song that the times seem to call for, a song that is just gonna be a perfect strike rolled right down the middle of the lane, and the lane has already been grooved for the strike. And this was that kind of song. Someone had to write this song.”

“HOW MANY ROADS”: The opening lyric-phrase of the first line to “Blowin’ in the Wind.”

13.

SECOND COMING RECORDS: This former Manhattan record store was at 231 Sullivan Street.

NINA SIMONE: American singer, songwriter, arranger and civil rights activist Nina Simone (1933-2003) was a major influence on a wide range of notable musicians, Black and white, from Aretha Franklin (1942-2018) to Van Morrison, Beyoncé to John Lennon (1940-1980), Lena Horne (1917-2010) to David Bowie (1947-2016), Lauren Hill to Cat Stevens. “Mississippi Goddam,” which Simone wrote in under an hour, was what she considered her first protest civil rights song. A scathing indictment of Black-white inequality written after the 12 June 1963 assassination of American civil rights activist Medgar Evers (1925-1963) in Jackson, Mississippi, Simone first performed the song at the Village Gate nightclub in Greenwich Village and shortly thereafter at Carnegie Hall before a mostly white audience. Her spring 1964 Carnegie Hall performances were recorded and “Mississippi Goddam” was released later that year as the final track on her Nina Simone in Concert album. The song was banned in several Southern states. Boxes of promotional singles shipped across the country were returned with each record broken in half. In 2019, “Mississippi Goddam” was selected by the Library of Congress for preservation in the National Recording Registry.

FREE BEING RECORD STORE: The Free Being record store was located at 129 Second Avenue just south of St. Mark’s Place in New York City.

SAM COOKE: American singer, songwriter and civil rights activist Sam Cooke (1931-1964) was known as the “King of Soul.” He is credited as Soul music’s inventor. Cooke’s 1964 single, “A Change Is Gonna Come,” was selected by the Library of Congress for preservation with the National Recording Registry in 2007. The words “A change is gonna come” are on the wall of the Contemplative Court at the Smithsonian’s National Museum of African American History and Culture in Washington, D.C.

MALCOLM X IS GUNNED DOWN: African American minister and civil rights activist Malcolm X (1925-1965) advocated for a more militant platform than Dr. King’s mainstream Civil Rights Movement. He supported Black supremacy and empowerment as well as the separation of Black and white Americans. In the 1960s, Malcolm X disavowed his relationship with the Nation of Islam and its leader, Elijah Muhammad (1897-1975), and subsequently embraced Sunni Islam and the American Civil Rights Movement. While preparing to address the Pan-African Organization for African American Unity at the Audubon Ballroom in Manhattan, he died from 21 gunshot wounds at the hands of three Nation of Islam members.

14.

AMIRI BARAKA: After the assassination of Malcolm X in 1965, LeRoi Jones changed his name to Amiri Baraka (1934-2014). Moving away from his white Beat Generation allies with whom he nevertheless maintained ties throughout his life, Baraka––poet, dramatist, writer, critic, performance artist, and political/cultural activist––became a vocal critic of Dr. King’s pacifist and integrationist civil rights movement, and became an advocate, theorist, and artist devoted to Black cultural nationalism. Baraka’s 1965 “A Poem For Black Hearts” is an elegy for Malcolm X.

BLACK ARTS MOVEMENT: The Black Arts Movement (BAM), which Amiri Baraka is credited with founding in 1965, was an African American led art movement during the 1960s and 1970s that combined activism and art to create new cultural institutions to convey Black Pride.

MILES DAVIS: American Jazz trumpeter, bandleader and composer Mile Davis (1926-1991) was recording at Columbia Records in 1966 with his legendary quintet featuring Wayne Shorter on sax, Herbie Hancock on keyboards, Ron Carter on bass and Tony Williams (1945-1997) on drums, all of whom went on to become esteemed Jazz master band leaders and composers in their own right.

NEAL CASSADY: American Beat Generation writer, frenetic talker and cultural influencer Neal Cassady (1926-1968) was the human muse to Beat Generation writers Allen Ginsberg (1926-1997) and Jack Kerouac (1922-1969). Cassady impacted the Postbeat era through connections with American writer and countercultural figure Ken Kesey (1935-2001) and the Merry Pranksters, as well as the Grateful Dead, with whom he performed at the Straight Theater in San Francisco on 23 July 1967. Brief excerpts from that Cassady performance with the Dead are included in the poem.

“KEROUAC” “ALWAYS LOOKING FOR A COLORED GIRL”: While Jack Kerouac’s views on women of color, in his writings and his life, weren’t racially malicious, they were ignorant, romanticized, white privileged. Although he celebrated aspects of Black and Latinx culture in On the Road and other works, Kerouac tended to fetishize the women of color that he wrote about and leave them without agency.

BOB KAUFMAN: American Black Beat surrealist jazz poet Bob Kaufman (1925-1986), known in Paris as the “Black Rimbaud,” shared with Neal Cassady a preference for the oral tradition and for not writing things down. In 1967, Kaufman’s second book of poetry, Golden Sardines, was published by City Lights following its original publication in French.

EILEEN KAUFMAN: American Beat poet, musician, editor and journalist Eileen Kaufman (1922-2015) served in the Navy before marrying Bob Kaufman in Mexico, 1958. Together, they helped found the literary magazine Beatitude and became central figures in San Francisco’s North Beach area at a time when interracial couples were not widely accepted. Through the 1960s and 1970s, she covered the SF and LA music scenes, writing about the Grateful Dead and other 1960s musical acts for the Los Angeles Free Press and Billboard. Without Eileen Kaufman, there is no Bob Kaufman. Eileen would furiously write down her husband’s spoken word poetry on napkins and paper bags. It was she who transcribed, edited and put his books of written poetry together.

1967 BLACK WRITERS CONFERENCE AT FISK UNIVERSITY: A legendary Black writers conferences in the era of the Black Arts Movement.

GWENDOYN BROOKS: At the second Black Writers Conference at Fisk, the first African American poet to receive the Pulitzer Prize, Gwendolyn Brooks (1917-2000), underwent a spiritual transformation. She said that she had “rediscovered her Blackness.” Brooks, a lifelong resident of Chicago, was appointed Poet Laureate of Illinois in 1968 and held the position until her death 32 years later. In 1985, she was appointed Poet Laureate of the United States. President Bill Clinton awarded Brooks with the National Medal of Arts in 1995, saying that over four decades, she had “drawn on the Black experience to create poetry that speaks to all of us in a frank and familiar way.”

IN THE MECCA: Published in 1968, the same year that Brooks was appointed poet laureate of Illinois, the focus of the work is The Mecca, a Chicago multi-dwelling building in which no luxury was spared during its construction in the late 19th century, but which over time fell into disrepair as the neighborhood changed. Once a tourist attraction, the Mecca became a squalid tenement where thousands lived, and became a symbol of systemic racism in urban living patterns before it was torn down in 1952.

LARRY NEAL: Poet, essayist, editor, educator and Black Theater scholar Larry Neal (1937-1981) was a founding member of the Black Arts Movement. His seminal essay “The Black Arts Movement” was originally published in the Drama Review (Summer 1968). The essay provides an early explication of the Black Arts Movement’s political goal of “a radical reordering of western cultural aesthetic” by tapping into the Black Power political aesthetics and the “Afro-American desire for self-determination and nationhood.”

ABBIE HOFFMAN: American political, social and environmental activist Abbie Hoffman (1936-1989) used humor as a form of guerrilla theater. At the Trial of the Chicago Seven, for his involvement in protests outside the Democratic National Convention in 1968, he stood on his head at one point in the proceedings to distract attention from a witness’ testimony. Abraham Lincoln was also known for his own use of stories, jokes and wit.

ALLEN GINSBERG, 9TH WITNESS: American poet, cultural icon and activist Allen Ginsberg (1926-1997), ninth witness at the 1969 trial of the Chicago Seven, wore white sneakers as he appeared in court to testify on 11 December 1969. Once on the witness stand, he bowed to the jury and judge, and then explained that the protest organizers, on trial for inciting riots and committing acts of violence, had peaceful non-violent intentions in calling for mass-protest. They were in Chicago, he said, “Not to cause violence, but for a festival of life.” Although Judge Julius Hoffman (1895-1983) sentenced each defendant to five years in prison and a fine of $5000 each, the ruling was overturned by the Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals on 21 November 1972.

 

15.

JAYNE CORTEZ: The works of African American poet, spoken word recording artist, activist and publisher Jayne Cortez (1934-2012) form an essential part of the Black Arts Movement canon. Pissstained Stairs and the Monkey Man’s Wares was her first collection of poetry.

CAROLYN RODGERS: African American poet, fiction writer, critic and essayist from Chicago, a student of Gwendolyn Brooks (1917-2000), Carolyn Rodger (1940-2010) was a leading voice of the Black Arts Movement. Her landmark 1969 essay “Black Poetry––Where It’s At” identifies ten broad categories of Black poetry and takes as its fundamental premise that “Black poets don’t write the same KIND of poetry” and that “all Black poems ain’t the same kind. They differ. Just as white poems differ and just as white poems come in sonnets, ballads or whatever.” Rodgers was also a proponent of Black language, also known as Ebonics, as a language in its own right, distinct from English.

DUDLEY RANDALL: African American poet and publisher of many leading African American writers from Detroit, Dudley Randall (1914-2000) founded his pioneering publishing company Broadside Press in 1965. According to Mark V. Waters, Randall, more a liberationist than militant revolutionary, viewed himself as a “guardian of poetic space out of which Black poets may create without restriction.” Randall’s The Black Poets: An Anthology offered up a full range of voices within Black American Poetry coming out of the 1960s, from slave songs to folk poetry to literary works. The anthology represented a Black Arts Movement-infused post-Harlem Renaissance response to mid-20th century Black poets turning away from white models of poetry.

BOBBY SEALE: American political activist Bobby Seale, co-founder of the Black Panther Party with Huey Newton, was the eighth member originally tried in the trial of the Chicago Eight, but after Judge Hoffman ordered him bound, gagged and chained to his chair for disrupting the court, eventually Seale’s case was severed from the trial. Sentenced to four years in prison for contempt of court, one of the longest sentences ever handed down at the time, Judge Hoffman’s decision was viewed as unconstitutional by the U.S. Court of Appeals and Seale’s contempt charges overturned.

HUEY NEWTON: African American political activist and Marxist-Leninist revolutionary Huey Newton (1942-1989) was a co-founder of the Black Panther Party. Under his leadership, the Black Panthers founded over 60 community support programs including food banks, medical clinics, prison busing for families, legal advice seminars, clothing banks, housing cooperates, free breakfasts for children programs, and the Black Panther newspaper service. Newton was murdered in Oakland by a member of the Black Guerilla Family, an American prison and street gang, in 1989.

ANGELA DAVIS: American political activist, philosopher, academic, Marxist feminist and author Angela Davis is recognized for her work related to these causes: second-wave feminism, the Black Panther Party, the campaign against the Vietnam War and the abolition of prison-industrial complex. Davis is an inducted member of the National Women’s Hall of Fame.

FRED HAMPTON: American activist and revolutionary socialist Fred Hampton (1948-1969) came to prominence as chairman of the Illinois chapter of the Black Panther Party. He was the founder of the Rainbow Coalition, a multicultural political organization that created alliances among street gangs to help them end the infighting and work together for social change. Identified as a radical threat by the FBI in 1967, Hampton was shot and killed while in bed during a pre-dawn police raid. Scholars now view Hampton’s death as an assassination coordinated by the FBI.

NIKKI GIOVANNI: American poet, writer, commentator, activist and educator Nikki Giovanni gained initial fame as a poet coming out of the Black Arts Movement. Influenced by the Civil Rights Movement and Black Power Movement of the 1960s, her first two books, Black Feeling, Black Thought and Black Judgment, both from 1968, were combined into one in 1970. Considered one of the most influential volumes in modern African American poetry, the book is a testimony to how people may “build what we can become when we dream.”

AUDRE LORDE: African American poet, writer, feminist, librarian and civil rights activist Audre Lorde (1934-1992) was a self-described “black, lesbian, mother, warrior, poet.” Her life was dedicated to confronting injustices of racism, sexism, classism, heterosexism and homophobia. Her second book of poems, Cables to Rage, focuses on themes of family, love and deceit. Besides introducing her readers to her form of protest or political poetry, she came out as a lesbian in the poem “Martha,” the longest piece in this volume.

SONIA SANCHEZ: African American poet, writer, editor and professor Sonia Sanchez was a leading figure of the Black Arts Movement. In the early 1960s she was a member of the Congress for Racial Equality (CORE) where she met Malcolm X (1925-1965). In 1972 she joined the Nation of Islam, but left in 1975 because their views on women’s rights conflicted with her own. Her second collection of poems, We a BaddDDD People, makes use of urban black vernacular, spelling, and jazz-related elements to focus on the everyday lives of Black women and men.

MARI EVANS: African American poet, writer, dramatist and activist Mari Evans (1919-2017) was associated with prominent members of the Black Arts Movement. Her most well-known book of poetry, I Am a Black Woman, brought her international fame and notoriety, particularly the title poem which concludes with these lines: “Look/on me and be/renewed.”

JUNE JORDAN: Jamaican American poet, essayist, teacher, editor and activist June Jordan (1936-2002) was a self-described “bi-sexual+.” The Black Arts Movement influenced her to use Black English in her writing and poetry as a critical way to express Black culture. Her editorial work on Soulscript: Afro-American Poetry is regarded as visionary for its collective and personal experiences, literary excellence and linking 20th century Black luminary voices with those younger voices of the turbulent 1960s poets.

TONI CADE BAMBARA: African American author, editor, documentary film-maker, social activist and educator Toni Cade Bambara (1939-1995) was active in the Black Arts Movement and the emergence of Black feminism. Bambara was a commentator in the 1994 documentary Midnight Ramble, a film about the early history of African American movies known as “race movies,” a genre that lasted 40 years, produced over 500 films, and served as the foundation of later African American filmmakers like Spike Lee and Tyler Perry. In The Black Woman: An Anthology, Bambara collected early original poetry, essays and stories from a chorus of women, now established Black women poets and writers, on issues surrounding sex and race, body image, economics, politics and labor.

MARY SHELLEY’S MONSTER: Reference to English author Mary Shelley (1797-1851) and her 1818 novel Frankenstein; or, The Modern Prometheus. She wrote the story when she was 18-years-old. It is generally seen today as the first true science fiction story.

JEFFREY MILLER: On 4 May 1970, 20-year-old Jeffrey Miller (1950-1970) joined protestors on the Kent State University campus to protest against the U.S. invasion of Cambodia, an expansion of the already highly unpopular Vietnam War. Miller, who was shot through the mouth and who died instantly, was one of four white students killed by the Ohio National Guard. The Kent State Massacre led to a national student strike and the closing of hundreds of college campuses in the spring of 1970. In the Pulitzer Prize winning photograph taken by John Filo of Miller after he’d been shot, a 14-year-old runaway, Mary Ann Vecchio, is seen kneeling over Miller’s body, face down on the concrete. In the poem, Lincoln is photographed kneeling over Miller’s lifeless body, not Vecchio.

JAMES WELDON JOHNSON: American poet, writer and civil rights activist James Weldon Johnson (1871-1938) was, in 1920, the first African American chosen as executive secretary of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP). Johnson, who established his literary credentials during the Harlem Renaissance, was the editor of the classic anthology The Book of American Negro Poetry, published in 1922. Cohn learned about Johnson and his seminal collection of early 20th century Black poetry while visiting the Allen Ginsberg archives at Stanford University where documents reveal Ginsberg’s use of Johnson’s text in his teaching curriculum at Brooklyn College.

ABOLITIONIST LITERATURE: Abolitionist literature, art and poetry depicted the life of a slave, the peculiarities of slave-owners, the pain of family separations, and the overall intolerable system that slaves endured. Slave narratives and autobiographies offered first-person accounts, testimony and documentation of Black life under institutional slavery and such works became a political tool to sway public opinion. In addition to anti-slavery tracts, abolitionists combatted the argument that Blacks were intellectually or otherwise inferior to whites.

SOUTHERN POVERTY LAW CENTER: Based in Montgomery, Alabama, the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC) is known for its cases against white supremacist groups, its classification of hate groups and other extremist organizations, and its promoting tolerance education programs. Founded in 1971 on a litigation strategy to file suit against the KKK for monetary damages done to victims, the SPLC is involved in challenges to institutional racial segregation and discrimination, inhumane and unconstitutional conditions in prisons and detention centers, discrimination based on sexual orientation, mistreatment of illegal immigrants, and the unconstitutional mixing of church and state.

16.

FORENSIC POLITICIAN: Forensic politics involves locating and revealing evidence of potential legal, ethical or moral wrongdoing that is not apparent to the untrained eye. For Lincoln, “forensic” not only meant a reliance on the application of the scientific method and techniques when investigating political matters. It also specifically meant to uncover politically hidden or denied causational aspects that allowed for slavery and its history in American white dominated politics and lawmaking.

SPIKE LEE: American film producer, director, screenwriter and actor Spike Lee is known for his cinematic depictions of race relations, colorism, urban crime, police brutality, and other political issues meaningful to the Black community and educational to many white people.

TRUMP: SIC SEMPER TYRANNIS: An imagined 2012 Spike Lee film Trump: Sic Semper Tyrannis is an invention of the poem corresponding to the release of Steven Spielberg’s 2012 biographical historical drama Lincoln. The Latin phrase sic semper tyrannis (“Thus always to tyrants”) were the words John Wilkes Booth (1838-1865) shouted upon assassinating President Lincoln at Ford’s Theater on 14 April 1865. In the poem, Booth’s words are turned back against Trump.

DAVE CHAPPELLE: American stand-up comedian, actor, writer and producer Dave Chappelle received the prestigious Mark Twain Prize for American Humor, the highest honor for U.S. comedic artists, in 2019. The sketch, “Charlie Murphy’s True Hollywood Stories––Prince,” premiered 18 February 2004, with Chappelle in the role of the music icon Prince as Murphy reminisced about an out-of-this-world basketball game from the 1980s. The sketch was one of Chappelle’s most universally beloved. Prince was said to have thought it “hilarious.”

CHARLIE MURPHY: American actor, comedian and writer Charlie Murphy (1959-2017) was a cast member and writer of the sketch-comedy series Chappelle’s Show. He gained national attention as a re-occurring performer on the show’s “Charlie Murphy’s True Hollywood Stories,” in which Murphy recounts his misadventures as a member of his brother Eddie Murphy’s entourage.

PRINCE: American iconic singer-songwriter, musician, record producer, dancer, actor and filmmaker Prince (1958-2016) is widely regarded as one of the greatest and most prolific virtuoso musicians and flamboyant musical performers of his generation.

“RAILSPLITTER”: Lincoln’s identification as a railsplitter came about through Richard Oglesby (1824-1899) who had heard from Lincoln’s cousin John Hanks (1802-1889) that the two had split rails together in their youth. Oglesby, a lawyer and one of Lincoln’s political supporters, created the “railsplitter” persona for use in a publicity stunt at the Illinois Republican Convention in Decatur on 9 May 1860. From that day forward, Lincoln was known as “the Railsplitter.” Railsplitter today would also have a sexual context. Lincoln was attracted to women as much as they were attracted to him. After all, he proposed to four women in his lifetime: Ann Rutledge (1813-1835), his alleged first love, Mary Owens (1808-1877), Mary Todd (1818-1882), who accepted, and Sarah Rickard (1824-1911).

THE HOBBLED CLINTON CAMPAIGN: An obvious invention of the poem that speculates on Lincoln becoming the 2016 Democrat’s presidential candidate by announcing his candidacy at the last minute and then out-performing the truly hobbled Hillary Clinton presidential campaign. Along with Russia’s hacking of the Democratic National Committee and Clinton campaign email accounts, most analysts believe that it was the “Comey effect,” a reference to FBI director James Comey’s 28 October 2016 letter to the House Judiciary Committee announcing the discovery of new emails that appeared pertinent to the FBI’s closed investigation of Clinton, and Comey’s subsequent letter on 6 November, only 2 days before the election, that absolved Clinton, but only after millions of votes had already been cast.

CORNEL WEST: African American philosopher, social critic, activist and media commentator Cornel West is an outspoken voice on left-wing politics in the U.S. West argued that the United States is a racist and patriarchal nation where white supremacy dominates everyday life.

KIMBERLÉ WILLIAMS CRENSHAW: African American lawyer, civil rights advocate, philosopher and critical race theory scholar Kimberlé Williams Crenshaw is credited with developing the widely used theory of intersectionality, a term she coined in 1989 in the context of critical race theory. The term proved useful in analyzing the interdependent phenomena of oppressions, whether based on race, gender, class, sexuality, disability, nationality, or other social categories.

17.

TRUMP, THE HUMAN VAMPIRE: In a 10 May 2020 op ed piece for The Sunday New York Times, American author and columnist Maureen Dowd wrote “Trump the Vampire Enabler Lives and Let’s Die” (titled “Live and Let Die, Trump Style” online), a piece in which she cites American political consultant and analyst David Axelrod, President Obama’s campaign strategist and senior adviser to the president, as saying, “Trump is like a vampire! You’ve got to drive a stake right through his heart. He’s going to keep coming. There’s nothing he won’t do. Even in this environment, you can’t count on him losing.”

“SUCKERS”: In a 3 September 2020 essay for the Atlantic by American journalist Jeffrey Goldberg titled “Trump: Americans Who Died in Wars Are ‘Losers’ and ‘Suckers,” the writer claimed that after Trump cancelled a visit to the Aisne-Marne American cemetery near Paris in 2018, he said to staff members, “Why should I go to that cemetery. It’s filled with losers.” In a separate conversation on the same trip, Goldberg reports that Trump referred to the 1,800 Marines who lost their lives at the Battle of Belleau Wood, near the Marne River in France, during World War I (1-26 June 1918), as “suckers” for getting killed.

AFRICAN AMERICANS WEALTH REPARATIONS EMANCIPATION PROCLAMATION ACT: The poem imagines Lincoln promising to sign into law an act of Congress to expand his original Emancipation Proclamation (1863) to include Black slavery reparations. African American economist, founder of stratification economics, and co-author of From Here to Equality: Reparations for Black Americans in the Twentieth Century (2020) William Darity estimates that a slavery reparations program could cost the U.S. government between $10 trillion and $12 trillion. As of 2020, Black wealth in the United States has never been more than 5% of the nation’s total wealth. In 2016, the median net worth of African Americans was $17,150 compared with a median net worth of $171,000 for white Americans.

OSAMA BIN LADEN: Founder of the militant Pan-Islamic organization Al-Qaeda Osama bin Laden (1957-2011) is considered the mastermind behind the 11 September 2001 attacks that killed nearly 3,000 people and prompted the United States to launch war on foreign terrorist organizations. In the early days of the U.S. invasion of Afghanistan, the government concluded that bin Laden was present during the Battle of Tora Bora in December 2001, and successfully escaped into Pakistan on 16 December. The lack of commitment by U.S. forces to place more American troops into the Tora Bora theater is considered the primary reason for bin Laden’s escape. Osama bin Laden’s escape is considered the U.S. government’s gravest failure in conducting its war on terror. U.S. special forces killed bin Laden during a nighttime raid on his compound in Abbottabad, Pakistan, on 2 May 2011.

NRA: The National Rifle Association (NRA), first chartered in 1871, is one of the most influential lobbying group in the U.S. The gun-rights advocacy group has in recent decades of deadly school shootings been criticized repeatedly by students and parents for opposing gun control laws. Boycott campaigns have led to some major corporations cutting ties with the organization. One major criticism of the NRA that you don’t hear reported in the news is their lack of support for African American gun rights laws as well as their delayed responses to gun rights cases involving Black gun owners. In the 20th century, the NRA’s lack of advocacy for gun owners of color can be tracked by racist legislation the organization proposed in the 1920s, 1930s, and 1970s with the intent of reducing gun ownership by racial minorities.

JOHN LEWIS: American politician and iconic civil rights leaders John Lewis (1940-1970) was one of the “Big Six” leaders who organized the 1963 March on Washington, and in 1965 led three Selma to Montgomery marches across the Edmund Pettus Bridge, including the “Bloody Sunday” march in which the unarmed Lewis was beaten by armed Alabama police. The language Lincoln uses in this specific stanza of the poem, including the line, “But, as John Lewis said, ‘You cannot stop the call of history’,” are adaptions from Barack Obama’s eulogy for John Lewis given 30 July 2020 at Ebenezer Baptist Church in Atlanta.

FREEDOM RIDERS: Civil rights activists who rode interstate buses into the South in 1961, and subsequent years, to challenge the non-enforcement of two Supreme Court decision: Morgan v. Virginia (1946) and Boynton v. Virginia (1960) which ruled that segregated buses were unconstitutional. The violent reactions by local official that these mixed-race groups of activists provoked bolstered the credibility of the American Civil Rights Movement and called national attention to the disregard of federal law and the local use of violence to enforce segregation across the South.

18.

800,000 SWORN LAW ENFORCEMENT OFFICERS/12% WOMEN: This 2020 data on the total number of law enforcement officers in the U.S., and the percentage of those officers who are women, is taken from the National Law Enforcement Memorial and Museum.

ME TOO MOVEMENT: A social justice movement against sexual harassment, assault and abuse committed by prominent and powerful sexually-predatory men begun by sexual harassment survivor Tarana Burke, a social activist and community organizer. Burke began using the phrase “Me Too” in 2006 to promote empowerment through empathy for women of color who had been sexually abused. The phrase was picked up again around noon on 15 October 2017 by Alyssa Milano in a tweet. By the end of the day, the hashtag #MeToo had been used more than 200,000 times.

POLICE SEXUAL MISCONDUCT: A 2014 study by Bowling Green State University’s Criminal Justice Faculty publications identified 548 cases of police sex-related crime from 2005-2007. The study identified 118 cases of rape (including adult and minor victims) perpetrated by police officers over this three-year period. One-third of those cases involved charges against officers of forcible or statutory rape. Ninety-three cases involved forced sodomy. Roughly three-quarters of all cases involved victims under the age of 18. Forty percent of cases involved victims who were children unrelated to the arresting officers.

CITIZENS UNITED: Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission was a 2010 Supreme Court decision concerning campaign finance law and the nature of free speech under the First Amendment. Citizens United allowed corporations, labor unions, and other associations, like Super-PACs, to make unlimited expenditures for political communications. Dissent among the justices focused on improper uses of Big Money to influence elections and the likelihood of quid-pro-quo corruption as a result. Dissenting justices also pointed out that legal entities, such as corporations, are not “We the People” for whom the constitution was established.

WARREN BUFFETT: American investor, business tycoon and philanthropist Warren Buffett, also known as “The Oracle” or “Sage” of Omaha, said in 2006 that he’d only paid 19% on his income tax while his employees, making far less money than him, paid 33%. “How can this be fair,” he said, adding, “How can this be right?” He went on to say, “There’s class warfare, all right, but it’s my class, the rich class, that’s making war, and we’re winning.” In 2011, President Obama proposed a tax plan called the Buffett Rule that would apply a minimum 30% tax rate on individuals making over a million dollars a year and would impact no more than .03% of the U.S. population. The rule, submitted for Senate deliberation under a bill titled the Paying a Fair Share Act of 2012, was blocked by a Republican filibuster.

PARIS CLIMATE ACCORD: The Paris Climate Accord Agreement refers to a United Nations framework on climate change to have all nations work toward reducing their greenhouse gas emissions in order to mitigate global warming. Although at first glance water appears to play no role in the accord, climate policy has far-reaching implications on the availability of water in the future. In 2017, President Trump announced his intention to withdraw the U.S. from the accord.

LINCOLN GIVES A SPEECH UP AT MANKATO: During his historic Civil War presidency, Lincoln faced many difficult situations that required painful life and death decisions. One was related to the Dakota War of 1862, an armed conflict between the United States and several Dakota bands. A military tribunal in Mankato, Minnesota, quickly tried and sentenced 303 Dakota warriors to death. Lincoln, after a thorough review of military reports and trial records, commuted the sentences of 264 warriors. A mass-hanging of the remaining thirty-nine Dakota men remains the largest mass execution in U.S. history. In the poem’s alternate universe, Trump does not intervene on the tribunal’s findings and all 303 Santee Dakota warriors are executed. Lincoln, viewing this event from the future, visits the town to deliver a speech of remembrance and regret.

19.

AFTER THE SUPREME COURT SPARES DACA: On 18 June 2020, the Supreme Court ruled that the anti-immigration Trump administration’s efforts to end the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program fell short of legal requirements needed to terminate such a broad executive program. DACA was initiated in 2012 by President Obama under his broad executive branch authority over discretionary immigration enforcement. The goal of the DACA program was to provide children born in the United States to undocumented aliens a temporary shield from deportation.

ICE: Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) is the federal law enforcement agency under the Department of Homeland Security whose mission is to protect America from cross-border crime and illegal immigration. ICE has two functions: Homeland Security investigations, and enforcement and removal operations. Under the Trump administration, major protests across the U.S. against ICE involved these issues: claims of sexual abuse while in immigration custody, record numbers of deportations, separation of migrant children from their families, and wrongful detention of U.S. citizens.

20.

BLACK LIVES MATTER ACT: Such an act of Congress might involve the following policy issues: defunding and demilitarizing police, banning targeted policing and over-policing, removing police from public spaces such as schools and hospitals, outlawing predictive policing, holding police accountable for murder, limiting the power of police unions, establishing standards and reporting on police use of force, raising the bar for officers to qualify for police immunity, empowering civilian oversight of police, decriminalizing nonviolent offenses and past misdemeanors that disproportionately target communities of color, and reinvestment in social services to benefit communities of color.

PATRISSE CULLORS, ALICIA GARZA & OPAL TOMETI, BLM FOUNDERS: The Black Lives Matter (BLM) movement, organized to protest police brutality against African Americans, was founded by Patrisse Cullors, Alicia Garza and Opal Tometi in 2013. Cullors and Garza, friends for a decade, launched the original brainstorming sessions. Garza is credited with creating the hashtag “#BlackLivesMatter” and in popularizing the hashtag’s use on social media for mass mobilization. Tometi, who saw the BLM hashtag online and then contacted Garza, is credited with creating BLM’s digital accounts, online platforms and initiating the social media strategy. The three women shared a sense that BLM is a continuation of civil rights resistance to racism led by Black people in America.

BUREAU OF INDIAN AFFAIRS: The Bureau of Indian Affairs has a long, complicated and racist history since it was formed in 1824. The agency, which is within the Department of the Interior, is responsible for administration and management of 55,700,000 acres of land held in trust by the U.S. government for American Indians. The BIA oversees 573 federally recognized tribes.

BLACK HILLS RETURNED TO THE LAKOTA: George Armstrong Custer (1839-1876) laid claim to Black Hills gold two years before his 1876 defeat at the Battle of Little Bighorn. Shortly after Custer’s defeat, the U.S. enacted a “Sell or Starve” policy against the Sioux. Either the tribe sell the Black Hills, their sacred lands, or starve. This action by the federal government violated the existing 1868 Fort Laramie Treaty. In 1980, the Supreme Court decided the Black Hills belongs to the Sioux. While the Court offered to pay the Sioux for the land, the tribe refused, as they always have, to give it up. Mount Rushmore, which opened in 1941, is located in the Black Hills. The four white faces were carved by Gutzon Borglam (1867-1941), a man who became deeply involved with the KKK, its politics, rallies and committees.

21.

JOY HARJO: Poet, musician, playwright and author Joy Harjo was named Poet Laureate of the United States in 2019, the first time any Native American poet received the honor. A member of the Mvskoke Nation, Harjo was a second wave poet and musician of the 20th century Native American literary renaissance. Her written and performance work are grounded in the oral tradition. Her art addresses themes of social justice and Native identity.

ALEXANDRIA OCASIO-CORTEZ: American Democratic Socialist politician serving as the U.S. Representative for New York’s 14th congressional district, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez took office after winning her 2018 mid-term elections campaign. At 29-years of age when she was elected, she is the youngest woman to ever serve in the United States Congress. She was a major force behind the Green New Deal, a proposed package of legislation to address climate change and economic inequality. Ocasio-Cortez, along with Ilhan Omar, Ayanna Pressley and Rashida Tlaib, were informally known as The Squad.

ILHAN OMAR: American Democratic–Farmer–Labor Party politician serving as the U.S. Representative for Minnesota’s 5th congressional district, Ilhan Omar was the first Somali-American, the first naturalized citizen of African birth, and the first woman of color to hold elective office from Minnesota. Omar was one of the first two Muslim women to serve in Congress when taking office in 2019.

AYANNA PRESSLEY: American Democratic Party politician serving as the U.S. Representative for Massachusetts’s 7th congressional district, Ayanna Pressley was the first Black woman elected to Congress from Massachusetts when she assumed office on 3 January 2019. The oldest of the four Squad members, Pressley was also the most politically experienced when elected in the 2018 midterms.

RASHIDA TLAIB: American Democratic Socialist politician serving as the U.S. Representative for Michigan’s 13th congressional district, Rashida Tlaib was the first woman of Palestinian descent and one of the first two Muslim women elected to Congress, along with Ilhan Omar, when she took office in 2019.

LAWS THAT ENCODED JIM CROW: Jim Crow laws, which operated on the legal principle of “separate but equal” upheld by the Supreme Court in its 1896 Plessy vs. Ferguson decision, were state and local laws that enforced segregation in the Southern United States. Enacted in the late 19th and early 20th centuries by white Democratic-dominated state legislatures to disenfranchise and remove political and economic gains made by Blacks during the Reconstruction period, Jim Crow laws were enforced until 1965.

“OUR BEAUTIFUL AMERICA WAS BUILT BY A NATION OF STRANGERS”: This quote from President Lyndon Johnson (1908-1973) is taken from remarks he gave on 3 October at Liberty Island, New York, at the signing of the Immigration and Naturalization Act of 1965. The act abolished an earlier quota system based on national origins and established new policy based on uniting immigrant families and attracting skilled workers to the U.S.

POPE PIUS IX: As head of the Catholic Church from 1846-1878, Pope Pius IX (1792-1878) did not support the Confederacy, but did call for peace and reconciliation, stressing the necessity of emancipation. Confederate diplomat Ambrose Dudley Mann (1801-1889) met with the pope in 1863 and received a letter from Pius IX addressed to the “Honorable President of the Confederate States of America.” Although the letter was said to be one of simple courtesy and without any legal impact, the Confederacy used it as propaganda to claim papal support. While Robert E. Lee (1807-1870), commander of the Confederate Army during the Civil War, believed that the pope was the only leader in Europe who recognized “our poor Confederacy,” no diplomatic relations or recognitions existed between the Vatican and the South.

CONFEDERATE STATES CONGRESS: In February 1861, as the South began to withdraw from the Union, state representatives established a single-body Provisional Congress that adopted a constitution closely resembling the U.S. Constitution. The Confederate Congress, which had two houses, met for the first time on 18 February 1862, at the Virginia state capitol in Richmond. The poem invents a scenario in which President Trump’s vies to replace the elected U.S. Congress and with a United Confederate States Congress beholding to the president and installed to do his bidding. Earlier in the poem, it is implied that Jefferson Davis and Trump conspire for a Confederate takeover of the federal government. This invented quid pro quo gets Trump impeached and concludes his presidency shortly before his term runs out.

22.

BLAKE’S AMERICA, A PROPHESY: The 1793 prophetic long poem by English poet and illustrator William Blake (1757-1827). In the poem, Orc is the embodiment of the American colonies and he provokes the Angel of Boston to rebellion. Blake had his own expectations for the American Revolution and he was disappointed to find a fallen America where slavery was not immediately ended.

HARRIET TUBMAN ON THE $2O BILL: In a campaign called “Women on 20s,” that corresponded with the 100-year anniversary of the passage of the 19th Amendment giving women the right to vote, Harriet Tubman (1822-1913) was the most popular choice. In 2016 the U.S. Treasury announced that Tubman would replace Andrew Jackson (1767-1845) on the front of the $20 bill. Campaigning for president that same year, Donald Trump announced that he opposed replacing Jackson with Tubman, an opinion many on the political left viewed as racist and sexist. The selection of any replacement for Jackson on the $20 was delayed by the Trump administration until 2028.

ON THE $5 WITH BLACK ELK: Abraham Lincoln (1809-1865) first appeared on the front side of the $5 bill in 1914, but cannot appear as a historical figure in the poem’s switched timelines. The appearance of Black Elk (1863-1950), the holy Oglala Sioux heyoka and medicine man whose words were recorded and published as the book Black Elk Speaks (1932), on the front of the $5 bill is an obvious fiction of the poem.

HEYOKA: A sacred clown in the Lakota culture. The heyoka is also known to be a contrarian, jester or satirist who speaks, moves and reacts in an opposite fashion to those around them. The Lakota medicine man Black Elk (1863-1950) described himself as a heyoka.

REBEL FLAGS, MEMORIALS & STATUES GLORIFYING WHITE SUPREMACY: Although many white Southerners consider Confederate flags, memorials and statuary as innocent representations of “American Heritage,” the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) has asserted since the release of the film Birth of a Nation in 1915 that these symbols “glorify treason and a hateful history of white supremacy and black subjugation.” In order for the country to move forward in a manner that creates a nation “free from inequity and bigotry,” the NAACP argues that “we must remove Confederate symbols from the parks, schools, streets, counties, and military bases that define America’s landscape and culture.” In 2016, the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC) released a report identifying over 1,500 public Confederate symbols across the U.S. The SPLC report identified more than 700 statues and monuments across the United States honoring the Confederacy and 109 schools, a quarter of which have predominately Black student bodies, named after Confederate figures.

REV. JAMES LAWSON JR.: American pastor, activist and professor James Lawson Jr. was the leading theoretician and tactician on nonviolence within the Civil Rights Movement. Imprisoned in 1951 for refusing to register with the armed forces, following his parole in 1952 Lawson traveled to India to perform missionary work and to deepen his own study of Gandhi’s use of nonviolence to achieve social and political change. When Martin Luther King, Jr. and Lawson met in 1957, King encouraged Lawson to move to the South to begin teaching nonviolence training. Later that year, Lawson moved to Nashville and began teaching at Vanderbilt University where he organized workshops on nonviolence for community members and students at Vanderbilt as well as the city’s four Black colleges. He began conducting nonviolence training workshops for the Southern Christian Leadership Conference in 1958 and mentored many future leaders of the Civil Rights Movement, including John Lewis (1940-2020). In 1959 and 1960, Lawson-trained activists launched the Nashville sit-ins to challenge segregation in downtown stores. In the poem, Lawson’s efforts in Nashville, along with Fisk University’s Black Writers Conferences, serves as a healing of the city from its slavery days of Andrew Jackson (1767-1845) and the imagined 16th presidency of Donald Trump. The “forces of spiritual wickedness” quote is from Lawson’s eulogy for Congressman John Lewis at the Ebenezer Baptist Church in Atlanta on 30 July 2020.

23.

”YOU CAN FOOL ALL OF THE PEOPLE SOME OF THE TIME….”: Long considered one of the most famous utterances by Lincoln, early recollections place it to a 1858 speech he gave in Clinton, Illinois, during one of his public debates with Stephen Douglas. In 1963, Bob Dylan misquoted the enigmatic saying in “Talkin’ World War III Blues,” and in doing so, re-exposed another American generation to the Lincoln mystery a little more than a century later. Since no known contemporary authority exists for the apothegm, the question remains unresolved as to whether or not Lincoln originated the memorable epigram or if he even spoke its words during his speech. While questions over undocumented pronouncements like “Fool” exist in the 16th president’s candidacy-speechmaking, perhaps none is more tantalizing than the “Lost Speech” of 29 May 1856, given in Bloomington, Illinois. The language and delivery of that speech was said to be so poetically moving in its condemnation of slavery that reporters on the scene were too emotionally overwhelmed and forgot to take notes.

19TH AMENDMENT: Initially introduced in 1878, the Nineteenth Amendment prohibited the states and federal government from denying citizens the right to vote on the basis of sex. The 19th Amendment’s adoption to the constitution was certified on 26 August 1920.

FRANCIS ELLEN WATKINS HARPER: Abolitionist, suffragist and poet Francis Ellen Watkins Harper (1825-1911) is considered the first African American woman published in the United States. In 1858, nearly a hundred years before Rosa Parks (1913-2005), she refused to give up her seat or ride in the “colored section” of a segregated Philadelphia trolly car. One of her best-known poems is “Bury Me in a Free Land,” originally published in The Anti-Slavery Bugle, an abolitionist newspaper. In 1866, at the 11th National Women’s Rights Convention, Harper gave a controversial speech to mostly white women, urging them to work with Black women in the struggle for equal rights. It was in this speech that she said, “You white women speak here of rights. I speak of wrongs.”

NATIONAL WOMEN’S RIGHTS CONVENTION: An annual series of meetings that increased the visibility of the Women’s Rights Movement. First held in Worcester, Massachusetts, in 1905, of all the concerns discussed at the conventions: equal wages, expanded education and career opportunities, women’s property rights and marriage reform, the most crucial was the passage into law that gave women the right to vote.

TERRORISM … WITHIN OUR OWN BORDERS: In February 2020, at an oversight hearing before the House Judiciary Committee, FBI Director Christopher Wray elevated the threat of racially-motivated violent extremists within the United States to a “national threat priority,” placing violent activities related to members of the far-right on the same level as threats posed by foreign terrorist organizations such as ISIS. Wray said that white supremacists pose as grave a threat to the nation as foreign terrorists because perpetrators are often “lone actors” self-radicalized online who attack “soft targets” such as public gatherings, retail locations or houses of worship.

RETURN-OF-KINGS: A misogynistic, homophobic and sexist men’s “rights” blog and website that catered to pick-up artists, men whose goal is seduction and sex with women. Widespread criticism of the website included promotion of rape, anti-Semitism and ties to the alt-right.

THOTS: Plural form of thot, a slang term used by rappers, but also by alt-right white men to misogynistically characterize a woman. The word is an acronym for “that hoe over there” and reduces a woman’s worth to her sexuality.

GHOST SKIN: In white supremacist circles, a ghost skin is a person trying to refrain from open displays of alt-right beliefs in order to surreptitiously further the goal of white supremacist entryism in and between law enforcement, the armed services, and civilian populations.

DAY OF THE ROPE: A white supremacist concept derived from The Turner Diaries, a 1978 novel by American neo-Nazi writer William Pierce (1933-2002). In the novel, white supremacists take control of California. The “day of the rope” is a reference to the day in the novel when purported “race traitors,” such as anti-racist white journalists, white politicians and white women in relationships with non-white men, are mass lynched.

INCEL: A portmanteau of the phrase involuntary celibate. Incel, a subculture of male heterosexual white supremacists, has been included by the Southern Poverty Law Center in its list of hate groups. Incel communities are part of the broader manosphere, a loose collection of misogynists, racists, anti-Semites and white supremacist men’s movements.

PROUD BOYS: A far-right neo-fascist organization that admits only white men as members and promotes political violence against the left. A former-member of the Proud Boys was the primary organizer of the Unite the Right rally in Charlottesville, Virginia, in 2017. That rally brought together self-identified members of the alt-right, neo-Confederates, neo-fascists, white nationalists, neo-Nazis, Klansmen and various right-wing militias. The rally resulted in the death of 32-year-old paralegal Heather Heyer (1985-2017), a Virginia counter-protester at the event, and injuries to 19 other counter-protesters. Critics viewed remarks by President Trump after the rally and Heyer’s death as being sympathetic to white supremacists.

LINCOLN VISITS THE PANDEMIC SICK: The covid-19 pandemic of 2020 only brought more bad news for President Trump as the presidential election drew near. A “September Surprise” emerged when iconic American investigative journalist Bob Woodward, who first gained fame along with American journalist Carl Bernstein for breaking the Watergate scandal in 1972 that brought about the resignation of President Nixon on 9 August 1974, revealed in his book Rage that Trump knew before the first covid-19 death in the U.S. that the virus was dangerous, airborne and highly contagious, admissions in stark contrast to Trump’s public comments throughout the pandemic. Woodward’s book Rage suggested that Trump’s own words to him during recorded interviews depicted a president who betrayed the public trust and his most fundamental responsibilities of office. Lincoln, almost anyone can imagine, would address the nation’s grief much as he did during the Civil War.

24.

THESE LINES OF WHITMAN’S DEMOCRATIC VISTAS: Whitman first published his prose book, Democratic Vistas, in 1871. Considered an early classic American literary work of comparative politics and letters, Democratic Vistas denounced the post-Civil War materialism of the Gilded Age, and argued that a solution to the moral crisis of slavery could be found in America’s best literature; in particular, a profoundly original American poetry that Whitman believed would unite the country. The quotation used in the poem can be found in The Portable Walt Whitman (Penguin, 2004, 416).

“WHEN LILACS LAST IN THE MADHOUSE DOORYARD BLOOM’D”: An imagined Whitman poem written upon the death of Donald Trump. As this time-switching poem reveals, Trump was removed from office for the crime of treason and ordered to serve the rest of his life in a federal psychiatric center, this would have changed the details of Whitman’s famous poem upon the death of President Lincoln, “When Lilacs Last in the Dooryard Bloom’d.” One could only imagine the major and minor changes to Leaves of Grass with Trump as president. While Whitman’s poem to Lincoln is an elegy, one can only imagine his poem for Trump’s death to be one of censure and reproof.

25.

AN ORIGINAL AMERICAN LITERATURE: Whitman’s view in Democratic Vistas is that literature is

the Soul of democracy, and poetry its highest form: “Above all previous lands, a great original literature is surely to become the justification and reliance, (in some respects the sole reliance,) of American democracy.” See The Portable Walt Whitman (Penguin, 2004, 399).

 

 

 Kirpal Gordon Interviews Jim Cohn

 

KIRPAL GORDON: Your new poem “If 45 Was 16 & 16 Was 45” knocked me out! You have invented a new poetic form for the Trump Era/Error. Your flip-flop of fact and fiction, history and hysteria, fake news and finger-pointing is skillful ju-jitsu for the champions of chaos who bombard us every day with mendacities major and minor. How did this Trump/Lincoln switcherooney come together in your mind?

 

 

JIM COHN: Let me begin by saying I went to Shaolin Monastery to study with Donnie Yen and Michele Yeoh in the early days of the pandemic and there received my poetics martial arts temporal narrative training to make others look up and take account of this unusual time we are living through, a place we’d not yet encountered until we arrived here, that somehow feels so strangely familiar we recognize it. But the fact is sometimes the poem is going to choose you, not the other way around. A poem with a mind of its own has its own plans. You’re just the medium. The channel. Maybe this poem comes from the off-world Buddhas trying to send a message.

The initial idea––that President Lincoln and President Trump have gone through an anomalous life-swapping time-portal irregularity, and take each other’s places as presidents––was an act of temporal, historical, visual, and present-day political poetics imagination. Orienting Trump and Lincoln to the other’s time involved studying the factual historical record and seeing where and how historical fiction inserts could be contextualized.

For a couple years, the idea of this poem was like standing before an old painting, maybe a Caravaggio, and feeling a kind of unbearable knowledge that is the mashup of the turbulence, the past fusing with our own present-day turbulence, with all the built-in subjectivity our minds bring to such reckonings. In this painting, I saw men being sold at a slave market. A bare wall. Desolate courtyard. Prices called out. Unseen buyers silently bidding. There’s fear in the eyes of one young man. Grief on the face of a woman, a child ripped from her arms. A servant girl holds a gold plate. An executioner reaches for a knife. All the malevolent forces. All its murderous power, itself an act outside or beyond language. Ultimately, the painting is an expression you wouldn’t wish to live without. Its pricelessness is its temporality and the human interaction and emotion portrayed in the seer’s eyes.

 

KIRPAL GORDON: So how deep are the roots of this poetic idea?

 

JIM COHN: The roots of the poem go back to the multiplicities of being expressed by skin and color, and how I myself was overtly and clandestinely indoctrinated as a child by the Caucasian predeterminators of U.S. personhood. I wasn’t buying it. The hegemony and the segregation. The first book I read about growing up Black was Claude Brown’s Manchild in the Promised Land (1965). The second book I read in high school about Black life was Eldridge Cleaver’s memoir Soul on Ice (1968). I’d never written a poem about my own white identity until “If 45 Was 16,” composed near the end of my sixth decade.

My first real education into white identity and white privilege began, along with many white people of my generation, during the Civil Rights Movement of the 1960s. That education went into poetics overdrive in the 1990s, up through the first decade of the new millennium. It was the Trump presidency, however, that thoroughly opened my mind to the cold hard fact that we live in a country where nearly half of the population appears to want the U.S. to protect and maintain the country as a white supremacist nation.

By the 1990s, ethnic studies scholars demanded inclusion in university curricula. Multicultural Studies began reshaping the academy. Poets of color were gaining individual traction through university presses and the diverse communities of poets of color flourished in their own right. I had begun curating the Museum of American Poetics, the virtual museum I founded in 1998, and one of my purposes in doing so was to celebrate the growing importance of communities of poets of color.

Throughout that decade, I was also songwriting with a friend, Mark Rennick, under the name The Abolitionists. I’d always known about the role the Abolitionist Movement. I knew it was about bringing the trans-Atlantic slave trade to an end and the freeing of all slaves. A voracious reader of American history, my musician friend turned me on to books on the history of the blues, biographies of the great bluesmen. Things like Paul Oliver’s The Story of the Blues (1969), Ray Charles’ autobiography Brother Ray (1978). He also passed along political biographies. Works like Russell Banks’ Cloudsplitter (1998), an historical fiction about the life of John Brown, and David Donald’s biography Lincoln (1996). One day he hands me the Penguin classic Against Slavery: An Abolitionist Reader (2000). The motherlode.

In terms of a vivid contemporary imagination of 19th century Black resistance to slavery, Colson Whitehead’s novel The Underground Railroad (2016) was a book I found mind-blowing. I took The Underground Railroad to Mexico with me in 2017 and couldn’t put it down. Whitehead went with a depiction of the Underground Railroad as an actual rail transport system and not just the series of safe houses and secret routes that it was. The book was an injection of surrealism into the Civil War period. I was entranced. The first draft of “If 45 Was 16 and 16 Was 45” came to me the following year.

I read this early draft of the poem at poet James Ruggia’s Backroom Broadside reading series in Jersey City in 2018 and noticed that the audience lit up to hear about Whitman writing a different kind of Leaves of Grass with Trump as the nation’s 16th president than we know today. And I felt an energy coming from the room that told me this idea of creating a temporal inconsistency through anachronistic, or out-of-time, juxtaposition of these two polar-opposite white male political figures––one a racist-inducing monster, the other a race-freeing savior––could be expanded and illuminated further to get at the stark and central American truth that white supremacy is the causality behind Black slavery, and that this institutionalized white supremacy that generations of Black people have faced without justice is baked into not just the constitution, but white people ourselves, as privilege.

 

 

KIRPAL GORDON: But that’s the value of your sci-fi what-if premise. When presidents are flipped, privilege is revealed to be a form of willful blindness, an ignore-ance of what is, an addiction to the illusion that you are better than someone else. The poem also delivers a highly engaging, emotionally explosive impact and a loss of homeostasis. A quality I would call PostBeat Generation. You know what I mean?

 

 

JIM COHN: Mary Shelley was really onto something when she introduced the world to Frankenstein in 1818. It’s not the predictive or prophetic that makes science fiction work. It’s the way sci-fi addresses the social and its purpose via the speculative. Speculation allows us to consider our choices, interactions, careers, ideas and the way we educate one another in the context of countless possibilities.

            Now, I wanna say, candidly, that each man––Lincoln and Trump––was, in his own time, a master political provocateur for the causes in which each believed. And they each used sharply divergent language to achieve their political ends. Lincoln was a literary artist. He was a reader of Shakespeare. A reader of poetry. His speeches contained paraphrases from the King James Bible, such as “A house divided against itself cannot stand.” When Lincoln spoke, the intelligentsia listeners realized they were experiencing a permanent enrichment of American political speech. Trump was tabloid fabulist. A spinner of lies, with a lust for untruth. His language seemed conjured from the pages of The National Enquirer.

But how to rewrite the history that connected them in their anomalous and reversed temporal lives of my poem was my challenge. This took me back to the actual historical record of Black resistance to slavery, to Jim Crow laws, a resistance that is monumental in its transgenerational consistency. I felt that the persistent Black gospel of overcoming, between our time and the Civil War, was the single greatest constant. The long difficult struggle for freedom itself. I saw that the white supremacist stance toward Blacks was also a constant. And I noticed the oppressive greed-based abomination of white supremacy was stamped on every Trump spoken word. So, this “middle period” of “If 45 Was 16” is about the political constants that have and continue to keep the Civil War more alive than dead.

Of course, the temporal rules I set up for the poem to allow for this abridged and revisionist portrayal of our shared history are also the very same rules that prevented me from going beyond the days before the 2020 election. As such, the poem dims and fades out. We left as we are, not knowing. We’re thrown back into the news cycles of the day. Trump irresponsibly leading maskless rallies around the country, trying to fill the vacancy left by Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s death on the Supreme Court, likely coming down with covid-19 a month before the election while holding a Rose Garden event for his new conservative justice nominee he and the Republican Senate were trying to ram through.

What kind of future we choose for ourselves and our children in 2020 and onward still faces growing crises related to climate change and human survival that make today’s hurricanes, floods, drought, wildfires, as well as deadly disease outbreaks, pandemics, mass migrations, and global hunger look tame. This future is, in many ways, already upon us. Keeping this future alive, despite the imminent likelihood of bad troubles ahead, I would say, is the context of the Postbeat.

When I talk about the term “Postbeat,” I am acknowledging the rich aesthetic tradition that those before me passed on: the quality of Beat Generation experimentation, invention and imagination, and how to employ these tools with poetics and cultural skillful effect for qualitative positive advancement for all. In choosing the word Postbeat, I honor the sustainability of certain Beat Generation literature effects and its tradition of agency, whether that agency took place for figurative or performative impact.

“Howl,” for example, became a folk poem of enormous magnitude. It went word-of-mouth. It went through the courts. It got caught up in the news cycle. Where would LGBQTX cultures be today without it? As a Postbeat poet, I’m not trying to replicate a version of Beat style or impact in the twenty-first century. But I do value the demotic nature that the Beats brought to white straight male American poetry. I value a poetry that is coming from the street, untethered from the academy. I value that the Beats recognized high forms of art coming out of typically undervalued art forms related to popular culture. To me, Postbeat assumes intrinsic support of any aesthetic community, any poet coming out of an aesthetic community that nonviolently promotes justice and equality through art.

I never feel in competition with this far wider multicultural and multivoiced panorama of poets and poetic styles we have today. I’m an ally to poets who came out of the Black Arts Movement, the Nuyorican Poetry Movement, the Feminist Women’s Poetry Movement as well as the Native American Renaissance. I’m an ally to the American Sign Language poetics community and to poets with disabilities as well the field of Disability Studies and I resent any community that attempts to establish its legitimacy while paying no respect to artists with disabilities who remain the bedrock of personhood underclass status. While I don’t consider myself an overtly “political” poet, I believe the Postbeat stands at the intersection with other American artistic communities that have been and remain the disruptors of false homeostatic narratives, and who are the pluralist poetics moral guides of our Democracy.

 

 

KIRPAL GORDON: A tragic consequence of our leadership’s incompetence with the coronavirus is that basic safety precautions are now politicized. So many people are dying unnecessarily; so many are out of work and so many in need. The moral compass you’re talking about is taking a beating, yes?

 

 

JIM COHN: People are doing a lot of waiting during this pandemic of 2020. Tom Petty said the waiting is the hardest part. For some, it’s been like sleeping on nails. Waiting for an unemployment check. Waiting to get evicted. Waiting in line at the foodbank. Waiting for toilet paper. Waiting for personal protective equipment. Waiting to find out if you tested positive for covid-19. Waiting for a vaccine. Waiting to cast a vote in an election so fraught with misinformation and disinformation, and knowing that the misinformation and disinformation is coming not from some foreign adversary, but from our own president.

During the pandemic of 2020, I found myself engaged in a poem covering a long period of U.S. history and in doing so, I was drawn to elements of our collective past that focus on the endurance and duration, the depravation and opportunity that comes with waiting. When you look at sustained historical trends regarding racism, the boundaries between the past and the present quickly blur. Trump’s reactionary effort to turn back the clock with his campaign’s “Make America Great Again” slogan forced people to look at our history and ask the question, “For whom was America great before.” And while it may not have been totally transparent to everybody in 2015 or 2016 that Trump meant to take America back to a time before the Civil Rights Movement, it became painfully clear by the Charlottesville “Unite the Right” rally of 2017 that is what he meant.

 

 

KIRPAL GORDON: You see this as a significant event or just the usual catastrophe?

 

JIM COHN: I don’t think what happened there was just garden-variety catastrophe. Two things stood out from Charlottesville 2017 onward: first, Trump championed a militant, racist, anti-women, anti-immigrant, anti-Muslim and anti-Semitic political shift in the country by misusing history to signal a return to outright white supremacy; and second, the result of his backward shift signaled validation to the most dangerous alt-right white male hate groups, anti-science conspiracy theorists, neo-Nazi militias and potential lone wolf domestic terrorists who also happened to be part of his base.

I have wondered if jealousy is what drives the Proud Boys and if jealousy is what drove Donald Trump to lure them into his conspiracy-addled base. Echoing this president’s racist form of white nationalism, while openly packing weaponry, the alt-right hatred seems to communicate a resentment and a suspicion which is a sickness all its own. It is a form of collective neurosis. A neurotic absorption with thoughts of entitlement.

The last thing members of the alt-right want to do is simply observe their emotions. What would happen if they realized their entire feud with having to share this planet with people who look different from them is illusory? For Trump and his most militant supporters, it seems like their version of Wakanda is the Confederacy. But it’s hard to imagine having any spiritual dignity as a human trafficker. How could any state have any dignity when its entire existence is based upon the denigration of an entire people and the theft of all of their labors? How could you build a nation with any dignity and go so far as label it a democracy under such a misguided social contract?

I remember seeing Claude Lanzmann’s 1985 film Shoah years ago and I can still see the scene where he is posing questions to a group of Polish women from a small town about their memories of the Jewish women who used to live there too, and the Polish women reveal the type of casual and ingrained racism that made the mass aiding and mass abetting at the core of the Holocaust possible. These Polish women spoke openly of their jealousy toward Jewish women’s hair. Similarly, interior to all the supremacist pseudo-science to build up the white supremacist Nazi regime was a profoundly run-of-the-mill uninhibited racism. And instead of facing the anti-Semitism in their own minds, we learned how an entire nation can chose unreality to reality. That was the danger signal I saw coming out of Charlottesville in 2017. Mass denial and mass neurotic jealousy.

 

It was no big stretch for anybody who was paying attention to imagine the pageantry of extremist hatred expressed in Charlottesville 2017 as an attempt to resuscitate a living incarnation of the Confederacy in the 21st century. With Trump willfully dividing Americans over race, sex, class, religion, ethnicity, creed and ability in order to conquer the presidency, he seemed more a man of Andrew Jackson’s time anyway, a time when white supremacy overtly ruled the South and was shaping America in its most brutal and fearful ways.

The American history textbooks that I read in school indoctrinated me to believe President Jackson was a “man of the people.” That means, he was a man of the white people. Jackson was one of the wealthiest men of his time: a land speculator, merchant, slave trader and slave owner. No doubt he was looked up to by other white male elites and entrepreneurs for his accumulated wealth, not how he earned it. Jackson was the embodiment, as president, of a white supremacist America that upheld the plantation slavery economy. He was the most aggressive enemy of Native American sovereign nations and people we ever had. A man of the people?

 

 

KIRPAL GORDON: Yeah, but you’re working these details into the poem in surprising ways, often with surrealist twists. Wherever you roam you’re really following a line of thinking, connecting all these historical dots, most especially to interrogate the falsehoods and mistaken certainties that rule us. You’re compelling the reader to play detective, to cohere your investigation, no?

 

 

JIM COHN: To some degree yes, but I was also doing what I was doing as a personal self-inventory regarding my own whiteness. I was coming to terms with the basic fraudulency upon which my access to opportunity has always been unequal to others, superior to the access others endure without. What I could not know, but as you say, all I could do in making “If 45 Was 16” was invite others to cohere my findings with their own.

I didn’t lay out an amusement park ride, you know, for others to arrive at my conclusion. I didn’t make a new Disney fantasy adventure. What’s been striking about the pandemic is what it has revealed about inequality, just as Black Lives Matter has unveiled the undeniable injustice Black people face in their everyday dealings with law enforcement. White people have institutionally and systematically brought this inequality on, consistently and uninterruptedly, decade after decade. Charlottesville 2017 marked a profound shift of recognition where a large segment of white society saw en masse their whiteness as the appropriation it is. It marks a recognition that I feel is needed as the nation continues to move demographically toward a non-white-majority population and a more distinctly democratic multicultural society.

In that regard, investigative poetics is critical and will continue to be useful for poets of the future. I was fortunate to have been exposed to IP directly from American Beat Generation poet Ed Sanders. In 1977, Sanders was invited to the Kerouac School at Naropa to teach a class entitled “Investigative Poetry,” based on principles he’d developed in a manifesto by the same name published by City Lights Books in 1976. To his surprise, Sander’s class decided to apply his investigative method to the circumstances described at a Halloween party in Snowmass, Colorado, also known as the Merwyn Incident, which I won’t get into here. Sanders directly influenced me by his notion of being a poet-detective on the case. In fact, a later and more summary lecture he gave on investigative poetics one afternoon at Naropa University in the summer of 1992 is something to this day I recall as one of the best moments in my entire education.

What informed me, as a Postbeat poet, is you could be a pedestrian, a demonstrator, a wife, husband or child with an iPhone camera who happens to show up on the scene where something bad, inhumane, unjust is going on. The idea of Investigative Poetics suggested a kind of ultimate democratic equalizer. We’ve surely learned that the Black community takes its own investigative powers seriously. What I believe I have done in “If 45 Was 16” is borrowed some of that present-day Black community investigative power and apply it to my own sense of what white identity means in a society with a dominant and oppressive Caucasoid majority.

I’ll also add that besides Ed Sanders, there is a clear investigative element essential to Allen Ginsberg’s politics and poetry. For Allen, the investigative poem went back to the Objectivist poet Charles Reznikoff (for whom the term “Objectivist” was formed). Reznikoff’s 1975 work The Holocaust, based on court testimony about the Nazi death camps, is an example of poetry made from proper courtroom forensic investigation, proper review of the materiel, or machinery, of war. The record itself was for Reznikoff, Ginsberg and Sanders ample poetic content of humanitarian value. To paraphrase Amiri Baraka, “Art proves we weren’t just slaughtering one another.”

A sense of surrealism is almost inescapable when you are facing the unthinkable, as we Americans have experienced with a daily cumulative impact of the Trump presidency. The scope of outrage and sheer absurdity generated this president was only compounded by the pandemic and the his gross mishandling of every aspect of it, as well as the cost of his profound dereliction of duty and unfitfullness to manage the crisis in any rational, holistic and compassionate fashion.

It’s worth saying that although I began “45/16” a couple years ago, it was written through the death of George Floyd. It was written while the giant yellow “Black Lives Matter” letters were being painted on the street in front of the White House. It was written during the final days of Congressman John Lewis’ life and the remarkable words spoken in his memory by Barack Obama and James Lawson. The poem was taking shape as stormtroopers invaded Portland. It was coming to life through the surrealism of the national party conventions gone online and in Michele Obama saying of Trump’s failure to even acknowledge the enormity of the suffering and grief of the death toll, “It is what it is.”

Living under Trump’s delusional and authoritarian fantasies also had the effect of driving me back to the Beats, and especially, to invite William S. Burroughs into the poem’s muse-house. Burroughs had a thoroughly original investigative mind, especially on the theme of control. By combining cut-up methodology with an investigative narrative, Burroughs introduced a way to deal, right now, with the coexistence of the surreal and the horrific at the intersection of history, politics, race, class and control. I needed strange near-alien beings to prosecute this poem. I needed Unafraid eyes to look at the horrors of inequality and injustice that people of color have faced since our nation’s inception and the horrors that as a white person, I know I carry without a shred of innocence.

 

 

KIRPAL GORDON: The poem reveals a Burroughsian quality of this administration, the comic book caricature, the tactics of control. The poem both sings like a song and reads like a graphic novel, like a film. You seem as much a painter as a poet. Is this your intention?

 

 

JIM COHN: I had a singular vision that began with the idea of Trump becoming situated as our Civil War president and Lincoln suddenly reanimated as a living figure in this time when American Democracy itself was in a crisis as bad as I’d ever seen––the time of the 45th presidency, 2016-2020. I kept putting the poem away because it seemed impossible. The idea of these two people trading places in time was like the sirens’ call through the fog. It felt like a fool’s errand. As you point out, I had to broaden my approach to the poem. In essence, what I created may one day be a clear example of Postbeat effect.

In the making of “If 45 Was 16 & 16 Was 45,” I was a poet, a researcher, a novelist, a dramatist, a filmmaker, a comic book writer and a singer. This is what the situation called for. There was scholarship involved. There was the development of timelines. At times, I worked on the piece more like a painting than a poem. Not like Cervantes writing Quixote by candlelight, but like Picasso working on “Guernica.”

I also found myself working on it, viewing it, like a film. I suppose that gives you an indication of how I was seeing my invented timelines. I’d run the dailies and see the blocking was off, a detail too dry. I needed to put Trump into the appropriate suit of a Confederate gentleman. I needed to know the names of real record stores in NYC for Lincoln to buy his single records. When I would read the poem, I would find myself thinking, “Maybe this poem was a film by Jim Jarmusch that I never saw. Maybe Julie Dash, who made Daughters of the Dust and has already made a film on the Underground Railroad, will portray this one day.” Most readers may not notice that I lifted a scene from The Birth of the Nation (1915), the racist D.W. Griffith silent film, and transposed that scene so that Trump is holding a gun to Ivanka’s head as a crowd of angry Blacks try to make him accountable for his son being the Grand Wizard of the KKK. That kind of invention, imagination, had a cinematic life all its own. I could envision a comic book version of the poem as well as a graphic novel version.

Some poems, as I suggested earlier, just refuse outright to be left in a state of non-sentience. I learned about this phenomena around 1980 studying songs from the Child Ballads with Allen Ginsberg at the Kerouac School. Read the music critic Greil Marcus’ The Invisible Republic: Bob Dylan’s Basement Tapes (1997) for more on the power of songs over the human race. This poem demanded a sentience all its own. It was music that brought this poem into existence.

You’ll notice that the poem is dedicated to Jimi Hendrix. Hendrix’s “If 6 Was 9” never left my mind since its release in 1967 on the Axis: Bold as Love album. “If 6 Was 9” reminded me why I was attracted to poetry in the first place. There’s a certain sound to the track that is shockingly visceral. All that echo, reverb, distortion, fuzzbox effects going on with the guitar. All the tape noise, the drop-outs, the roughness of it all. There’s the story of how Hendrix and his studio engineer Eddie Kramer used a clothes iron to get the wrinkles out of the tape they were trying to mix with. When you’re down to ironing tape, you sometimes come to realize some songs just won’t take no for an answer.

There was also Hendrix’s LSD-like lyric, coming at you over the top of his acid laced guitar sound: “Now if a 6 turned out to be 9 / I don’t mind, I don’t mind.” To me, as a teenager, those words were the epitome of courageousness. You need some kind of fortitude to go off and make your way through this life. I also saw this kind of emotional strength coming out of the Black Arts Movement poets and writers. I saw the growing influence of Civil Rights on Black expression on the page and on the stage.

So, yeah, my poem is also a celebration of Black song as well Black poetry, and it is also a celebration of the poem as song. Surely, it celebrates Black music: blues and jazz singers, instrumentalists, groundbreaking artists. I sometimes hear the story of this poem as a Miles Davis ballad, but I don’t just hear it in jazz idiom. I also heard it as a corrido, the Mexican ballad form that became wildly popular during the revolutions of the twentieth century down south of the border. And I also heard it as something Woody Guthrie might have composed. Maybe an extended version of his 1954 “Old Man Trump” lyric which he never had a chance to record. In a way, I guess I was just trying to finish the song Woody Guthrie started about the racist housing practices and discriminatory rental policies of his landlord, Fred Trump.