While I have reviewed, discussed and analyzed a number of books on the site, I really haven’t lent my perspective and random observations to poetry. Well, I have discussed a lot of poetry, but I haven’t devoted a review to a complete body of work. This is interesting considering I have read so much poetry and I have written books as well as printed books of poetry for other poets. I guess poetry is so misunderstood (Nina Simone is in my head right now), that I have avoided writing about it since I often feel that readers are too lazy to actually sit down and decipher the text. I guess that is somewhat harsh, but it’s true. Writers are pigeonholed the moment they create a text. Poets are treated more harshly since people consider short with being absent of depth. What many don’t realize is that poetry is beautiful because of its conservation of language. When a poet creates, they strip the emotion down to the roots, grab the artform up out of the soil and deliver it to you with all of the senses front and center. The metaphors are often so veiled that it requires multiple readings and the reader really doesn’t want to pick up a pen and take notes while reading. The reader doesn’t want to check for line length and meter, the reader simply wants to disappear into the text. Reading is a vacation for most. Reading Bennie Herron’s greens is the work done until the late hours of the night. It is what you do to understand the reason why a child is taken too soon. It is not an easy thing and most poetry isn’t. However, in the darkness and small crevices of each individual line of greens there is the light that appears to foliage as it breaks through. This is not a review. This is greens and I think it’s what Bennie Herron wanted from his reader.
greens utilizes the method of process to introduce the reader to a story. While I am working upon the assumption that everyone knows what greens are, I do think that many people don’t realize that greens are layered. The process of cooking and serving greens in the past, in America was the process of separation between the races. The Blacks served and cooked the greens for the whites. The Whites would get the leafy parts that had been seasoned and provided the sensation of being filled. Blacks would get what was/is called pot liquor. Here is the paradox, the juice from the greens/pot liquor did not provide the filling sensation, but because of the natural process of cooking it did have more nutrients than the actual greens. What the Whites threw out, made the Blacks strong. There in lies the problem though, there was separation. The Whites still had the pot liquor, but not in the same amounts, but they also had the greens. Blacks never had the satisfaction of being full and this is the hunger that is present in Herron’s greens. Each section of the book gives the instructions to making greens. As I read I couldn’t help but begin to write a response to the sections that moved me; below are those responses without editing. In italics are the subtitles and poems in greens.
Up From the Soil – first inclination is an uprising the struggle to breakthrough. us – is an ode that playfully hearkens to Gil Scott Heron’s Enough without the anger, but with a question that lingers similar to the comedic darkness of Ginsburg’s “America”. I am finding that the titles in the book feel too big, but the poems are concentrated heat, expanding and growing although the lines are compressed… explosive.
“Men are too quiet” one of the lines that stand out in the middle of the heat. There is recognition and remembrance in powdered milk.
Pick Them, Clean Them – is the process of spiritual rebirth: to cleanse is to renew Guan Guanco. hands and mouth – begins this section and is not a strong intro for me, but it segues into the desire for creation. The subtle introduction of neighborhood and the unfortunate/fortunate reality of life in Southeast San Diego could be anywhere. We take for granted these instances of life not being simple for a child. The nickel song – may be the best poetry I’ve ever read!
Seasoning and Stirring – the breaking of the leaves, softening of the tissue, the disintegration of us, for the flavor… the longing for re-creation is both physical and spirit based. little rocker – is a Robert Hayden ode, another paradox: fatherhood is a recurring theme, attachment is vivid and this is a man writing a man, this is missing. mama and them – calls upon the spirit of Lucille Clifton and should resonate with women especially at this time.
Hot Sauce and vinegar – the time when the season is not enough. I think whole appearing in the middle of the section is the centerpiece. Summertime makes me smile, I am summertime still.
The loss of your mother changes your molecular structure down to the dendrites and axons, to the atoms. The universe shifts.
Pot liquor and cornbread – sustains us, created the speed and strength while they tried to figure out why we kept growing stronger. houseless – speaks to the desire for connection in the text. A desire to find where we belong on the continent. There is a sub-story here of Pan Africanism, a touch of Stokely and Black power philosophy. This section is the drum, the rhythm, voodoo screaming, the cries against Christianity invading removing Shango, tricking the trickster, Robert Johnson at the crossroads not with the devil, but with destiny. The lines are beginning to become short and tired, the fight is too much.
They are Best on Sunday’s – manifesto is that! our generation/hip-hop has been looking for our fight. We don’t have one, and because of this we have been trying to find our way. “We were not raised during the time of civil protest… our phlegm is America.”
greens is not a simple book of poetry, but within it lies a clear voice of purpose. In a time when spoken word, poetry, caters to the desire to find love, to the ills of society, to repubs and dems, to anger and frustration, Bennie has created a strand just strong enough to tie the Black Arts movement to the Hip-Hop generation. The question is will others attempt to define the emptiness in our art right now and give voice to our need to be connected to history, to Africa, to fathers and mothers, to purpose.