Oct. 3, 2006

Dance Suite: Hip Hop

by W. D. Snodgrass

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Poem: "Dance Suite: Hip Hop" by W.D. Snodgrass from Not for Specialists: New and Selected Poems. © BOA Editions, Ltd. Reprinted with permission. (buy now)

Dance Suite: Hip Hop

                    Lined up
                    Girls and boys,
          Coins in the drop slot; wind-up toys;
                    Necks that switch
                    Every which way;
                    Join the Hip Hop, rapping like a robot.

Streets full of bus fumes; stairs full of shovin';
TV's full of promises: luxuries and lovin';
Oil's on the water; spray's on the pumpkin;
Asprin's full of strychnine, cyanide or somethin'.

                    Knee joints,
          Elbows crimped to zig-zag points;
                    Wrists and ankles
                    Twisted into angles;
          Splayed-out fingers clamping into fists.

Sidewalks full of garbage; pictures in the news;
Mayor's on the radio spouting out excuses;
Bars on the storefronts; landlord's on the way;
Cops have got their spring list—they'll make it pay.

                    Nuts and bolts
                    Charged by volts
          Jumpstart into spastic jerks and jolts;
                    Gears and notches
                    Grinding crotches,
          Juicing up the parts of the fools that watch us.

Ground's full of chemicals; ocean's full of waste;
Brother's full of steroids; meat got no taste;
Ceilings full of roaches; rats around the cradle;
Everybody's learned to read the lies on the label.

                    Swirl around
                    Clown, on the ground,
          Twirling like a dervish whirls, upside down;
                    Legs there,
                    Kicking in the air
          Striking like scorpions or Medusa hair.

A bullet's in the chamber; needle's in the vein;
Leg's set in plaster; no time for pain;
Street's full of dealers; girls are on the curbs;
Make a killing fast and get out for the suburbs.
                    Shift your shoulder
                    Like a soldier
          Ant, an identical mannekin or clone;
                    Who can hurt a tall doll
                    Rigid and mechanical
          Dancing the dictates of a microphone?

Literary and Historical Notes:

Today is the anniversary of the 1990 reunification of East and West Germany.

It's the birthday of etiquette expert Emily Post, (books by this author) born in Baltimore, Maryland (1873). Her first etiquette manual was published in 1922. It was titled Etiquette in Society, in Business, in Politics and at Home. She continued to write manuals for "high society" until 1960. In addition to her books, Post wrote a syndicated newspaper column that was carried by more than 200 newspapers.

She said, "Manners are a sensitive awareness of the feelings of others. If you have that awareness, you have good manners, no matter what fork you use."

It's the birthday of American novelist Gore Vidal, (books by this author) born Eugene Luther Vidal, in West Point, New York (1925). He considered going to Harvard for college, but chose to enlist in the Army Reserve Corps instead. For his tour of duty, he became first mate on a transport ship, which gave him lots of time to read, and it inspired his first novel, Williwaw (1946), about a group of sailors caught in a storm.

He wrote two more novels that were total flops, and then in 1948, he published The City and the Pillar, one of the first American novels ever to realistically portray the life of a homosexual man. But his real success as a novelist came when he started writing historical fiction in his novels Burr (1973), about Vice President Aaron Burr told from the point of view of his illegitimate son, and then Lincoln, which came out in 1984.

Vidal's interest in politics has led him run for political office twice on a platform advocating taxing churches, nationalizing natural resources, and reorganizing the United States government as a parliamentary system.

It's the birthday of the memoirist and novelist Bernard Cooper, (books by this author) born in Los Angeles (1951). As a young man, he decided to go into therapy, hoping to cure his homosexual feelings. His doctor subjected him to an experimental new therapy, in which Cooper was injected with sodium pentothal, in the hopes that it would help him talk about his repressed desires and get them out of his system. It didn't work, but he said it was a wonderful experience, and it helped inspire him to write his first memoir, The Truth Serum (1996).

Cooper's most recent book is The Bill from My Father, which came out this year.

It's the birthday of John Ross, (books by this author) born near Lookout Mountain, Tennessee (1790). Though he was only one-eighth Cherokee, with a Scottish father and a part Cherokee mother, he served as the Chief of the United Cherokee Nation from 1839 to 1866, the period during which the Cherokees were forcibly removed from their land.

John Ross challenged the Removal Act in court. The case went all the way to the Supreme Court, and the Cherokees won their case. Supreme Court Justice John Marshall wrote in his opinion that the Cherokee Nation was sovereign, and that its treaties had to be respected by law. But President Andrew Jackson refused to enforce the Supreme Court ruling. Jackson famously said, "John Marshall has made his decision; now let him enforce it."

The actual removal took place under President Martin Van Buren. In 1838, 17,000 Cherokees were forced out of their homes at gunpoint by American soldiers. They were gathered together in camps and then forced to walk to the new "Indian Territory" west of the Mississippi. The camps had horrible hygienic conditions, and an epidemic of dysentery killed thousands of the Cherokees. No one knows exactly how many people died, but estimates range from 2,000 to 8,000. John Ross lost his wife on the journey. The event has since become known as "The Trail of Tears."

It's the birthday of Thomas Wolfe, (books by this author) born in Asheville, North Carolina (1900). He wrote autobiographical novels, including Look Homeward Angel (1929). He died of meningitis and left behind him an eight-foot-tall crate of notebooks and manuscripts.

Be well, do good work, and keep in touch.®




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