Academic journal article African American Review

Reading South: Poets Mean & Poems Signify - a Note on Origins

Academic journal article African American Review

Reading South: Poets Mean & Poems Signify - a Note on Origins

Article excerpt

Sarah Webster Fabio published a considerable amount of her poetty in seven volumes under the collective title Rainbow Signs (1973), an autobiographical gesture of leaving evidence. A native of Tennessee, Fabio left rainbow signs of a moment in the history of African American poetry that will not be repeated, however much our current rap artists/ poets scratch, sample, and synthesize the DNA of their oral heritage. The poems printed in Rainbow Signs ought to be compared with Fabio's performances on the Folkways albums Boss Soul (1972) and Soul Ain't: Soul Is (1973). Clearly, much of Fabio's work was designed to be performed - not read in the absence of her voice - or at least r-ead with the assistance of the inner ear, as one must read Toni Cade Bambara's The Salt Eaters.

So, you read/listen to Fabio's poetry, trying to grasp the form "expressing the imagery, the idioms, the peculiar turns of thought, and the distinctive humor and pathos" that another Black Southern poet early in this century asserted was necessary for "giving the fullest interpretation of [our] character and psychology" (Johnson 42). The sound and sense of American English revitalized are clues to what Fabio was doing in poetry.

In Jujus/Alchemy of the Blues, volume 1 of Rainbow Signs, Fabio provided two versions of "Of Puddles, Worms, Slimy Things (A Hoodoo Nature Poem)" on facing pages. Consider these opening stanzas:

Hv merci on d po wrm who dares go it alone

fr luv of d rest left b'hind'm

lest d moving shd b mistak'n

as d step brkng chains that bind'm; (version 1, iv)

Pity the poor worm who dares go it alone

for love of comarerie [sic] left behind

Lest this leave should be mistaken

as the first step to break the chains that bind. …

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