Tuesday, November 25, 2014

After Sterling

For a couple years now, I've been working on a poem that draws upon Sterling Brown's poem After Winter to connect between him and the community in which I live:  North Laurel, Maryland.  Sterling Brown's family's farm was located in this community, a mile or so from my house.  The Rouse Corporation, which eventually bought and then developed the land on which his family's farm was located named a road after him:  Sterling Drive.  I've always wondered, though, how many people have made the connection between this road and Sterling Brown.  How many residents of this community have even heard of Sterling Brown?  Langston Hughes is taught in the local high school, but not Sterling Brown, even though he was an important figure in the Harlem Renaissance. 

After Winter has particular meaning to me since it is based on his memories of the farm.  I've wanted to tie the poem and its memories of a rural past to North Laurel.  My poem has gone through many drafts, most of which got bogged down in listing archetypes of different kinds of people who live here.  They were, in a word, boring.  You can read one of those drafts on this blog (see February 2013).

Somewhere along the way, I began asking (in my drafts) "where is the poet?"  And, "who is the poet?"  And my answer was:  "we are the poets."  Here is the current draft:


(With acknowledgement to Sterling Brown’s After Winter)

Where is the poet now,
bringing baskets of words
in from the fields:  
radishes and lettuce,
eggplants and beets?

Who will bridge us to the past,
not for nostalgia’s sake,
but to remind us of the working folk
who wrote lives in this place
just as we do today.

Ah, Sterling, we are the poets.
But that’s what you knew:
that the poet is more 
than the name of the road
that leads to where 
the butter beans grew.

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