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Gifts of the poets: Eugene B. Redmond and Coleman Barks (part 1)

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Among the greatest gifts that poets bestow upon each others' lives are those of identity and validation. It is often through the mirror of words, meaning, and soul created by one poet that another begins to recognize the true significance of his or her nature. It is also, sometimes, by virtue of the labors of one poet that the stylized reverberations of another is amplified and takes its rightful place within the larger chorus of such voices.

When considering the last scenario, the following are but two notable examples: the first is that of author, editor, and photographer Eugene Redmond, whose efforts to preserve the literary legacy of poet and fiction writer Henry Dumas made it possible for many to enjoy Dumas’ formidable works after he was shot to death in 1968. The second is Coleman Barks, the well-known educator and author whose translated interpretations of the life and work of Jalal al-Din Rumi have placed Rumi’s name among the most famous either living or dead.

Eugene B. Redmond

Redmond has authored some seven volumes of poetry, most of which were published from 1969 to 1974 during the Black Arts Movement. He has edited many more and in 1976 was named Poet Laureate of East St. Louis, Illinois. His numerous awards and distinctions include a Pushcart Prize, a National Endowment for the Humanities Grant, an American Book Award in 1993 for The Eye in the Ceiling: Selected Poems, and the St. Louis American Foundation’s Lifetime Achievement Award.

As founding editor of the multicultural literary journal Drumvoices Review, published by the English Department of Southern Illinois University in Edwardsville and the Eugene B. Redmond Writers Club, he has hosted an important literary platform for numerous writers. A recent volume of his work entitled Arkansippi Memwars: Poetry, Prose & Chants 1962-2012 was released in 2013.

As the executor for Henry Dumas’ literary estate, Redmond oversaw the publication of more work by Dumas after his death than Dumas himself saw prior to his death. He is referenced frequently in Jeffrey B. Leaks’ new biography on Dumas titled Visible Man: The Life of Henry Dumas. What follows is an excerpt from “Poetic Reflections Enroute to and during, the Funeral and Burial of Henry Dumas, Poet (May 29, 1968),” one of Redmond’s own tribute poems to the late author:

The dead poet rode in the first car
But was present in the whole train:
Smiling in approval at our candid talk.
Dumas was like: “Man, let’s just tell it,” he used to say.
Yes, and he had given direction to the
Pen of the younger poet earlier that morning––
Several stories up, adrift in a big bird of steel.
Our talk was shop:
“Henry and I finished Commerce High School together,”
The driver intimated.
A middleaged friend of the poet’s mother said:
“They’re killing off all our good men; I tell ya, a black man
Today speaks his piece at the risk of losing his life.”

New Yorkers talk differently than East St. Louisans.
The young poet observed to himself.
The cars of the procession,
Standing out with bright eyes against the dim day,
Sped cautiously toward Farmingdale National Cemetery
Where white marble headstones stood mute and macabre:
Quite geometrically arranged in a sprawling, well-kept ocean of green.

––Eugene Redmond (from River of Bones and Flesh and Blood)

NEXT: Gifts of the Poets Part 2: Coleman Barks

More Readings for National Poetry Month
Poets of the Past and Present in 2014 Spotlight Part 1

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