Monthly Archives: May 2011

May 31, 2011 The Revolution Will Not Be Televised

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We lost a great one this weekend, friends. Gil Scott-Herron (b. April 1, 1949), poet, singer, addict, American. I’m pretty sure that “The Revolution Will Not Be Televised” has been run on this forum before, but a reprint seems appripriate since it’s his most famous work, and also one that reads well on the page. The range of allusion here is incredible. I also like its time-capsule quality, with references to Hooterville Junction, Engelbert Humperdink, and ads for cleaning products. It’s no surprise that his name is an anagram for “tres cool thing.”

“Revolution” is one of the pieces that caused GSH to be labeled a godfather of rap, since the version of it on his albums have him speaking the piece over conga drums, or flute and a slinky bass line. Mr. Scott-Heron never really appreciated the association, in part because he was a total jazzhead himself. I have appended as well a link to one of his best songs, so you can check out his influences, and also hear what a damn fine singer he could be. -ed.

You will not be able to stay home, brother.
You will not be able to plug in, turn on and cop out.
You will not be able to lose yourself on skag and skip,
Skip out for beer during commercials,
Because the revolution will not be televised.

The revolution will not be televised.
The revolution will not be brought to you by Xerox
In 4 parts without commercial interruptions.
The revolution will not show you pictures of Nixon
blowing a bugle and leading a charge by John
Mitchell, General Abrams and Spiro Agnew to eat
hog maws confiscated from a Harlem sanctuary.
The revolution will not be televised.

The revolution will not be brought to you by the
Schaefer Award Theatre and will not star Natalie
Woods and Steve McQueen or Bullwinkle and Julia.
The revolution will not give your mouth sex appeal.
The revolution will not get rid of the nubs.
The revolution will not make you look five pounds
thinner, because the revolution will not be televised, Brother.

There will be no pictures of you and Willie May
pushing that shopping cart down the block on the dead run,
or trying to slide that color television into a stolen ambulance.
NBC will not be able predict the winner at 8:32
or report from 29 districts.
The revolution will not be televised.

There will be no pictures of pigs shooting down
brothers in the instant replay.
There will be no pictures of pigs shooting down
brothers in the instant replay.
There will be no pictures of Whitney Young being
run out of Harlem on a rail with a brand new process.
There will be no slow motion or still life of Roy
Wilkens strolling through Watts in a Red, Black and
Green liberation jumpsuit that he had been saving
For just the proper occasion.

Green Acres, The Beverly Hillbillies, and Hooterville
Junction will no longer be so damned relevant, and
women will not care if Dick finally gets down with
Jane on Search for Tomorrow because Black people
will be in the street looking for a brighter day.
The revolution will not be televised.

There will be no highlights on the eleven o’clock
news and no pictures of hairy armed women
liberationists and Jackie Onassis blowing her nose.
The theme song will not be written by Jim Webb,
Francis Scott Key, nor sung by Glen Campbell, Tom
Jones, Johnny Cash, Englebert Humperdink, or the Rare Earth.
The revolution will not be televised.

The revolution will not be right back after a message
bbout a white tornado, white lightning, or white people.
You will not have to worry about a dove in your
bedroom, a tiger in your tank, or the giant in your toilet bowl.
The revolution will not go better with Coke.
The revolution will not fight the germs that may cause bad breath.
The revolution will put you in the driver’s seat.

The revolution will not be televised, will not be televised,
will not be televised, will not be televised.
The revolution will be no re-run brothers;
The revolution will be live.


May 17, 2011 from The Book of Nightmares


Here’s a selection from one of my favorites. “Selection” is the right term because I’m excerpting this from a book-length poem called “The Book of Nightmares,” first published in 1971, and referred to as Galway’s Kinnell’s masterpiece. Huh, I thought, as I picked it up at the 1/2-price bookstore, I thought “Wait” was Galway Kinnell’s masterpiece! Well of course I had to have it.

Here’s the thing. It’s not really about nightmares. It’s about mortality, and death itself. As such, it contains references to the Greeks and to Dante. But it is thoroughly modern, incorporating as well the intimate voice of much late-20th century American poetry, and elements of psychadelia.

The book is divided into 10 cantos, each containing 7 sections. Some of them are straightforwardly about loved ones and the passage of time, like this one, which I believe speaks to his then-young daughter.

Galway Kinnell is still churning them out, of course, dividing his time between New York and Vermont, and teaching at NYU. -ed.

from The Book of Nightmares
Canto VII § 5

If one day it happens
you find yourself with someone you love
in a café at on end
of the Pont Mirabeau, at the zinc bar
where white wine stands in upward opening glasses,

and if you commit then, as we did, the error
of thinking
one day all this will only be memory,

as you stand
at this edge of the bridge which arcs,
from love, you think, into enduring love,
learn to reach deeper
into the sorrows
to come — to touch
the almost imaginary bones
under the face, to hear under the laughter
the wind crying across the black stones. Kiss
the mouth
which tells you, here,
here is the world
. This mouth. This laughter. These temple bones.

The still undanced cadence of vanishing.

May 9, 2011

For all the moms out there. We’ve read this one before, in print form; I discovered the “live” version yesterday. It’s vintage Collins: genuinely funny, with genuine emotional depth at its heart.


May 2, 2011 Now I Become Myself

Dear readers,
Why is it that April, May, and June are women’s first names, while September, October, and November are not? Some Mad Men fans will argue that January is a woman’s first name, but then I will counterclaim that Peanutbutter is also arguably a woman’s first name. Anyway, I totally missed noting that April is national poetry month, and now, unbelievably, we’re on to May. And the name May Sarton popped into my head, I don’t know why, probably some little fragment of required reading from grade school or high school. May Sarton lived through all the interesting parts of the American 20th century, began publishing in 1938, and did not stop until her death in 1995. She taught English at Harvard for a while, and in 1943-4 was a script writer for NYC’s overseas film unit, whatever that was. In the end, she’d published scores of books including fiction, plays, poetry, and memoir.
Here’s a poem good for running and growing older. The themes here are nothing new–tempus fugit, and also the idea that some kind of immortality is achieved through the act of writing itself–and you will recognize the influence of Andrew Marvell, William Shakespeare, and many other writers in the English tradition. In fact the pre-ante-penultimate line beginning, “O,” seems deliberately archaic. -ed.

Now I become myself. It’s taken
Time, many years and places;
I have been dissolved and shaken,
Worn other people’s faces,
Run madly, as if Time were there,
Terribly old, crying a warning,
“Hurry, you will be dead before–”
(What? Before you reach the morning?
Or the end of the poem is clear?
Or love safe in the walled city?)
Now to stand still, to be here,
Feel my own weight and density!
The black shadow on the paper
Is my hand; the shadow of a word
As thought shapes the shaper
Falls heavy on the page, is heard.
All fuses now, falls into place
From wish to action, word to silence,
My work, my love, my time, my face
Gathered into one intense
Gesture of growing like a plant.
As slowly as the ripening fruit
Fertile, detached, and always spent,
Falls but does not exhaust the root,
So all the poem is, can give,
Grows in me to become the song,
Made so and rooted by love.
Now there is time and Time is young.
O, in this single hour I live
All of myself and do not move.
I, the pursued, who madly ran,
Stand still, stand still, and stop the sun!