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Chapter 4
Chapter 5
Chapter 6
Chapter 7
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About the Poets
Additional Reading
 Dudley Randall

Born in Washington, D.C., Randall worked during the Depression in the foundry of the Ford Motor Company in Dearborn, Michigan, and then as a carrier and clerk for the U.S. Post Office in Detroit. He served in the U.S. Army Signal Corps (1942-1946), and graduated from Wayne State University (B.A., 1949) and the University of Michigan (M.A.L.S., 1951). He was a librarian at several universities, and founded the Broadside Press in 1965 "so black people could speak to and for their people."

Randall told Negro Digest, "Precision and accuracy are necessary for both white and black writers....'A black aesthetic' should not be an excuse for sloppy writing." He urges African American writers to reject what was false in "white" poetry but not to forsake universal concerns in favor of a racial agenda. His works include On Getting a Natural (1969) and A Litany of Friends: New and Selected Poems (1981). He edited The Black Poets (1971), an extensive anthology of poetry, from slave songs to the present.

Dudley Randall
(1914 - 2000)

 

 
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A Poet Is Not a Jukebox 


A poet is not a jukebox, so donít tell me what to write. 
I read a dear friend a poem about love, and she said, 
ďYouíre in to that bag now, for whatever itís worth, 
But why donít you write about the riot in Miami?Ē 

I didnít write about Miami because I didnít know about Miami. 
Iíve been so busy working for the Census, and listening to music all night, 
 and making new poems 
That Iíve broken my habit of watching TV and reading newspapers. 
So it wasnít absence of Black Pride that caused me not to write about Miami, 
But simple ignorance. 

Telling a Black poet what he ought to write 
Is like some Commissar of Culture in Russia telling a poet 
Heíd better write about the new steel furnaces in the Novobigorsk region, 
Or the heroic feats of Soviet labor in digging the trans-Caucausus Canal, 
Or the unprecedented achievement of workers in the sugar beet industry 
 who exceeded their quota by 400 percent (it was later discovered to 
 be a typistís error). 

Maybe the Russian poet is watching his mother die of cancer, 
Or is bleeding from an unhappy love affair, 
Or is bursting with happiness and wants to sing of wine, roses, and nightingales. 

Iíll bet that in a hundred years the poems the Russian people will read, sing and love 
Will be the poems about his motherís death, his unfaithful mistress, or his 
wine, roses and nightingales, 
Not the poems about steel furnaces, the trans-Caucasus Canal, or the sugar 
 beet industry. 
A poet writes about what he feels, what agitates his heart and sets his pen in motion. 
Not what some apparatchnik dictates, to promote his own career or theories. 

Yeah, maybe Iíll write about Miami, as I wrote about Birmingham, 
But itíll be because I want to write about Miami, not because somebody 
 says I ought to. 

Yeah, I write about love.  Whatís wrong with love? 
If we had more loving, weíd have more Black babies to become Black brothers and 
sisters and build the Black family. 

When people love, they bathe with sweet-smelling soap, splash their bodies 
 with perfume or cologne, 
Shave, and comb their hair, and put on gleaming silken garments, 
Speak softly and kindly and study their beloved to anticipate and satisfy her 
 every desire. 
After loving theyíre relaxed and happy and friends with all the world. 
Whatís wrong with love, beauty, joy and peace? 

If Josephine had given Napoleon more loving, he wouldnít have sown the 
 meadows of Europe with skulls. 
If Hitler had been happy in love, he wouldnít have baked people in ovens. 
So donít tell me itís trivial and a cop-out to write about love and not about Miami.

A poet is not a jukebox. 
A poet is not a jukebox. 
I repeat, A poet is not a jukebox for someone to shove a quarter in his ear 
 and get the tune they want to hear, 
Or to pat on the head and call ďa good little Revolutionary,Ē 
Or to give a Kuumba Liberation Award. 

A poet is not a jukebox. 
A poet is not a jukebox. 
A poet is not a jukebox. 

So donít tell me what to write. 

1981