“Children, I said to her. For the first little while, they not exactly human, you don't find?”
Nalo Hopkinson

Monday, November 15, 2010

Detroit Diaspora: Writers From Detroit. "FULL MOON" by Robert Hayden

Full Moon Painting by James Denmark
The poet Robert Hayden was born in Detroit in 1913 and lived in a predominately African American neighborhood near downtown known as Paradise Valley or the black bottom. At the time of Hayden's birth Detroit was very segregated. Most of the people who lived in Paradise Valley had migrated north from the southern states to work in the auto industry. Hayden attended Detroit City College (renamed Wayne State University) and the University of Michigan. He studied with the poet W. H. Auden, researched black folk culture for the Federal Writers' Project, and spent twenty-three years teaching poetry at Fisk. Before his death in 1980 he was the Poet Laureate for the United States from 1976-1978.

Biographical information obtained by Wikipedia:
Paradise Valley:

"Full Moon" by Robert Hayden was first published in 1966 as a part of Selected Poems

No longer throne of a goddess to whom we pray,

no longer the bubble house of childhood's

tumbling Mother Goose man,

The emphatic moon ascends--

the brilliant challenger of rocket experts,

the white hope of communications men.

Some I love who are dead

were watchers of the moon and knew its lore;

planted seeds, trimmed their hair,

Pierced their ears for gold hoop earrings

as it waxed or waned.

It shines tonight upon their graves.

And burned in the garden of Gethsemane,

its light made holy by the dazzling tears

with which it mingled.

And spread its radiance on the exile's path

of Him who was The Glorious One,

its light made holy by His holiness.

Already a mooted goal and tomorrow perhaps

an arms base, a livid sector,

the full moon dominates the dark.

I am not an interpreter of poetry, but I do enjoy its ability to convey strong, rich images and ideas through the precise and judicious use of language.  In "Full Moon" Hayden seems to mourn the loss of the moon as a wonderous, venerated part of life for the average person.  He is repulsed by what he perceives as the scintillating, modern idea of the moon as a site of technology and colonization. Perhaps Hayden listened to people he knew as they yearned for the days when time was divided by celestial phases instead of factory shifts.

It is clear that more than just cars and Motown came out of Detroit!

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