August 31, 2022

Dmitry Golynko (Russia) 1969

Dmitry Golynko (Russia)

Born in St. Petersburg in 1969, Dmitry Golynko was educated in Russian languages and Literature at Herzen University.
     Golynko is an editor at Moscow Art Magazine and contributes regularly to several journals, including NLO, Novaya Ruskaya Kniga, and Séance.

The poet’s first book, Homo Scribens was published in 1994, with Direktoria [The Directory] following in 2001 and Betonnye golubki [Concrete Doves] appearing in 2003. The American publisher, Ugly Duckling Press published his English language collection, with translations by
Eugene Ostashevsky, Rebecca Bella and Simona Schneider, As It Turned Out in 2008. His most recent book is What It Was and the Other Arguments, 2013). 
      His poetry was nominated for the Andrey Bely Prize.
     Golynko is also the creator of Literaturnay Promoza, a literary site. He works as a researcher at the Russian Institute of Art History and as a faculty member at St. Petersburg University, teaching Cinema and TV,

Homos scribens (St. Petersburg: Borey-Art, 1994); Direktoria (Moscow; Tyer’: Argo Risk/Kolonna, 2001); Betonnye golubki (Moscow: Novoe literatunoe obozrenie, 2003); Что это было и другие обоснования (What It Was and Other Arguments) (2013).


As It Turned Out (Brooklyn, New York: Ugly Duckling Press, 2008)

For a large selection of poems by Golyno on tape, go to PennSound, here:

For a poem "The Keys to Yonder," translated by Kevin M. F. Platt, go here:

"Now Poet: Dmitry Golynko and the New Social Epic" | essay by Kevin M. F. Platt (on Golynko and his poetry) [link]

 To read M. F. Platt's "Now Poet: Dmitry Golynko and the New Social Epic," go here:

John Ashbery (USA) 1927-2017

John Ashbery (USA)



John Ashbery was born in Rochester, New York on July 28, 1927. He was raised mostly on a farm near Lake Ontario. He graduated from Deerfield Academy before going on to a university education at Harvard—where he wrote on Wallace Stevens under the supervision of F. O. Mathiessen—and at Columbia University where he received in M.A. degree.

     Early in his education, Ashbery read poets such as W. H. Auden, Dylan Thomas, and Wallace Stevens, but his first ambition was to become a painter, and from the ages of 11 to 15 he took weekly classes at the art museum in Rochester. His first poems appeared in Poetry, which were submitted by a classmate while he was still in high school. In the mid-1950s, he moved to France, just before the publication of his second volume of poetry. There he worked as an art critic and edited the famed international review Art and Literature.

photograph by Bill Hayward

       It was in the late 1950s that critic John Bernard Myers categorized his writing as sharing traits with other rising poets such as Kenneth Koch, Frank O’Hara, James Schuyler, Barbara Guest, and Kenward Elmslie, all of whom would later to characterized as the first generation of a “New York School.”                  Ashbery also wrote a novel, A Nest of Ninnies, with fellow poet James Schuyler, and wrote several plays early in his career. His Three Plays were published in 1978. He also translated several works of poetry and prose from French into English, particularly the works of Rimbaud and Pierre Martory. His Selected Prose appeared in 2005.

     Ashbery won nearly every major American award for poetry, beginning with the Yale Younger Poets Prize in 1956 (selected by W. H. Auden) for his first book of poetry, Some Trees. He was awarded the Pulitzer Prize (for Self-Portrait in a Convex Mirror), the National Book Award (for the same title), the Lenore Marshall Poetry Prize, and the Bollingen Prize (both for A Wave). Among his many other awards and recognitions were a MacArthur Fellows Program Fellowship in 1985, the Golden Plate Award of the American Academy of Achievement (1987), the National Humanities Medal (2011), and the National Book Foundation Medal for Distinguished Contribution to American Letters (2011).  

     Notes from the Air was chosen as the winner of the International Griffin Prize. In 2008 Ashbery was chosen as a recipient of the America Awards for a Lifetime Contribution to International Writing.

     From the highly experimental The Tennis-Court Oath to more romantically-inspired meditative works such as Self-Portrait in a Convex Mirror, Ashbery remained a major force in contemporary American poetry.

     Ashbery died in Hudson, New York on September 3, 2017.




Turandot and Other Poems [art by Jane Freilicher] (New York: Tibor De Nagy Gallery, 1953); Some Trees (New Haven, Connecticut: Yale University Press, 1956; New York: Corinth Books, 1970; New York: Ecco Press, 1978); The Tennis Court Oath: A Book of Poems (Middletown, Connecticut: Wesleyan University Press, 1962); Rivers and Mountains (New York: Holt, Rinehart and Winston, 1966; New York: Ecco Press, 1977); Three Madrigals (New York: Poet’s Press, 1968); Fragment: Poem (Los Angeles: Black Sparrow Press, 1969); A New Spirit (New York: Adventures in Poetry, 1970); The Double Dream of Spring (New York: Dutton, 1970); Three Poems (New York: Viking Press, 1972; Harmondsworth, English, 1972; New York: Penguin Books, 1977); Self-Portrait in a Convex Mirror (New York: Viking Press, 1975; Manchester, England: Carcanet New Press, 1977); Fragment: Clepsydre, Poemes Francais (Paris: Seuil, 1975); Houseboat Days (New York: Penguin Books, 1977; New York: Viking Press, 1977); As We Know: Poems (New York: Viking Press, 1979; New York: Penguin, 1979); Shadow Train: Poems (New York: Viking Press, 1981); Apparitions (Northridge, California: Lord John Press, 1981); A Wave (New York: Viking Press, 1984; Manchester, England: Carcanet Press, 1984); April Galleons (New York: Viking, 1987); The Ice Storm (Madras, India/New York: Hanuman Books, 1987); Flow Chart (New York: Knopf, 1991); Three Books: Poems (New York: Penguin, 1993); And the Stars Were Shining (New York: Farrar, Straus, and Giroux, 1994); Hotel Lautréamont (New York: Knopf, 1992); Girls on the Run (New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 1999); Can You Hear, Bird? (New York Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 1995); Wakefulness (New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 1998); Your Name Here: Poems (New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2000); Chinese Whispers (New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2002; Manchester, England: Carcanet, 2002); Where Shall I Wander (New York: Ecco Press, 2005); A Worldly Country (New York: Ecco Press, 2007); Notes from the Air: Selected Later Poems (New York: Ecco Press, 2007); Collected Pomes 1956-1978 (New York: Library of America; reprinted in 2010 by Manchester, English: Carcanet Press); Planisphere (New York: Ecco Press, 2009); Quick Question (New York: Ecco Press, 2012); Breezeway: New Poems (New York: Ecco Press, 2015); Commotion of the Birds (New York: Ecco Press, 2016); They Knew What They Wanted: Collages and Poems (New York: Rizzoli Electra, 2018); Parallel Movement of the Hands: Five Unfinished Longer Works (New York: Ecco Press, 2021)


For a large selection of Ashbery's readings of his own poems and interviews, click below:



╬Winner of the PIP Gertrude Stein Awards for Innovative Poetry in English



A Darning Egg


He had emerged from the woods. Two poachers fired their rifles above his head. He couldn't restrain his joy.


He danced with the cypress, and stopped.


Cancel the order. The choir of aging starlets that blundered halfway through here tonight shrugged, appalled probably. Wasn't it time to go? Wearily they turned back down the cobalt and terra cotta ramp, singing a song to hoist their spirits, the "marche militaire." Now eyeballs close on the distant porousness. It's not liquor that gets us there.


Think tiny and big, the "experiment perilous."


Evelyn surveyed the shadow. Later, he'd see.


And the heavens, it was all duty after that. Duty calls. Which isn't to say pleasure doesn't too, and louder. My head is so screwed up I can't find your name in the yearbook. Years ago, it was like mist.


The cat is trained to touch base, scout out new locations. We'll all be back in a year's time, to the day. We'll see how it looks then. Meantime grades and awards are to be given out. Sheepskin hung on the walls in brocaded taverns. It was all over for them. But like them, a kiss comes to light our way in the eccentric competition.


Remember that I loved you. See no more.



Reprinted from Denver Quarterly, XXXIX, no. 3 (2005). Copyright ©2005 by John Ashbery. Permission to reprint granted by Ecco Press.









Review of Ashbery's Wakefulness by Marjorie Perloff


Wakefulness, John Ashbery (New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 1998), 84 pages


I have been rereading John Ashbery’s nineteenth book of poems in the Santa Monica Courthouse, where I am on jury duty. The waiting is interminable (I was first assigned to the Zubin Metha vs. Susan McDougal jury pool!) and not enhanced by the now ubiquitous proximity of other people’s cell phones. “Face it, Myrna!” says the scruffy old gent to my right, “You’re into total denial.”



What a great setting in which to read Wakefulness! For despite the charges of difficulty, incomprehensibility, and non-sense, Ashbery is, as Douglas Crase argued some fifteen years ago in his contribution to David Lehman’s Beyond Amazement, eminently our realist poet. When he begins “Cousin Sarah’s Knitting,” with the lines:


You keep asking me that four times.

Why trust me I think.

There is, in fact nobody here


He is recording, with only the slightest heightening, the way people (in this case his own relatives) actually do talk. And when, in “Laughing Gravy,” the poet declares, “The crisis has just passed. Uh oh, here it comes again, / looking off to blame itself on,” he is pinpointing, with droll humor, precisely the way information is disseminated. Indeed, one can hear the White House officials declaring that the crisis has just passed, and then – Uh oh!



But despite these great comic moments, Wakefulness is a somber book. At seventy, Ashbery is more overtly haunted by the past than was the poet of Self-Portrait in a Convex Mirror and Houseboat Days. “Everything,” we read in the title poem, “was as though it had happened long ago / in ancient-peach-colored funny papers,” and again, “History goes on and on, / rolling distractedly on these shores.” The past and the future–or the fear that soon there won’t be one. “Each day, dawn condenses like a very large star.” And night thoughts become pervasive.


A kind gnome

of fear perched on my dashboard once, but we had all been instructed

to ignore the conditions of the chase. Here it

seems to grow lighter with each passing century. No matter how you

twist it,

life stays frozen in the headlights.

Funny, none of us heard the roar.


We now have many Ashberyian poets, but none that can rival the master at this sort of effect. The note of anxiety in lines 1-2 is common enough, but who else could personify fear as a “kindly gnome...perched on my dashboard”–a very just metaphor because it actually is when one is driving along somewhat aimlessly that such thoughts intrude. The “chase,” whose “conditions” we have “been instructed / to ignore” can refer to its diminishing weight, but it can also refer to the increasing sense of constantly living under floodlights from which there is no escape. The poet’s anxiety, in any case, is characteristically deflated by the cliché “No matter how you twist it.” But at that very moment, his car seems to hit something. A deer crossing the road? A human being? A shadow of oneself? The “light” of line 4–the light of common day–becomes the specific headlight in which “life stays frozen.” It is thus we meet death, never heeding the warning signs: “Funny, none of us heard the roar.”


Such intimations of mortality are chilling but never self-pitying. As the poet puts it in “Added Poignancy,” “What could I tell you? I couldn’t tell you any other way. / We, meanwhile, have witnessed changes, and now change / floods in from every angle.” Then immediately the deflationary impulse kicks in: “Stop me if you’ve heard this one.” Like many of the poems in Wakefulness, “Added Poignancy” has an intimacy of address that is new to Ashbery. The second-person mode, latent in poems as early as “They Dream Only of America,” now becomes pervasive: “Stop me if you’ve heard this one, / but if you haven’t, just go about your business.” Here, as usual in Ashbery, the final clause makes a U-turn: the expected conclusion would be, “but if you haven’t, then listen!” or “But if you haven’t, stay a moment.”


Such non-sequiturs are by now an Ashbery trademark, but the poet is endlessly inventive (or is it by now second nature?) at producing deflationary gestures as when, in “The Burden of the Park” (the title is just two letters away from the familiar “The Burden of the Past”) the “park” is defined as “all over,” and becomes the scene for a series of fragmentary narratives of childhood, part memory, part dream, my favorite being the “inner tube on a couch,” which becomes a way “out,” taking the poet and his friends on a trip “down the Great Array river.” One “Each of the inner tubes,” we now learn, “was of a ‘different color’: Mine was lime green, yours was pistachio.” But–wait a minute–pistachio is lime green: so much for the ability to make meaningful distinctions.



Despite its greater emphasis on history and memory, on death and Last things, on a new, more intimate relationship with “you,” Wakefulness does not mark a notable departure for Ashbery. He is not writing in a new mode or experimenting with new techniques. One might complain, therefore, as my students sometimes do, that Ashbery’s poems have become repetitive, that however effective, say, “The Burden of the Park” may be, Ashbery has already written this kind of poem many times before, creating a sense of replacability.



It’s a case, I suppose, of finding the cup half empty or half full. From the perspective of the total oeuvre, Wakefulness may not be an absolutely essential link in the chain. The mastery its poems exhibit is a mastery that has been witnessed before. On the other hand, taken in itself, Ashbery’s new book is still more accomplished, more pleasurable, more profound than nearly any of its current rivals. A sifting out process will take place later. But for the moment, we can take each new Ashbery volume as it comes, relishing the exquisite sense of timing that produces lines like


You know I adore ceremony,

Even while refusing to stand on it.


Or, as he puts it later in this poem (“Homecoming”):


I need your disapproval.

August 30, 2022

David Kinloch (Scotland) 1959

David Kinloch (Scotland)

Born in Glasgow, Scotland, David Kinloch grew up in the city and took a degree in French and English at the University of Glasgow. Subsequently he studied at the University of Oxford and then worked as a teacher of French at various colleges and universities, including the Ecole Normale Supérieure (Ulm, Paris), University College, Swansea (Wales) and the University of Salford (England) before returning to Glasgow in 1990 to take up a post in French at the University of Strathclyde where he is now Professor of Poetry and Creative Writing.
     At the University, Kinloch helped to establish The Edwin Morgan Trust in the memory of the later Scottish author, Edwin Morgan. Money through the Trust is disbursed among Scottish poets under the age of thirty every two years.

     While a student in Oxford, he co-founded the poetry magazine Verse with Robert Crawford and Henry Hart, and he has also been editor of Southfields.
     His academic publications include a monograph on the French thinker Joseph Joubert, studies of Mallarmé and work in the field of Translation Studies as well as essays on the “auld alliance” between France and Scotland. He is the author of four books of poetry: Dustie-Fute, Faris-Forfar, Un Tour d’Ecosse and In My Father’s House. In 2004, he was a recipient of a Robert Louis Stevenson Memorial Award.
     A feature of his work to date has been the attempt to create relatively large-scale sequences which allow different kinds of poetry (in both English and Scots) to counterpoint each other. What happens when “traditional” lyrics cohabit with more experimental prose-poems and fables? Un Tour d’Ecosse, for example, takes the reader on a manic Tour de France type cycle tour of Scotland with Lorca and Whitman as the feverishly pedaling cyclists. This is poetry that is alternately elegiac and humorous and tries to interrogate the links between sexual and national identities.
     His most recent publication is Iggleheim's Ark, a cautionary fable written in the tradition of Aesop and La Fontaine's fables. 


Dustie-Fute (London: Vennel Press, 1992), Paris-Forfar (Edinburgh: Polygon, 1994); Un Tour d’Ecosse (Manchester, England: Carcanet, 2001); In My Father’s House (Manchester, England: Carcanet, 2005); Finger of a Frenchman (Manchester, England: Carcanet, 2013); In Search of Dustie-Flutie (2017)

For an essay by Douglas Messerli on Kinloch's In My Father's House, go here:

Winner of the PIP Gertrude Stein Awards for Innovative Poetry in English

Lazarus (eftir the Latin o Prudentius)

Lazarus, tell us o the rackle-haundit
voice o Christ at rapped the lairstane
whaur ye ligg slumpt in pit-mirk
lik a craw in mist. Tell us o the lip
o Charybdis, the kyle at curls around
the Earl o Hell’s big hoose,
yon unkent burn aye trinlin fire.
At the lair’s threshwart,
-haipit wi muckle stanes -
stauns the Lord an ca’s his frien’s name:
‘Lazarus, come furth!’
Staughtway the stanes rowe back
an the ugsome grave ootpits
a livin corp, a diedman straughlin.
Oh, guid-sisters, lowse the linens lichtsomely!
Only the scent o strinkled spice is in the lyft:
camovine an corrydander, clow an nitmug.
Nae guff o bodily decay pirls up.
The een, aince weezin wi atter, blink,
sheen an skime lik keekin gless,
chowks are lit wi cramasie
at aince were pock yarred,
skin harlin aff an quick wi hotterel.
Noo the smashin man staps furth,
the slot o his briest lik a burn i munelicht.
Wha hae slaiked the thrapple o yon decrippit corp?
Only the man at gied him body,
wha sowfft thru the bree an glaur He mooldit,
wha smit the slumpy yird wi life.
O Daith, douce an doon-hadden noo,
Daith, aince stanedeif, sing smaa
an hearken tae the laa.
Wha hauds sic pooer? Confess:
Oor Faither alane protecks me frae yer hauns
an He is Jesus.

Rackle-handed – having powerful hands; lairstane –
tombstone; ligg – lie; pit-mirk – intense darkness; kyle –
a strait, a sound; unkent – unknown; trinlin – wheel,
trundle; threshwart – threshold; haipit – heaped; muckle
– big; rowe – roll; ugsome – frightful, horrible;
straughlin – struggling; lowse – loosen, set free;
lichtsomely – joyously; strinkled – sprinkled; lyft – air,
sky; camovine – camomile; corrydander – coriander;
clow – clove; nitmug – nutmeg; guff – stink; pirl –
spiral; weezin – oozing; atter – poison, purulent matter;
sheen – shine; skime – gleam with reflected light; keekin
gless – mirror; chowk – cheek; cramasie – crimson;
aince – once; yarred – marked; harl – peel; hotterel –
festering sores; smashing – vigorous, strapping; slot –
the hollow depression running down the middle of the
chest; slaik – quench; thrapple – throat; sowfft – blow,
whistle softly; bree – liquid, broth; glaur – mud, term of
contempt for a person or thing; mooldit – moulded;
slumpy – marshy, muddy; doon-hadden – kept in
subjection; sing smaa – adopt a deferential or
submissive tone; laa – law; pooer – power.

Reprinted from Painted, spoken, no. 8 (2005). Copyright ©2005 by David Kinloch.

"Journey to the House of Shaws" | review essay by Douglas Messerli (on David Kinloch's In My Father's House)

journey to the house of shaws
by Douglas Messerli

David Kinloch In My Father’s House (Manchester, England: Carcanet Press, 2005).

For a reader uninitiated to the numerous literary references and, more importantly, the use throughout this work of what Peter Riley has called “a more-or-less synthetic Scots”—a language found by the author in an old dictionary of the Scots language, filled with “strange, vaguely familiar word” that had “almost but not entirely shaken loose from their referents”—reading David Kinloch’s 2005 collection of poetry, In My Father’s House, may be a challenging task. Fortunately, the book is worth any effort and the author is more than willing to help the reader along in his stunning presentation of his love of language.
     The very first poem of the book, “I Set Off Upon My Journey to the House of Shaws,” states the underlying theme of the collection—the death of the poet’s beloved father—and reveals the associative relationship of words throughout the text. The poem begins with a fairly straight-forward statement of his father’s death and the receipt of a letter bearing “the story of inheritance, / a round giftie, a square giftie and the niceties will fall away.” One quickly perceives, however, that the “giftie” the poet receives is not material as much as a thing of language; as he sets off to “the Tower of Living Stone,” the poet is confused by his journey:

                        ‘The House of Shaws!' cried I,
                        ‘What had my poor father to do with the House of Shaws?’

The key is in the meaning: one has only to “prospect” the “sediment” of “shaw,” to explore the etymological remnants of the word—so my Webster’s dictionary (along with the poem) points out—that signifies a small thicket (from the Scottish, “the stalks and leaves of potatoes, turnips, and other cultivated root plants,” or what the poet describes as “compacted ‘foliage of esculent roots’”) which, in its deeper teutonic meaning signified “schawe,” a wood, a grove. The poet tips his hand, helping the reader work within a process he must employ throughout the rest of the book:
                           see how simply the floors
                           collapse upon each other
                           from the impact of overloaded words:
                           And in a schaw, a litill thar beside
                           Thai lugyt thaim, for it was nere the nycht

From the wood which gives shade, also comes the word “shadow,” which relates to the “schawaldouris,” the wanderers of the woods taken in mid-life, the ghosts among the “tubers of tall towers.” In short, through his association of words, his father’s death does indeed send him—along with his reader—on a journey to “the House of Shaws.”

Many of the poems contained in this volume, accordingly, concern ghosts, not only the ghost and the accompanying memories of his dead father, but the ghosts of other great men and poets who dissected the dead—whether they be the noted doctors Sir John Finch and Sir Thomas Baines or the great literary dissector of death, Paul Celan. Some of the most touching poems in this volume are Kinloch’s fascinating “translations” of Celan—which he describes as works written “after” or “eftir the German”—into the Scots language of his father’s old dictionary.
      His “Ye caun tristly,” for example, is written after Celan’s “Du Darst mich getrost,” translated into English by Pierre Joris as:
                         you may confidently
                         regale me with snow:
                         as often as I strode through summer
                         shoulder to shoulder with the mulberry tree,
                         its youngest leaf
Kinloch’s “synthetic Scots” version reads:

                         Ye caun traistly
                         ser me wi snaw:
                         whenever shouder tae shouder
                         ah srapit thru simmer wi the mulberry
                         its smaaest leaf

The poet tells us that “traistly” means “safely, “ser” serve, and “skreicht,” screeched. In both versions, we clearly recognize that the summer walk through the “schwa” was so painfully beautiful that the poet is willing to be “entertained” by or served up the snow (what we recognize as standard symbol of death) as reward. The “skreicht,” closer to Celan’s German “schrie,” more clearly suggests the anguished scream of that exquisite suffering than the appropriate modern English word “shriek.”
     Kinloch’s own appropriation of the language of the Scots dictionary, in fact, is close to Celan’s appropriation of German and the various obscure word combinations he created in his poetry. There is, moreover, an elegiac tone to Kinloch’s work as he struggles through his linguistic layerings to further understand his father and his relationship to him. But the distance between the two is not only one of age and cultural roots grounded in different “languages,” but lies in other deeply “buried” languages determined by education and sexuality. “Inquisition,” in which the poet answers an interviewer’s question about homosexuality, openly admits to the inevitable gap between two loving beings:
                            The interviewer asks me
                            ‘what your father would have
                            thought of it had he lived?’
                            when I know he knew,
                            dodged it every time he looked at me
                            because I was a mirror
                            and mourn him every day
                            because he died before he ever got to know me.

      The fundamental concerns with association and miscomprehension are expressed in more joyous and loony ways in Kinloch’s heady satire of Roussel’s Impressions of Africa, in which the “father,” this time portrayed as a survivor of a shipwreck, entertains the King of Talou with elaborately ongoing performances of The Mikado—to which he attaches stories of Stanley and Livingstone—that move through the various villages of the Taloulian empire.  
      Ultimately, we realize that this stunning interweaving of various languages and cultures is, like Penelope’s daily act, a way of coping with grief and loss:
                               A is for abbé, for abba
                               —that’s ‘Daddy’ in Hebrew,
                               Father of rose and clerestory—
                               a rhyme scheme to tie
                               this meandering grief
                               down to the point of its pain.
                                                  (from “Psychomachia”)

That Kinloch so brilliantly engages the reader in his “meandering” journey of grief is a testament to his embracement of so many linguistic realities through time and space. And in a sense, and in a time when so many would isolate themselves in their own wails of suffering, Kinloch helps us to understand that grief can and must be shared—even the “soundless screams” of a boy in Bialystock, of a Dreyfus or Anne Frank, a Pagliaccio—in order for mankind to survive.
Los Angeles, June 25, 2006
Reprinted from Shadowtrain [England], No. 6 (July 2006).

August 29, 2022

James Weldon Johnson (USA) 1871-1938

James Weldon Johnson (USA)



James Weldon Johnson was born in Jacksonville, Florida in 1871, and grew up in a middle class African American family. As a youth he attended Stanton school, the prestige school for education of Jacksonville blacks. He later attended Atlanta University, graduating in 1894 and returned to Jacksonville to serve as principal at Stanton. In his spare time he studied law, and became the first black to pass the Florida bar examination. From 1895 to 1896 he headed a newspaper The Daily American, addressing issues of racial injustice.

     After graduating from the New England Conservatory of Music. Johnson’s brother Rosamund and he collaborated on music lyrics, most notably “Lift Ev’ry Voice and Sing,” a song which came to be known as the “the Negro National Anthem.” Moving to New York they continued their work as lyricists for a number of popular songs, including “Louisiana Lize,” “Nobody’s Lookin’ but de Owl and de Moon,” “Congo Love Song,” and “Under the Bamboo Tree,” the last song of which earned them handsome royalties and was made famous again in the 1940s by Judy Garland and Margaret O’Brien’s performance of it in Meet Me in St. Louis. During this early period Johnson also studied literature for a time at Columbia University with Brander Matthews who encouraged his lyrics and serious poems and read the first portion of his novel Autobiography of an Ex-Colored Man.

     The duo, who worked mostly with composer Bob Cole, broke up in 1906 when Johnson was asked by Theodore Roosevelt, in consultation with Booker T. Washington, to become the U.S. consul to Puerto Cabello, Venezuela. In 1909, Johnson moved to a more significant post in Corinto, Nicaragua, returning to the United States for a brief stay the following year. During this period he married Grace Nail.

     In 1912 revolution broke out in Nicaragua, and Johnson’s role in aiding the Marines in defeating the rebels garnered praise in Washington. He left the Consular Service in 1913, when Wilson was elected.

     While in Nicaragua he had completed Autobiography of an Ex-Colored Man, which was published in 1912. He continued writing poetry, publishing Fifty Years and Other Poems in 1913. In 1916 he began work with the NAACP (National Association for the Advancement of Colored People), becoming its head in 1920.

     But during the 1920s Johnson even better known for his literary output, involving himself with the group of writers and artists connected with the Harlem Renaissance, serving as mentor to younger writers such as Claude McKay and Langston Hughes.

     One of his most important contributions was The Book of American Negro Poetry of 1922, a volume that served in identifying the new black movements. His preface to that book (printed in the Documents section of this volume) helped give history to the poetry by connecting it with Negro Spirituals and other African-American music. In 1925 and 1926 he has his brother brought out two volumes of “spiritual” lyrics, The Book of American Negro Spirituals and The Second Book of American Negro Spirituals. His own poetry of this period, collected most notably in God’s Trombones: Seven Negro Sermons in Verse paid homage to the spiritual tradition, using the colloquial rhythms and expressions of African Americans.

     In 1930 he became a professor at Fisk University, completing his autobiography, Along the Way in 1933. He died in an automobile accident in 1938.





Fifty Years and Other Poems (Boston: Cornhill, 1917); God’s Trombones: Seven Negro Sermons in Verse (New York: Viking Press, 1934); St. Peter Relates an Incident (New York: Viking Press, 1930/reprinted as St.. Peter Relates an Incident: Selected Poems (New York: Viking Press, 1937)




Lift Ev’ry Voice and Sing



Lift every voice and sing, till earth and Heaven ring,

Ring with the harmonies of liberty;

Let our rejoicing rise, high as the listening skies,

Let it resound loud as the rolling sea.

Sing a song full of the faith that the dark past has taught us,

Sing a song full of the hope that the present has brought us;

Facing the rising sun of our new day begun,

Let us march on till victory is won.

Stony the road we trod, bitter the chastening rod,

Felt in the days when hope unborn had died;

Yet with a steady beat, have not our weary feet,

Come to the place for which our fathers sighed?

We have come over a way that with tears has been watered,

We have come, treading our path through the blood of the slaughtered;

Out from the gloomy past, till now we stand at last

Where the white gleam of our bright star is cast.

God of our weary years, God of our silent tears,

Thou Who hast brought us thus far on the way;

Thou Who hast by Thy might, led us into the light,

Keep us forever in the path, we pray.

Lest our feet stray from the places, our God, where we met Thee.

Lest our hearts, drunk with the wine of the world, we forget Thee.

Shadowed beneath Thy hand, may we forever stand,

True to our God, true to our native land.







Under the Bamboo Tree*


Down in the jungles lived a maid,

Of royal blood though dusky shade,

A marked impression once she made,

Upon a Zulu from Matabooloo;

And ev'ry morning he would be

Down underneath the bamboo tree,

Awaiting there his love to see

And then to her he'd sing:


If you lak-a-me lak I lak-a-you

And we lak-a-both the same,

I lak-a-say,

This very day,

I lak-a change your name;

'Cause I love-a-you and love-a you true

And if you-a love-a me.

One live as two, two live as one,

Under the bamboo tree.


And in this simple jungle way,

He wooed the maiden ev'ry day,

By singing what he had to say;

One day he seized her

And gently squeezed her.

And then beneath the bamboo green,

He begged her to become his queen;

The dusky maiden blushed unseen

And joined him in his song.


If you lak-a-me lak I lak-a-you

And we lak-a-both the same,

I lak-a-say,

This very day,

I lak-a change your name;

'Cause I love-a-you and love-a you true

And if you-a love-a me.

One live as two, two live as one,

Under the bamboo tree.


This little story strange but true,

Is often told in Mataboo,

Of how this Zulu tried to woo

His jungle lady

In tropics shady;

Although the scene was miles away,

Right here at home I dare to say,

You'll hear some Zulu ev'ry day,

Gush out this soft refrain:


If you lak-a-me lak I lak-a-you

And we lak-a-both the same,

I lak-a-say,

This very day,

I lak-a change your name;

'Cause I love-a-you and love-a you true

And if you-a love-a me.

One live as two, two live as one,

Under the bamboo tree.


(from the musical Sally in Our Alley, 1902)


for the early Harry MacDonough and John Bieling version of the song, recorded on

February 27, 1903 by Victor Talking Machine, click here:


For the version of the song sung by Judy Garland and Margaret O'Brien, click below:



Go Down Death

A Funeral Sermon


Weep not, weep not,

She is not dead;

She's resting in the bosom of Jesus.

Heart-broken husband — weep no more;

Left-lonesome daughter — weep no more;

Grief-stricken son — weep no more;

She's only just gone home.

Day before yesterday morning,

God was looking down from his great, high heaven,

Looking down on all his children,

And his eye fell on Sister Caroline,

Tossing on her bed of pain.

And God's big heart was touched with pity,

With the everlasting pity.

And God sat back on his throne,

And he commanded that tall, bright angel standing at his right hand:

Call me Death!

And that tall, bright angel cried in a voice

That broke like a clap of thunder:

Call Death! — Call Death!

And the echo sounded down the streets of heaven

Till it reached away back to that shadowy place,

Where Death waits with his pale, white horses.

And Death heard the summons,

And he leaped on his fastest horse,

Pale as a sheet in the moonlight

Up the golden street Death galloped,

And the hoof of his horse struck fire from the gold,

But they didn't make no sound.

Up Death rode to the Great White Throne,

And waited for God's command.

And. God said: Go down, Death go down,

Go down to Savannah, Georgia,

Down in Yamacraw,

And find Sister Caroline.

She's borne the burden and heat of the day,

She's labored long in my vineyard,

And she's tired —

She's weary —

Go Down Death, and bring her to me.

And Death didn't say a word,

But he loosed the reins on his pale, white horse,

And he clamped the spurs to his bloodless sides,

And out and down he rode,

Through heaven's pearly gates,

Past suns and moons and stars;

On Death rode,

And foam from his horse was like a comet in the sky;

On Death rode,

Leaving the lightning's flash behind;

Straight on down he came.

While we were watching round her bed,

She turned her eyes and looked away,

She saw what we couldn't see;

She saw Old Death. She saw Old Death

Coming like a falling star.

But Death didn't frighten Sister Caroline;

He looked to her like a welcome friend.

And she whispered to us: I'm going home.

And she smiled and closed her eyes.

And Death took her up like a baby,

And she lay in his icy arms,

But she didn't feel no chill.

And Death began to ride again --

Up beyond the evening star,

Out beyond the morning star,

Into the glittering light of glory,

On to the Great White Throne.

And there he laid Sister Caroline

On the loving breast of Jesus.

And Jesus he took his own hand and wiped away her tears.

And he smoothed the furrows from her face,

And the angels sang a little song,

And Jesus rocked her in his arms,

And kept a-saying: Take your rest,

Take your rest, Take your rest.

Weep not — weep not,

She is not dead;

She's resting in the bosom of Jesus.


(from God’s Trombones: Seven Negro Sermons in Verse, 1927)



The Creation

A Negro Sermon


And God stepped out on space,

And he looked around and said:

I'm lonely--

I'll make me a world.

And far as the eye of God could see

Darkness covered everything,

Blacker than a hundred midnights

Down in a cypress swamp.

Then God smiled,

And the light broke,

And the darkness rolled up on one side,

And the light stood shining on the other,

And God said: That's good!

Then God reached out and took the light in His hands,

And God rolled the light around in His hands

Until He made the sun;

And He set that sun a- blazing in the heavens.

And the light that was left from making the sun

God gathered up in a shining ball

And flung against the darkness,

Spangling the night with the moon and stars.

Then down between

The darkness and the light

He hurled the world; And God said: That's good!

Then God himself stepped down--

And the sun was on His right hand,

And the moon was on His left;

The stars were clustered about His head,

And the earth was under His feet.

And God walked, and where He trod

His footsteps hollowed the valleys out

And bulged the mountains up.

Then He stopped and looked and saw

That the earth was hot and barren.

So God stepped over to the edge of the world

And He spat out the seven seas--

He batted His eyes, and the lightnings flashed--

He clapped His hands, and the thunders rolled--

And the waters above the earth came down,

The cooling waters came down.

Then the green grass sprouted,

And the little red flowers blossomed,

The pine tree pointed his finger to the sky,

And the oak spread out his arms,

The lakes cuddled down in the hollows of the ground,

And the rivers ran down to the sea;

And God smiled again,

And the rainbow appeared,

And curled itself around His shoulder.

Then God raised His arm and He waved His hand

Over the sea and over the land,

And He said: Bring forth! Bring forth!

And quicker than God could drop His hand,

Fishes and fowls

And beasts and birds

Swam the rivers and the seas,

Roamed the forests and the woods,

And split the air with their wings.

And God said: That's goodl

Then God walked around,

And God looked around

On all that He had made.

He looked on His world

With all its living things

And God said: I'm lonely still.

Then God sat down--

On the side of a hill where He could think;

By a deep, wide river He sat down;

With His head in His hands,

God thought and thought,

Till He thought: I'll make me a man!

Up from the bed of the river

God scooped the clay;

And by the bank of the river

He kneeled Him down;

And there the great God Almighty

Who lit the sun and fixed it in the sky

Who flung the stars to the most far corner of the night,

Who rounded the earth in the middle of His hand,

This Great God,

Like a mammy bending over her baby,

Kneeled down in the dust

Toiling over a lump of clay

Till He shaped it in His own image;

Then into it He blew the breath of life,

And man became a living soul.

Amen. Amen.


(from God’s Trombones: Seven Negro Sermons in Verse, 1927)



Poems Copyright ©1927 by James Weldon Johnson



*For a fascinating discussion of this song see Charles Bernstein's essay, "Objectivist Blues: Socring Speech in Ssecond Wave Modernist Poetry and Lyrics," collected in his volume of essays. Attack of the Difficult Poems (Chicago: The University of Chicago Press, 2011), pp. 139-141.