Monday, November 19, 2012

Eugene B. Redmond and Cultural Documentation

[By Jerry Ward]

Eugene B. Redmond turns seventy-five on December 1, 2012.  It is obligatory to make a few notes about his legacy to world culture and the world of letters.

How many of his fellow writers has he helped to scrub a river’s back by publishing them in Drumvoices Revue?  How has his invention of the “kwansaba” enriched poetics?  How does his extensive collection of photographs, housed in the Elijah P. Lovejoy Library at Southern IllinoisUniversity Edwardsville, constitute an invaluable archive for research on writers and artists?  How do Redmond’s poems exist as works of art and as models for work to be assumed by individuals in a tradition, by people who have not committed artistic or intellectual suicide?  What impact has his neologic signature had on our use of poetic languages?  How does his now classic Drumvoices: The Mission of Afro-American Poetry (1976) serve as our prototype for critical, humanly engaged scholarship?

Answers to some of these questions may be contained in Redmond’s new book Arkansipp Memwars: 1962-2012, Poetry, Prose & Chants.  Observe a hint about the special conscience and consciousness that mark Redmond’s critical imagination.  He uses a soundsoulular gesture to refashion memoir as memwar. This transformation exposes the function of aesthetics in the social space occupied by our political and cultural investments.  Memwar is mano a mano, an adult reckoning with inevitable principles of uncertainty. The gesture is a response to Adesanya Alakoye’s request (tell me how willing slaves be), to June Jordan’s assertion (I must be a menace to my enemies), and to Gwendolyn Brooks’ admonition (first fight. then fiddle). The gesture is one that a man makes when he steps outside the comfort zone of ego to do battle for his people.

Redmond has mastered the art of using the simple neologism to create a mindscape.  And his conflating geographic territories in Arkansippi reminds me of how John Oliver Killens cooked down with black fire Nina Simone’s “Mississippi, Goddamn” into the gumbo of his novel ‘Sippi (1967).

Just as Robert Hayden paid homage in “Frederick Douglass” to a man who had a “dream of the beautiful, needful thing,” so too ought we pay tribute to Eugene B. Redmond for his lifetime of work in the field of “Parapoetics” where

Poetry is an applied science:
         Re-wraped corner rap;
         Rootly-eloquented cellular, soulular sermons.

We ought to pay tribute to Redmond for all of his cultural documentation, or ,in the words of Jerry Herman from the blurb assigned to Sentry of the Four Golden Pillars (1970), his “challenging man’s inability to control his savage quest for power in our modern nuclear jungle.”  Redmond is the poet-artist-thinker for all our seasons.

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