Groundwork: New and Selected Poems of Don L. Lee/Haki R. Madhubuti from 1966-1996Groundwork: New and Selected Poems of Don L. Lee/Haki R. Madhubuti from 1966-1996 by Haki R. Madhubuti

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

in america the major reward for
in words, songs and visual melody
is to have dull people
call you weird
while asking what
you do for a living.

~ The Writer

Baba Haki is positively prolific in “GroundWork”, the collected revisiting of his poetry, prose, and essays through 1996. Not simply in terms of the wealth of writing, but in the evolving method and manner of his insight. Weddings, coronations, funerals, births, politics, travel and culture all bow before the curvature of his pen and the weight of his analysis. One becomes acutely aware that he has long since been consumed with the written word as the most succinct means of capturing the essential emotive force in each circumstance life might bring to bear. He is in a sense always writing even when not.

blk/poets die
not being
& from, maybe,
too much
some drank
but most
poets who poet

~ First Impressions On A Poet’s Death (for Conrad Kent Rivers)

And then there is the communal work. The work which binds each of us nearer to one another and leads to expressions of our broader humanity. It is here that Haki channels our furor, passion, pain, and personified poetry. Words which fail us appear to fall from his thoughts with ease and alacrity. This is not a text for light reading, brief summation or one that you should wish to breeze through. You must allow it to sit and reason with you.


don’t let them
your face or
take your circles
and make them squares.

don’t let them
your body as to put
100 stories of concrete on you
so that you


~ Change Is Not Always Progress (for Africa & Africans)

I had the wonderful fortune to find this text in the course of my current studies of varying stages of black radicalism between the period of the Great Migration and the cultural shift/revival of the 70’s. It is perhaps no mere coincidence that I found myself holding conversation with this book at the same time as I was reviewing Nommo: A Literary Legacy of Black Chicago (1967-1987) ~ An Anthology of the OBAC Writers’ Workshop which I presently consider one the most brilliantly assembled organizational histories which I have seen in my short life.

Baba Haki stood in good company amongst the writers of the Organization of Black American Culture (OBAC). I therefore would think it might be inadequate to speak to the brilliance of this text without referencing the literary lineage to which he found himself bound for some 20 years. In reading both his older works and more recent material, one gathers the sense that he has not at all forgotten either.

The organization existed as a regional hub of the written resurgence known as the Black Arts Movement which sought to act as a catalyst for defining the course towards a black aesthetic. How best do we create art which exemplifies the best elements which black culture has to offer? Art by our people and for our people which takes no consideration in playing for mainstream accolade or attention.

The importance here was that it made the way for very biting social commentary far and away different from the manner in which such anger was expressed by previous generations of black artists in either the Harlem Renaissance or Abolitionist era. There was a yearning to show that assimilation into the mainstream need not be our primary objective.

fact is stranger than fiction
here in america in the year of 1973
many black people don’t even know how
we came to this land

some black people believe that
we were the first people
to fly
and that we came first class.

~ Worldview

Still in all my talk of the seriousness of this work, I don’t want anyone to lose sight of the humor, wit, sarcasm, or irony that Haki draws upon so often. It lives in the classic tradition of signifyin’ while still being entirely self reflective in its goal. In other words, his best joke on you is a loving barb. A pin prick that you might notice how much more he has to draw to your awareness. There is a chapter in the previously mentioned Nommo text by Carolyn M. Rodgers which I at first found humorous, but which now seems all too relevant to Haki’s approach to the writing. I plan to assemble it into a blog post of its own in the future.

the situation:

i mean–
u bes hitten the man hard
all day long
a stone revolutionary, “a full time revolutionary.”
tellen the man how bad u is
& what u goin ta do
& how u goin ta do it.

it must be a bitch
to be able to do all that
talken. (& not one irregular breath fr/yr/mouth)
being so
forceful & all
to the man’s face (the courage)
& u not even cracken a smile (realman)

i know,
the sisters just don’t
understand the
pressure u is under.

when u ask for a piece
of leg/
it’s not for yr/self
but for
yr/people—-it keeps u going
& anyway u is a revolutionary
& she wd be doin
a revolutionary thing.

that sister dug it
from the beginning,
had an early-eye.
i mean
she really had it together
when she said:
go fuck yr/self nigger.

that was

~ The Revolutionary Screw (for my blacksisters)

Let “GroundWork” serve as a marker and reminder of the legacy we have built in black literature. Another foothold serving as a firm foundation for the work we still have left to do in this world. As you traverse his journey, consider your own evolution. Are you willing to go through the changes? Be meditative, reflective and mindful along the way. Find where you are wrong and develop a constructive and meaningful way to express it to the world that you may veer another wayward soul back on course. Are you willing to think critically about each of your decisions as they affect all members of the community to which you commit yourself? If you are, then you too may be ready to begin assembling your GroundWork.

if i make mistakes
tell me about them while i live
don’t wait until i have left this earth
and then accuse me of contradictions
i may not have been aware of.

~ Life Poems #75

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