Never Missing a Beat
by Abdul Ali
Even before I started calling myself a writer, I enjoyed meeting people. I didn’t think of it as interviewing then. It was my own way of listening to the rhythm of someone else’s thoughts. Where were they from? What was it like? Did they pick honey suckle like I did as a child?
Earlier this week, I interviewed poet Hettie Jones. I encountered her work under the strangest of circumstances. Back in college, I was dating a young woman who always teased me for my literary ambition. She once said, you know if you become famous, I can write a book like Hettie Jones (she wrote How I Became Hettie Jones) did. The moment she said that, I wanted to know who Hettie Jones was. And, I don’t mean who she was in terms of her marriage to Amiri Baraka (then LeRoi Jones.) I mean, who was she on the page. And what was it like to be one of the few women involved with the Beat Generation?
It turns out she was as fascinating as I believed she would be. And, for some reason, I keep thinking of my grandmother whenever I think of Hettie Jones (as my grandparents too were an interracial couple.) But more than that, Hettie had some solid things to say about the Beat Generation. Above all, she said, we were intellectuals. We read everything. We were very passionate about what we believed in. None of us grew up with silver spoons in our mouths. We were influenced by the Black Mountain school of poetry that purported: each line contained a breath.
Though, I wasn’t of that generation. I appreciate the framework, the inheritance of it all. That poetry does not belong to the elite. That it was for all of us. That it’s okay to pepper your poems with curse words (used judiciously, of course). That it was okay if your poem come in the shape of a bird, as long as it flies off the page.
My folder of poems labeled "weather" holds no clues as to whether or not there’ll be any weather to count on, say, a hard rain like "little nails," or that deluge "plunging radiant" now that we’ve plunged into war and wars don’t stop like rain stops like that last slow drizzle onto the old tin bathroom vent sweet hint of growth in the soft wet drift north fire or ice, fire or ice are you breathing, are you lucky enough to be breathing