Preface to 'Natural Process'
Note: In 1970, Weatherly and Ted Wilentz coedited an anthology of African American poetry titled for the workshops Weatherly had been running from East Harlem for the past few years: Natural Process. A fixture on the New York scene, Wilentz and his brother Eli co-owned the Eighth Street Bookstore at 32 West 8th Street in New York. Established in 1947, the bookstore became a hangout for Beat and New York School writers — Bob Dylan and Allen Ginsberg first met there, and LeRoi and Hettie Jones both briefly worked there, as did Andrei Condrescu and John Wieners. The brothers also ran Corinth Books, who published Weatherly’s Maumau Cantos.
Weatherly’s preface to the anthology serves as both poetic autobiography and wry editorial. Natural Process was one of a large number of anthologies of African American poetry printed following the rise of the Black Arts Movement (not least among them Larry Neal and Baraka’s 1968 Black Fire), and the preface sets Weatherly’s own personal and poetic development within the context of debates about African American poetry at the time. “I know the schools” he writes, parodying the form of a standard editorial survey: “San Francisco, Black Mountain, / New York, Beat, LeRoi Jones, BLAHBLAH THE FIFTYS / A TURBULENT AND CREATIVE PERIOD IN / AMERICAN LETTERS.” Avoiding conventional accounts of the New American Poetry in which Jones/Baraka was virtually the only acknowledged black contributor, Weatherly also seeks to avoid the pitfalls faced by curators of the new black avant-garde. Addressing Baraka directly, Weatherly challenges his place as “the father of modern Afro / American poetry,” presenting him with a new breed who “look over his shoulder, / ’timidating him, black magic,” as well as contesting Baraka’s own repudiation of his earlier work. Weatherly address the marketization of black art — “Hmmmm, AfroAmerican art is selling / at higher prices this year” — and pours scorn on conventional periodizations of recent American poetic history. In what can be read as much as a personal credo as an editorial claim, he states: “I’m here to shuck your ears / ’way from precise new English, to turn you ’round / to telling the down truth, law!” — David Grundy
From the dark continent of the European
mind (commerce), across the blue middle
passage to Jong sang doo, to straddle big muddy,
east up the coast, we sing bad mouf songs
for real love within our lives.
We turn fast corners wif magic feets this year.
(The Scottsboro buck.)
On clear Saturdays read Langston Hughes,
make my bed, off to dig on Tarzan, king of great apes,
swinging down my head at the Ritz. Langston
and Tarzan fight cold war for my soul flesh,
and I spend out high school, my allowance, hanging
wif the rest of the niggers in the balcony. The man
on the screen, swinging through the trees,
beating the shit out the natives. Ignorant Africans!
I don’t have the withal to argue this complement, eating baloney,
sitting wif my uncle John Will, the champeen shucker
of Jackson and Madison Counties. He has a chicken fat
imagination, and as champ chicken plucker of Jackson
County knew who is getting plucked. Hmmmm, the Africans
have more gumption than the local shines, niggers up
there in the U.N. dressing like Winston Churchill
wif war and a piece.
Afroamerican poets writing in stony
new English, or knightly, clannish y’all syrup. I say
I’m gonna figure up a language for all Americans (heh!),
the language I’ll use as an American poet, colored and
charming. There ain’t many differences between Jupiter
Hammon and Moon Mullins, and we all got it brothers,
bible tracts in the arm, numb to the inevitable.
English doggerel is a bitch, you conceit, pick
up pen write love sonnets to nine numb bitches.
(The Atlanta brave.)
The student non-violent committed
sit-in for lunch at the Billy Club, and feel
language in action. Mister Crab having hard thots
on them honking our music cracking our skulls.
We kick back beginning now. Heavy sole under this shine.
Kicking Buck Benny’s dues I pay in early admission
to soul mother Morehouse, she still putting out
Negro Men — pride of the South. Or in a Normal,
Alabama school, James Vinson rapping Chaucer round my ears,
while the administration suspends me for publishing
on campus without permission. I have enuf Bama,
Bull Connor getting his nuts in the streets
putting down niggers. There is no chance of Chaucer
or Connor conking my head. Yeh yeh you know all.
I know, but we don’t live in the same medium.
I know the schools: San Francisco, Black Mountain
New York, Beat, LeRoi Jones, BLAHBLAH THE FIFTYS
A TURBULENT AND CREATIVE PERIOD IN
Listen to these new fresh young poets liberate poesy from form,
ideas, and ideology; like Charles Olson, they don’t write in
poverty-stricken English. They don’t howl
at the moon inside the jacket of their anthology.
DIPSHIT PACK-HALL-SIMPSON they all cry, wolf,
wolf, at the door,
I’m here to shuck your ears
’way from precise new English, to turn you ’round
to telling the down truth, law! Brothers, sisters,
I introduce you to, for the most
part, new acquaintances, brothers and sisters who set
down on paper flesh poems and poems that cut
like a hawk razor.
You can’t shuffle the words
out, believe that now, you all can’t carry
razors anyhow Miss Ann, even like a washwoman.
You shuffle razors, baby, cut your self.
We turn fast corners wif magic feets this year.
Hmmmm, AfroAmerican art is selling
at higher prices this year, hardtime head getting higher
each year, inflates
hard times in my economy, mebbe yours too.
We do an anthology, no literary debts to pay, or dues,
a crack historian and a back home singer.
The poets and poems we could just compromise on
are not in here.
LeRoi/Ameer is not the father of modern Afro
American poetry, tho I feel the spirit to move
that heavy appellation on ’im. We look over his shoulder,
’timidating him, black magic, a pool doo telling us
it is our own.
Ameer Baraka, mouf wide open,
what you say is valuable, you cannot
repudiate your earlier poems, they are there:
America can’t resist your today
poems, here is what they may have inspired. Here are
your brothers, sisters, sons and daughters,
collected to replace the King James gang version.
— Tom Weatherly, 1970
Edited by David Grundy