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Xavier Literary Reading Series

Lenard D. Moore: Transcript

[Note: This is a transcript of a video.]

Lenard D. Moore

Hello, my name is Lenard D. Moore. I was born in Jacksonville, North Carolina, but I've been living in Raleigh, North Carolina for the past nineteen years. And, I write poetry, fiction, literary criticism, literary nonfiction, and I've writtenŠI've been working on a play for a while as well as a novel. I got my undergraduate degree from Shaw University, Magna Cum Laude. I got my graduate degree from North Carolina A & T State University in English and African American Literature. And I write as often as possible. Many times when I write, I'm writing while listening to jazz. I always have John Coltrane CD playing in the car when I'm traveling. And I have also done some haiku workshops which I call jazzcu while using Coltrane's work and writing poetry while listening to Coltrane. I catch some phrasing and rephrasing in my own poems.

I often write about family, childhood experiences, so I rely heavily on memory and imagination and I am trying to invent certain things to hopefully employ in my poetry. I have a book entitled Forever Home which, in this work I've written about family, farming and interacting with my siblings. This is a poem title, "The Homeplace," the first poem in Forever Home that I'd like to share.

The Homeplace

When I walk the path this morning
there is only a slight light
in the thinned woods.
I come upon a creek
near a tin-roofed house;
and there's no one anywhere
to witness my presence.

Meanwhile the wind
rises through the branches—
but soon reaches groundfall.
A faint smell of honeysuckle
sustains itself on the air
while quail rove the slope-weeds.
My eyes will not let go.

Now I think of my great-grandfather
who one time walked these woods through daylight.
This is the country he knew since boyhood.
And I am grateful for this homeplace—
here, I, too, wish to grow old
and stand without words
in this part of the world
so lively and pure.

I can hear a dog barking
somewhere in the far distance—
here where the voices of former life
do not speak, their spirits huddling
into themselves, a brotherhood of saints.
we are this fresh green world
which cradles everything into itself.

Copyright 1992 by Lenard D. Moore,
Forever Home, Laurinburg, North Carolina: St. Andrews Press.
Used by permission of author.

And in this poem I also try to employ visual imagery with lots of detail and hopefully with a rhythm, that is musical. So I've worked with sound and with image, working with the five senses in my work. So I have that in mind often to hopefully enliven my poetry. So working with concrete details is very important for me. Not to have those abstractions there, try to have fresh metaphor, parallels, connections, and so forth, and also try to recall the past. And hopefully that's what happens in this book Forever Home when I read some of the works here from Forever Home.

Next, I would like to read a few selections from Desert Storm: A Brief History. I will read what I've tried to do with this work, or what I'd hoped to do in my author's note for this book. I said, "In this book I hope to share insights about a specific event with the reader, while showing a relationship between history and literature. I chose the haiku form to present images in a precise way, so that the reader can participate in the haiku moment itself. Here are the sounds and silences of the Persian Gulf War. While the poems can stand independently, it is hoped that this sequence will be read as one long poem. Perhaps the poem will trigger familiar thoughts based on the reader's own experiences. Then too I have tried to paint a picture that will inspire a full appreciation of such a global event. This event began on September 17th, 1991, a bittersweet day. Sweet in the respect that it was my paternal grandmother's 76th birthday, and bitter in the respect that my brother and others had to face the harsh realities of war."

"September sunrise
marine leaving for the Persian Gulf
looks back at his wife."

"A dead soldier 
staring fro the ground 
the shifting light."

brother's voice on the phone
in a different tone."

"Back home
soldier listens to bird calls
marking sunrise."

Copyright 1993 by Lenard D. Moore,
Desert Storm: A Brief History, San Diego: Los Hombres Press.
Used by permission of author.

Earlier I mentioned that I write while listening to jazz music. I listen to Coltrane, Miles Davis, and many other jazz artists. Here's a poem that was inspired at the Artsposure Celebration at Raleigh, North Carolina annual festival held during May. And at that time poets were part of the festival and I had the opportunity to read at the festival and so this poem came out of that experience. Title, "Raleigh Jazz Festival, 1986"


On the Fayetteville Street Mall 
a lean man bobs his head. 
His sax shines like copper in a sunbeam, 
a splendid rising rhythm.... 
The swingman inches 
across the homemade platform... 
his angled jaws shaping and reshaping 
while pigeons go on answering 
pigeons secrets. Jazz notes blend 
with the singing silence. 
People dance on red-bricked walkways, 
their fingerpoppings 
echo off tall marble buildings. 
And now the saxophonist bows. 
The silence resumes. 
The pigeons improvise; 
wings (never so numerous as now) 
darken the town clock's face. 
In thick bus fumes 
the crowd scatters, 
their spirits rising 
insolent against the sun's setting. 
The hobos linger for leftovers, 
in a sacred space of dogwoods. 

Copyright 2002 by Lenard D. Moore,
Fives: Fifty Poems by Serbian and American Poets, A Bilingual Anthology, Belgrade / Merrick, NY: Contact Line / Cross-Cultural Communications.
Used by permission of author.

What I try to do when I write I try to push deeper into the poem, so that I am able to go beyond the surface or just merely describing whatever it is I am writing about. I also try to employ history, maybe sociology, theology, different disciplines into my work. I think that is very important to hopefully lend more texture to your work. So I am hoping that's what I am able to do when I employ those discipline sin my work. I often revise as often as possible because I think that's so important when writing because when I initially write something I only have the frame, so then I have to work to get the body right, to shape it, to mold it, to get the poem to what it should be. And then I have to look at my phrasing. So I try to work with the language and hopefully able to do something new while working with language. In addition to that I believe that it's so important to start a writers group to share your work with other writers, to bounce ideas off of other writers and hopefully that's what we're able to do in our workshops and meeting with the Carolina African American Writers Collective, and also with the Washington Street Writers Group. In both of those groups we share our works and hopefully we're able to hone those works and by having other eyes on those works we are able to do other things, hopefully fresh things with those works as well work with how the poem sounds. I think that's so important, how the poem sounds as well as how the poem holds up on the page. That's so important.

So that's what I aim for when I write for those things. And then hopefully the work will resonate with my readers and maybe they will go back to that work that they read and perhaps see other works that I've written. At least I hope. And then maybe they will be inspired to write too, or share the works with some others. As I said earlier reading is so important, so that you will know what has happened before you, what is happening now. When I say, what is happening now I am talking about trends and what interesting things people are doing with language, what subjects they are writing about. All of that is so important. So read, read, read. So important, I can't stress that enough. And then write as often as possible. Keep a pad with you or a journal. Its' very important to write in a journal, just jot down those ideas, record or undo what Gwendolyn Brooks often talked about was reporting which is what she says she did with her writing and so yes, become a reporter for literature. You want to write, report what is happening in your community, what is happening in the world. It's very important to get that down and to turn it into art. That's when the work is able to resonate. So importantŠ

So the last thing I would like to do because I also talked about memory or remembering is to share another poem with you that hopefully illustrates what I mean by memory. This poem is titled "Hot-Combing."


Saturday at eight
my mother and sisters gather
in the kitchen.
The front eye of the stove glows red.
The bent black teeth
of the iron comb smoke
like morning sun striking frost
on a rooftop,
like a pot of hot ice.

I stand behind the dining room door,
its iron frame nearly blocking
the women's weekly ritual.
Mama tests the hot comb
on a worn, scorched towel.
I don't like breathing the odor
of my sisters' straightened hair:
distrust of hotcombing
surfaces in me.

Beneath the bright bulb,
my older sister sits down
in a wooden chair.
Our mother pulls the comb through her hair‹
carefully.  It sizzles
sliding through Royal Crown.
The smell of frying hair spreads
like fire through the house,
so intense, so insidious.

My younger sister is next‹
asks our mother to go slow,
to lessen the hurt,
to work layer by layer.
Mama demands she sit still.
The comb singes her ear.
She knows not to holler.
Tight tiny curls submit to the heat.
I close my eyes,
feel her pain burn
into the rawness of my stomach.

Copyright 2001 by Lenard D. Moore,
One Trick Pony, Number Six, Fall 2001.
Used by permission of author.

[Note: This is a transcript of a video.]

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