Konya Shamsrumi: What is the process of writing a poem like for you? Is it a lot of hard work or easy?
Patrick A. Howell: Writing a poem is “effortless work” like playing football or basketball in physical terms. It’s work because you break a sweat and you’re catching your breath. And if you’re out of shape and can’t breathe? – it’s like death. You know? Under that adrenaline rush, is the lactic acid churning over your ambitions burned. But danged if you didn’t just have the best ever time… and learned. Poetry is about rhythm, melody and rhyme. Not only musically, but also philosophical query. Yes, poetry is about solving personal worries but also lyming, juxtaposing and cosmic signposting.
So, when I started doing poetry… or, when poetry started doing me decades ago, I was following the likes of Robert Frost, T. S. Eliot or those Harlem Renaissance fellows… Paul Lawrence Dunbar and Countee Cullen. I would measure stanzas for syllables and end lines on rhymes. But, as I became freer and more confident, as I had become lost and then found, learning from the jazz griot giants as Al Jarreau or Yoruba Jali, masters as Bobby McFerrin, I soared. Spirits. I opened up my gate a bit and would end a stanza on an unconventional line. Little like a black unicorn… nibbling on your ear, speaking in juju imagery and concise djembe time.
The classical training from the jazz maestros and poet ghosts served me well because the meter, song and drum were now in my pulse, my own heart hoping. Now I call the masters godmother and big brother – Jaki Shelton Green, Quincy Troupe, Nikki Giovanni, Ishmael Reed and Abiodun Oyewole. Oh, the memories! The greats who have done their sacred texts over the decades, built lores and legacies – sometimes at their knees, others challenging. Spirit saved. Centuries. Journeys. We’re all just returning home. So, writing poetry is neither hard nor easy, it is a total trip really.
Konya Shamsrumi: Please describe your sense of identity in this or any possible world in imagery or metaphor?
Patrick A. Howell: Straight up?
I’m a spirit. Captured in a bloody body. I can fly too. Celestial. And crash into this earth dusty. I cry, captured in this mess fleshy. Like again… I’m born. Yeah, sometimes I fly daytime skies and see how close I can get to the sun. If its radiation won’t burn me into my purest form. I look that ball of psychedelic metaphysic fires dead in the eye and dare it to crisply burn my retinas, char the skin right off this melanated body. Damned, if I don’t want to become the sun setting. Yeah, howling in fuchsias and auburns. Then become camouflage dark as the nighttime dense with countless stars and a hypnotic hanging low moon. All sick like. I unstick myself from the short and little hands of man’s so-called time… my body bounds and I pound-gallop open fields with reckless abandon charged with the edicts, prayers and dreams of ancestors. I climb mountain sides, jagged walls of black lacquered volcanic rock like a human rock climber. And then there were those times when I have been overloaded with heavy yellow emotion. Transference. I sat still in those moments. Solstice. Let the demons rip, scream and fly. All around me, I pray, I pray, I pray. I meditate and I Love. And then I came up again with the morning sun. I’m spirit. Again. In a body. God.
Konya Shamsrumi: If any of your poems could literally save a person’s life, which poem would it be, and can you describe the person whose life you think it would have saved?
Patrick A. Howell: I wrote this poem in 2005 just before my son was born and I was about to quit retail banking, begin a new entrepreneurial enterprise, buy a home with my family in the suburbs, write my first book of poetry and live my dreams in stunning technicolor. It’s a spell. Real juju work. So, I exalted my own life. And I think it can cast a spell for just about any black holy soul too.
The Discipline of Self-Actual/Self-Real-I-zation
Don't dream, be.
Lay the bad memories, the bad past, to rest like an old dead man-
Don't forget, simply memorialize and leave it behind…
Moribund the effect will raise itself up,
Like a ghoul
But bury it
With incantations of self-honey love
And granulated will power,
Deep inside the ground.
Deep within the texture of who you are.
Slay your demons, spirit your angels-
Pull them from within
Let their flight guide your heart,
And your ambitions in toe,
To its ultimate height.
Don't fear- ever.
Don't let hatred inhabit your space-
Don't let it consume you
Don't let it touch you~
Do not Let the Devil have Its way with you~
And your cosmic galactic ambitions
Inhale-exhale. meditate- focus with purpose every day.
Because you dream,
Because you struggle,
Because you realize,
Konya Shamsrumi: What does Africa mean to you, as potential or reality?
Patrick A. Howell: Africa is so now.
It’s shocking to see it all reverse itself out. And perhaps I’m too optimistic. Raise the hands to the heavens and give praise, right? That’s faith – like 400 years ago, the first African souls arrived in Jamestown, Virginia – 1619 – 2019 like lambs. Our tribesmen ancestors were lost. They were lords, some of the strongest of the kings and queens who built those kingdoms of Ghana, Mali and Songhai in the previous millennia. They were the descendants of Mansa Musa and they had all survived the Maafa. Now, they built America and the Americas with cotton and tobacco, sugar too. And now, we, the children of those ancestors are returning to the continent by the planes full, first class, business class and cabin. Now, we return home as the lions of Judah. We survived, now we thrive. Generation X, Gen. Z and Millennial bodies standing at the castles where their ancestors were shipped off from dungeons 400 years earlier. Mourning. Rising. Building. New beginnings.
I mean, the entire world witnesses a president sell that whole nation out for his own vested interest. It used to be that the despots governed Africa. If it weren’t real and you were seeing it Twittered on the world stage, it might seem as a Shakespearean or, even biblical tragedy. He is emblematic of the sort of soulless villainy capitalism that made slavery official. He is that sort of zero-sum soul. Or, maybe he would sell if for a trillion- I don’t know. So, now the whole world understands what American slavery was and is- Soulless barbarians. He’ll wipe out the morale and spirit of his own FBI, his own generals, his own people. The institutions are staid and stymied under his sort of hulking brute. It’s a first world banana republic type of scenario.
Africa, conversely, has become the world’s emerging economy. In general, rising. The promise of Accra, Ghana; Addis Ababa, Ethiopia; Lagos, Nigeria… Rwanda, Liberia, Senegal are all rising in concert to the potential that Kwame Nkrumah and Haile Selassie, Ethiopia’s last emperor, saw in trying to form Pan-African unity. The spread of COVID 19 is slowest there and there’s a Nobel Peace Laureate who studied at the Institute for Peace and Security Studies at Addis Ababa University where the last emperor once was. In Addis, there is a road, Cape Verde, where all the African and European nations have their consulates. China and the world invest its capital. And Africa’s people – all of us around the globe – are hungry for justice and freedom. We’re patient to express the love that is our creative genius. So, there is a new renaissance (artistic and economic) percolating not unlike the one that took place a hundred years ago in Harlem. Renewal, the likes of which have never been seen before. But this one is global – a global international African Arts Movement. Or, the Global I Aam.
Konya Shamsrumi: Could you share with us one poem you’ve been most impressed or fascinated by? Tell us why and share favorite lines from it.
Patrick A. Howell: “who will be the messenger of this land” by Jaki Shelton Green opens up two volumes of my work – my first book of poetry in 2018, Yes We Be, by Jacar Press in North Carolina and my forthcoming anthology Dispatches from the Vanguard by Repeater Books in London (August 21, 2020, distributed by Penguin Random House). Both books deal in their own spirit and thematic construct with the “Global International African Arts Movement”. As most poets, godmother Jaki is a prophet, visionary and healer. She does work with the people to heal souls and it is how I know if America were to correct its blunder and elect a very sane and sober fellow, she ought to be Poet Laureate. She ought to be a poet laureate of the world! Even though “who will be the messenger” was written in 2005, it’s about these times, it’s about our healing in 2020. And just as ancestor Maya Angelou was a countermeasure to 6 US presidents in her griot queendom, reciting her poem on the Pulse of the Morning just before the 20th century became the 21st, Godmother Jaki Shelton Green is that for the people now. She was recently appointed Poet Laureate of North Carolina but she is the voice of the people in the body of a black woman, a black mama. Both of my books tried to answer the clarion call to the people to rise on up and be a blessing to the land. That call-answer dynamic has been going on since Africans invented language, poetry and universities thousands of years ago. Here are a couple of my favorite stanzas from her revelation “who will be the messenger of the land”:
...who will be the messenger of this land
wrapping its stories carefully
in patois of creole, irish,
gullah, twe, tuscarora
stripping its trees for tea
who will help this land to?
remember its birthdays, baptisms
weddings, funerals, its rituals
...we are the messengers
arriving as mutations of ourselves
we are these messengers
singing a tree into dance.
See? It is timeless. And yes, it is we who are the messengers of the land.