|Photo by Wilda Morris|
I enjoy watching Finding Your Roots on television. Dr. Henry Louis Gates hosts two or three celebrities—movie stars, singers, athletes, writers, journalists—whose ancestry has been investigated by his staff using all the tools money can pay for. There are often surprises—a Chinese-American learns that a monument naming many generations of his ancestors survived the Mao years in China, an African-American discovers the disturbing fact that one of her free Black ancestors was a slave-holder, a Jewish man gets verification of the tragic fate of great-aunts and great-uncles who lost their lives in Auschwitz, a European-American learns that a great-grandfather had two wives in different cities. All of Gates' guests have learned some things about their ancestors they did not know. For some reason, many of the most interesting stories have not been preserved and passed down through the generations.
Ancestry is also an interesting subject for poetry. Here are two examples:
For My Ancestors
Who from opulent lips
sang their slave songs from the bottom of hell,
their dirges and their ditties
their blues, their jubilees,
prayed their prayers nightly, daily—
humbly bending their knees to an unseen power
to release the shackles of their oppression,
lift the darkness of their despair.
Strong as posts and barbed wire tough,
they lent their strength to the years,
trudging through the treacherous valley
of half truths and entire lies
with tears of crystal rags,
longing for velvet soft days.
Their cries never reached the big fine palace
where the villains slept on canopied beds
of fine silk and frill, birthing future masters
to carry on the malevolent plot
for their sons and daughters to silently endure.
In the fields, under the pitiless blaze of the sun
where their breath came thick
and their soul in strips,
they mounted the light of hope,
waiting for miracles to rise
and mercies to descend,
daring to envision a better world
to fill the furrows in the sand of African beaches
from where their great greats were dragged,
bewailing, bloodied, and bruised.
Their bludgeoned dreams bled of a time
when their children's children could chase the stars,
learn behind ivy walls—
new voices to console the past,
a generation of swords among lions,
armed to strike down the mountains
that casted centuries old shadows
over a history cluttered with bones.
New warriors on fire, ambitions ablaze,
galvanized to shatter the darkness into a billion lights,
illuminating all people for generations and generations to come.
~ Myron Stokes
This poem won first prize in the Margaret Reid Poetry Contest for traditional verse. It was first published at https://winningwriters.com/past-winning-entries/for-my-ancestors.
Great, Great, Great, Great Grandfather Who?
The number of ancestors that each of us has extends
exponentially back in time. Looking back less than
200 years at a moment in time, six generations ago,
we each had 64 great, great, great, great, grandparents.
Sixty-four people, a slice from my past.
Sixty-four people from whence I was cast.
Because of these folks I look as I do.
My strengths and my faults are impacted too.
They affect my health, the shape of my face,
they provide my genes, determine my race.
I know so little of their lives it’s true,
but then about me - they hadn't a clue.
Can you imagine their utter dismay
if they were to see a grandchild today?
How great it would be to gather them all,
to hear their stories, their hopes and their call.
From Europe, Asia or some other place,
who knows who they were or even their race.
Some may have been rich or worked in the trades,
horse thieves, or soldiers or pretty bar maids.
Did they consider their tree's future fate
while they were courting and choosing a mate,
that someone like me would end up to be
a distant grandchild and their progeny?
Amusing just how they impact my day,
those sixty four folks with my DNA.
~ Curt Vevang
A Few Ancestry Poems Online:
“The Bond of Living Things: Poems of Ancestry,” an essay by Toi Derricotte, with links to poems by Marilyn Chin, Lynn Emanuel, Jo Harjo, and Lucille Clifton,
Etheridge Knight, “The Idea of Ancestry,” https://poets.org/poem/idea-ancestry.
Jackie Wills, “The Ancestors,” (and a discussion of the “impish” poem), https://www.theguardian.com/books/booksblog/2020/aug/10/poem-of-the-week-the-ancestors-by-jackie-wills.
Caesar Pavese, “The Ancestors,” https://poets.org/poem/ancestors.
The August Challenge:
Have you considered writing poetry about the ancestors you know about—or about what you would like to know about your ancestry? Perhaps you would like to preserve part of your family’s story for your children or grandchildren. The challenge for this month is a poem about your ancestry, specific ancestors, your search for information on ancestors, etc. Priority will be given to poems that go back father than just parents and grandparents. Your poem may be serious or humorous. The poem may be metaphoric, or literal. Note that the blog format does not accommodate long lines; if they are used, they have to be broken in two, with the second part indented (as in the poem “Lilith,” one of the May 2018 winners), or the post has to use small print.
1-Title your poem unless it is in a form that discourages titles.
3-Put your name and a brief third-person bio under your poem.
4-Please keep the poem on the left margin (standard 1” margin). Do not put any part of your submission on a colored background. Do not use a fancy font and do not use a header or footer.
5-You may submit a published poem if you retain copyright, but please include publication data. This applies to poems published in books, journals, newspapers, or on the Internet. Poems already used on this blog are not eligible to win, but the poets may submit a different poem, unless the poet has been a winner the last three months.
6-The deadline is August 15. Poems submitted after the deadline will not be considered. There is no charge to enter, so there are no monetary rewards; however, winners are published on this blog. Please don’t stray too far from “family-friendly” language (some children and teens read this blog).
7- No simultaneous submissions of previously unpublished poems, please. You should know by the end of the month whether or not your poem will be published.
8-The poet retains copyright on each poem. If a previously unpublished poem wins and is published elsewhere later, please give credit to this blog. I do not register copyright with the US copyright office, but by US law, the copyright belongs to the writer unless the writer assigns it to someone else.
9-Decision of the judge or judges is final.
10-If the same poet wins three months in a row (which has not happened thus far), he or she will be asked not to submit the following two months.
How to Submit Your Poem:
1-Send one poem only to wildamorris4[at]gmail[dot]com (substitute the @ sign for “at” and a . for “dot”).
2-Put “August Poetry Challenge Submission” FOLLOWED BY YOUR NAME in the subject line of your email. Include a brief bio that can be printed with your poem if you are a winner this month.
3-Please put your name and bio UNDER THE POEM in your email and/or attachment. If the poem has been published before, please put that information UNDER the poem also.
4-Submission of a poem gives permission for the poem to be posted on the blog if it is a winner, so be sure that you put your name (exactly as you would like it to appear if you do win) at the end of the poem.
5-Poems may be pasted into an email or sent as an attachment (Doc, Docx, rich text or plain text; no pdf files, please). or both. Please do not indent the poem or center it on the page. It helps if you submit the poem in the format used on the blog (Title and poem left-justified; title in bold (not all capital letters); your name at the bottom of the poem). 6-Also, please do not use multiple spaces instead of commas in the middle of lines. I have no problem with poets using that technique (I sometimes do it myself). However, I have difficulty getting the blog to accept and maintain extra spaces.
Poems shorter than 40 lines are generally preferred but longer poems will be considered.
Myron Stokes is a Clinical Psychotherapist and counsels combat veterans. He is a nine-year air force veteran and served in Plattsburg, New York, Zaragoza, Spain, and Dayton, Ohio. Myron has been writing poetry for 18 years. When he isn’t writing or editing his work, Myron is reading the works of others that he admires or is searching for the most poignant verb, adjective, metaphor, simile or sound for his next poem. His poem, “The Whittler,” was recognized as Most Highly Commended in the 2012 Tom Howard/John Reid Poetry Contest. Myron has work published in Margie, International Journal of American Poetry 2005 and the Ellen LaForge Poetry Prize 2007. His poem, “The Outhouse,” won third place in the National Federation of State Poetry Societies Founders’ Award contest. He is a four-time semi-finalist in the Gwendolyn Brooks Open Mic Poetry Contest. Myron is a member of the Illinois State Poetry Society, Poets and Patrons, and the Oak Park Writer’s Group. Myron proudly exclaims that POETRY HAS THE POWER TO SET THE WORLD ON FIRE AND COOL IT DOWN AT THE SAME TIME.
Curt Vevang is a Chicago native and author of four poetry books, “a scant bagatelle”, “the nature of things”, “poetry as we like it” and most recently, "poetry of the engineer". He has also published two rhyming children's books illustrated by 6th grade students. All six books are available at Amazon, keyword Vevang. His poetry has been published in anthologies, poetry magazines, and various poetry websites. He has won honors from the Illinois State Poetry Society, Poets and Patrons, the Journal of Modern Poetry, the Northbrook Arts Commission, and the Poetry Society of Tennessee. His poetry won first place in the Humor category in both 2019 and 2020 poetry contests sponsored by the National Federation of State Poetry Societies. He has an engineering degree from the University of Illinois.
© Wilda Morris