“James Baldwin used to say ‘Do the work’… You do it because you have to. You do it because you need to.”
At the time of the 1994 conference, Eugene Redmond–– the first and only official poet laureate of his native East St. Louis, Illinois–– taught at Southern Illinois University Edwardsville (SIUE), his alma mater, and had served as a poet-in-residence at Oberlin College, California State University- Sacramento, and elsewhere. He is now professor emeritus of English at SIUE. Redmond’s boundless creative energy has propelled him into many projects, including his work at Southern Illinois University’s Performing Arts Training Center, and his dedicated study of the late poet and fiction writer Henry Dumas. Redmond was a co-founder of Black River Writers Publishing Company and the founding editor of Drumvoices Review. He has written several books, including Songs from an Afro/Phone: New Poems (1972), Drumvoices: The Mission of Afro-American Poetry, A Critical History, (1976), and The Eye in the Ceiling (1992), for which he received the 1993 American Book Award. More recently, Redmond has released Arkansippi Memwars: Poetry, Prose & Chants 1962-2012, which was published in 2014 by Third World Press. Throughout his career, Redmond has been the recipient of a National Endowment for the Arts (NEA), a Pushcart Prize, a St. Louis American Foundation’s Lifetime Achievement Award, and much more.
Eugene Redmond reads an excerpt from “Barbequed Cong or We Laid My Lai Low”
Barbequed Cong or We Laid My Lai Low
at My Lai we left lint for lawns
feathered with frameless wingless birds,
barbequed and bodyless heads of hair
hanging from the charcoal gazes of burnt huts.
rice-thin hides harbored
unregenerative crops trigger-grown from the trunks of
as barbeque grills grew hotter, with ghost-hot heat
mothers cooked children and causes
in grease of blood-glazed breasts,
resigned in the weighty whisper that:
“one can only die once.”
cannon cut My Lai into fleshy confetti.
pellet-potted half cooked carcasses curing in rice wine.
(rat tat-tat of an idea. souvenirs for patron-saints presiding
over oil wells.)
flat-faced down in the mud like some unclaimed unnamed
yet undreamt dream.
while miniature machine-gun minds
mate with mole-holes
on the muddy highways of swamp or swampless night.
hear ye… hear ye:
a declaration of the undeclared causes.
a preamble to the constipation and conscription.
dare we overcome?
go forth against grains before mornings unfold?
my lands! My Lai!
puppet shows and portable pentagods soar or sneak from
Shine came on deck of the mind this morning and said:
“there’s a sag in the nation’s middle.
which way extends the natal cord—
north or south?”
i lay down my life for My Lai and Harlem.
i lay down my burden in Timbuctu and Baltimore.
we waited long and low
like low-strung studs for My Lai
when we reared and rammed her
with spark-sperm spitting penises
then withdrew westward 6000 miles
(a pacific coffin of the mind between us)
to vex canned good consciences
and claim the 5th Amendment.