Jerry Ward Jr.

Jerry W. Ward Jr.

“There’s holiness in speech. In song. I’d say, a sanctity the unsuffered must never touch.”

Jerry Ward Jr.
Photo: C.B. Claiborne, 2004

Born in Washington, D.C. and raised in Moss Point, Mississippi, the poet and scholar Jerry W. Ward, Jr. was educated at Tougaloo College, the Illinois Institute of Technology, and the University of Virginia. A Lawrence Durgin Professor of Literature at Tougaloo College for some 20 years, and a Professor of English at Dillard University, Ward has also served as editor to the anthologies Redefining American Literary History (1990), Black Southern Voices (1992) and Trouble the Water: 250 Years of African American Poetry (1997). Some of Ward’s most recent work includes a memoir, The Katrina Papers: A Journal of Trauma and Recovery (2008), and Fractal Song (2017), a book of poems. Ward has published essays, poems and critical reviews in New Orleans Review, Obsidian, The Southern Quarterly, Black American Literature Forum and Callaloo, and has been the recipient of numerous awards, including a Kent Fellowship, a Tougaloo College Outstanding Teaching Award, a United Negro College Fund’s Distinguished Scholar Award, the Public Humanities Scholar Award, and a Darwin T. Turner Award from the African American Literature and Culture Society. Ward was inducted into the International Literary Hall of Fame for Writers of African Descent in 2001.

I Have Felt the Gulf: Mississippi

I have felt the Gulf churn butter
and fish ignore with beautiful indifference
the fatal harmony of salt and oilwater.
Turtles, housed in theory, laugh.
Veracity, audacious and violent, rises
as wrecked richness to surface
and ride raveling waves to
shore: beach, a long breadbrown
slice of careless nature, awaits
this gift, miracle spread,
as if, perhaps, then again, maybe, why
my boat-tossed face was hushed
to utter awe at the ceiling
of language, a storm-verbed sky. 

Jerry W. Ward Jr., “I Have Felt the Gulf: Mississippi,” in Furious Flower: African American Poetry form the Black Arts Movement to the Present, ed. Joanne Gabbin (University of Virginia Press, 2004), 143.

Journey 55

song in arrivals

You survive the surreal
path through trees who
Weep as brooms complain
of being misused as instruments
of a slave-jumping point.
Owls fear your power.
Lions roar your praise.
Such wonders on the star/trail
inspire the utterance
of a child’s mouth:
the truly hip do not hop
with rabbits’ abandon.
They dance designs.
Your light/love speaks
critique in dialogue
with desires unchained.
Your metaphor’s revealed.
Time remarks thus:
law would order the spine
be broken at the brainbase.
You escape, leave no ashes.
The lynched phoenix salutes
your legend.
Memory smiles.
Only wind will call your name.
Bells inscribe
your dying
to live
the balance

Jerry W. Ward Jr., “Journey 55,” in Furious Flower: African American Poetry form the Black Arts Movement to the Present, ed. Joanne Gabbin (University of Virginia Press, 2004), 143-144.