Kalamu ya Salaam

Kalamu ya Salaam

“Poetry is not an answer. Poetry is a calling.”

Kalamu ya Salaam
Photo: C.B. Claiborne, 1994

Born in New Orleans, Louisiana, as Val Ferdinand III, Kalamu ya Salaam was enchanted by the work of Langston Hughes from a young age. By the 1994 conference, Salaam was already a well-respected poet, writer and social activist whose works included The Blues Merchant (1969), Hofu Ni Kwenu (My Fear Is For You) (1973), Pamoja Tutashinda (Together We Will Win) (1974), Ibura (1976), Revolutionary Love (1978), (1979), A Nation of Poets (1989), and others. After the conference, Salaam has continued to publish, such as his recent Be about Beauty (2018). Salaam was the founder of BLCKARTSOUTH, served as an editor for the Black Collegian and QBR: The Black Book Review, and was also founder and director of the NOMMO Literary Society, a New Orleans-based Black writers’ workshop. His awarded distinctions include but are not limited to a George Washington Freedom Foundation Award, a Deep South Writer’s Contest Award, and a CAC Regional New Play Competition Award.

The Call of The Wild

Poetry is not an answer            
Poetry is a calling                       
        	a vision that does not vanish                       
        	just because nothing                       
        	concrete comes along or                       
        	because the kingdom of heaven                       
        	is under some tyrant's foot            
Poetry is not a right            
Poetry is a demand                       
        	to be left alone                       
        	or joined together or whatever                       
        	we need to live             
Poetry is not an ideology                       
        	poets choose life                       
        	over ideas, love people                       
        	more than theories, and really would                       
        	prefer a kiss to a lecture.            

Poetry is not a government            
Poetry is a revolution                       
        	guerrillas– si!                       
        	politicians– no!            
Poetry is always hungry                       
        	for all that is                       
        	poetry never stops drinking                       
        	not even after the last drop, if we                       
        	run out of wine poets will                       
        	figure a way to ferment rain            
Poetry wears taboos                       
        	like perfume with a red shirt                       
        	and a feather in the cap,                       
        	sandals or bare feet, and                       
        	sleeps nude with the door unlocked            
Poetry cuts up propriety into campfire logs and sits                       
        	around proclaiming life's glories far into                       
        	each starry night
Poetry burns prudence                       
        	like it was a stick of aromatic incense or                       
        	the even more fragrant odor of the heretic                       
        	aflame at the stake, eternally unwilling                       
        	to swear allegiance                       
        	to foul-breathed censors                       
        	with torches in their hands            
Poetry smells like a fart                       
        	in every single court of law and smells                       
        	like fresh mountain air                       
        	in every dank jail cell            
Poetry is unreliable            
Poetry will always jump the fence                       
        	just when you think poets are behind you                       
        	they show up somewhere off the beaten path                       
        	absent without leave, beckoning for you                       
        	to take your boots off and listen to the birds            
Poetry is myopic and refuses to wear glasses                       
        	never sees no trespassing signs and always                       
        	prefers to be up touching close to everything                       
        	skin to skin, skin to sky, skin to light                       
        	poetry loves skin, loathes coverings            
Poetry is not mature                       
        	it will act like a child                       
        	to the point of social embarrassment                       
        	if you try to pin poetry down                       
        	it will throw a fit                       
        	yet it can sit quietly for hours                       
        	playing with a flower            
Poetry has no manners                       
        	it will undress in public everyday of the week                       
        	go shamelessly naked at high noon on holidays                       
        	and play with itself, smiling
Poetry is not just sexual                       
        	not just monosexual                       
        	nor just homosexual                       
        	nor just heterosexual                       
        	nor bisexual                       
        	or asexual                       
        	poetry is erotic and is willing                       
        	any way you want to try it            
Poetry has no god                       
        	there is no church of poetry                       
        	no ministers and certainly no priests                       
        	no catechisms nor sacred texts                       
        	and no devils either                       
        	or sin, for that matter, original                       
        	synthetic, cloned or otherwise, no sin            
            In the beginning was the word                       
        	and from then until the end                       
        	let there always be           

blues zephyr

that man with the whole of doo-wop
in his head entered through his blk eye
spying the significance of all he’s seen, a
wild haired head that manages without haircut, a
head where few would expect beauty to reside, a 
head where pain has a permanent box
& receives mail everyday, that

that man with the wrinkled khaki trousers
no cleaners will ever see & the odor
of no job in the morning clinging like sweaty
shirt, that

that man languidly leaning against liquor
store wall, who won’t hesitate to wolf
whistle behind a pretty woman or silently
stare down an approaching cop car without
flinching a facial muscle, that

that man soul serenaded yesterday’s twilight
for no reason other than that’s what he felt
like doing, singing, in a clear, high falsetto,
enthralling our decaying neighborhood with an arcing
improvised shoo-bee-do which momentarily 
suspended the march of time, that

when that man finished singing to the new
risen moon, all any of the enviously staring
others of us could do was amen in chorus
when walter admiringly shouted out to that

“go on, cool breeze
you know you bad”