The tradition of poems and plays that railed against injustice during the Black Arts Movement of the 1960s and 1970s returns in Defiance & Desperation. The ten poems in this brief collection speak to today’s issues with an urgency that many readers will recognize from an almost forgotten literary past.
Clearly rooted in a deep grasp of himself as a part of a continuum that stretches throughout the history of Africans in America, Jaquair Gillette’s spoken word poems tell the world about the realities of the “throw-away” , “go away” and “ho away” people. The ten poems are bold in their rhetoric. In fact, honesty compels me to clarify that not every American is ready to see what he sees from the Paterson, New Jersey streets.
“You fed them the myths of things that don’t exist,” he writes in the poem, “Defiance”. “You said ‘Justice for all” but injustice persists…. It has always been your mantra. To divide and to conquer. The fear in your heart gave birth to a monster.”
To call this strictly urban literature is to cheat the scope and scale of the writer’s insights. He speaks to a nation at the core of a global meltdown. The work was written largely during the Donald Trump era and in the midst of the worst of the COVID Pandemic. The book is more the voice of this generation. The author cries that the nation is beyond broke, and challenges readers to engage with their communities and fix it.
“But all is not lost of our crops from this frost,” he writes. “We can save the gardens of humanity at will and at cost.”
I am sorry this work was released for nearly a year ago. I have a large stack of titles to consider for review. This book, provided by the publisher through NetGalley, excited me in the way the poet/producer/actor uses language to stake his place and ours in the world. For good or ill, readers cannot help but see themselves in his words. The author provokes thought and debate about how much humankind has strayed from a positive path onto a road likely to lead to destruction.
“Imprisoned by the fictions of man, I need an escape route,” he declares in “a selection titled, The Inspiration”. He continues, “See I’ve been railroading this Underground all in anticipation. For that proclamation of ‘Mind Emancipation’ “.
Gillette is clear in his outrage over injustices. Yet, his writings are not merely protests. The author prods readers to hear how the American Dream has proven a cheat. In that he is betrays himself as a disciple of the late Newark, New Jersey literary legend, Amiri Baraka.
His play, Dutchman, which premiered in 1964, ignited an international dialogue about race and the exploitation. As a seminal work in what became the 1960s Black Arts Movement, the play and later film inspired debate over the exploitation of the White woman as a means to oppress African Americans. Baraka’s final controversy touched off over his 2001 poem, “Somebody Blew Up America”, condemned as anti-Semitic and anti-American.
In that, Gillette’s critiques of the nation and topics such as violence, poverty, greed, lies, and White Supremacy are equally direct and point to topics that at times will make some readers question the 30-something poet’s direction, motives and loyalties. Those who go through all of the poems will see that his vision is aimed at hope.
“Imagine what we can be if we raised all of humanity,” he writes in “We Are the Solution”, the final poem. He earlier states,” I believe we can be what we want and what we dream.”