Tyehimba Jess (b. 1965) is the winner of this year’s Pulitzer Prize for his poetry book ‘Olio‘. Born in Detroit, he currently teaches at the College of Staten Island in New York City. I was impressed with some pages of Olio, a complex and beautiful poetic journey into the life of African American performers from the Civil War period up to World War One. Here is one poem from that book:
What Marked Tom?
Did a slave song at a master’s biddingmark Tom while asleep in Charity’s womb?The whole plantation would be called to singand dance in Master Epps’ large parlor room—after work sprung from dawn and dragged past dusk,after children auctioned to parts unknown,after funerals and whippings. Thuswas the whim of the patriarch. No groansallowed, just high steppin’ celebration,grins all around, gritted or sincere.Charity threw feet, hips, arms into motionto please the tyrant piano. Was it hereTom learned how music can prove the master?While he spun in a womb of slavish laughter?