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  • Rob Will

Poetry Project Session IV: Haki R. Madhubuti

“See that’s exactly why those neo-conservative Tea Party folks are all riled up right now: give a black man control of anything and he just goes completely crazy”—That’s what I jokingly told one of my neighbors, Nuru, earlier after he read a poem he picked out for today’s Poetry Project session.

I was alluding to something we talked about during one of our political discussion sessions a few days ago. We’ve been listening to a lot of the ultra right wing talk shows lately, trying to get a better feel for the motivation behind the rise of the Tea Party ideology. In listening to some of the people who call in to these talk shows it’s blatantly obvious that they harbor some serious racial prejudice. I do believe that Jimmy Carter was correct in stating that a large amount of the Obama-hate is a result of racism.

People will call in to these talk shows and say things in reference to Obama like, “Any time you let those people get into positions of power they screw things up” and “Obama isn’t qualified to be president.” Interestingly, recently I heard a black comedian on the radio doing a comedy skit mocking the veiled racist rhetoric of the Obama-haters by sarcastically talking about how Obama , “…done went crazy since he became president, probably has fried chicken and chitlins all up in the White House. You know how black folks are: give them anything and they’ll mess it up…”

Being that I am the only one over here with poetry books, I’ve been putting together the outline of the poetry readings mostly by myself. I don’t think of myself as a “teacher”, I see myself as a person who is very good at helping others learn and even if I am helping someone with, say, basic grammar skills I approach the situation from a perspective of learning with them.

One of the goals I had in mind when first conceiving of the idea of having regularly scheduled poetry readings was to get others interested in the art of poetry and eventually have others develop and conduct the events themselves. Nuru had previously mentioned that he had some printouts of some poems so I told him that it would be cool if he could put together the poetry session for Tuesday. He liked the idea!

Even though I do not extensively describe this because it would take far too long—and because it would be impossible to transcribe the dialogue and would also disrupt the flow—we really discuss the poetry we read. We might spend an hour and a half discussing the psych-socio-political significance of a single poem. Today Nuru presented a single poem by Haki R. Madhubuti and it led to quite an extensive discussion.

Neither one of us know much about Madhubuti beyond the information in a short biographical sketch a friend of Nuru’s sent when she sent him the poem. The printout says that Madhubuti is a professor of English at Chicago State University and he has authored over 20 books. Before Nuru dropped the poem he told me that I really might not want to post it on the Internet because “…it’s the type of thing that might scare white folks.”

Well, my kind of white folks aren’t the type to be disturbed by afrocentric poetic expression, nor are they the type who would wish to censor the poetic selections of a young black male. Thus, I present the poem!

a poem to compliment other poems

by Haki R. Madhubuti


life if u were a match I wd light u into something beautiful. change.


for the better into a realreal world together thing. change. from a make believe

nothing on cornmeal and water. change.

change. from the last drop to the first. maxwellhouse did. change.

change was a programmer for imb, thought him was a brown computer. change.

colored is something written on southern outhouses. change.

greyhound did. I mean they got rest rooms on buses. change.


change nigger.

saw a nigger hippy, him wanted to be different. changed.

saw a nigger conservative, him wanted to be different. changed.

niggers don’t u know that niggers are different. change.

a double change. nigger wanted a double zero in front of his name; a license to kill.

niggers are licensed to be killed. change. a negro: something pigs eat.

change. I say change into a realblack righteous aim, like I don’t play saxophone but that doesn’t mean i

don’t dig ‘trane.’ change.


hear u coming but yr/steps are too loud. change. even a lamp post changes nigger.

change, stop being an instant yes machine. change.

niggers don’t change they just grow. that’s a change; bigger & better niggers. change, into a necessary


change, like a gas meter gets higher.

change, like a blues song talking about a righteous tomorrow.

change, like a good sister getting better.

change, like knowing wood will burn. change.

know the realenemy.


change nigger: standing on the corner, thought him was cool.

him standing there. it’s winter time, him cool.


know the realenemy.

change: him wanted to be a tv star. him is. ten o’clock news.

wanted, wanted, nigger stole some lemon & lime popsicles, thought they were diamonds.

change nigger change.

know the realenemy.

change: is u is or is u ain’t. change. now now change. for the better change.

read a change. live a change. read a blackpoem. change. be the realpeople.

change. blackpoems.

will change:

know the realenemy. change. know the realenemy. change yr/enemy change know the real

change know the real enemy change, change, change, know the realenemy, the realenemy, the real

realenemy change your enemies/change your change your change your enemy change

your enemy. Know the realenemy, the world’s enemy, know them know them know them the

realenemy change your enemy change your change change change your enemy change change

change change your change change change.


mind nigger.

Pretty raw, I know. Perhaps there is a bit of touchy white liberal in me because after Nuru read the poem I was a bit stunned. Really, I was just a bit taken aback because the piece is so raw and powerful and seems to demand immediate contemplation. It’s as if with this piece Madhubuti is screaming: “Listen to what I have to say and FEEL me!” Being that Nuru chose the poem I thought it would be interesting to write down a few answers to questions I had for him concerning the piece:

Rob: What does this poem mean to you?

Nuru: This poem deals with not remaining fixed in any position or condition of life forever, and, continuing to improve life.

Rob: Nigger is a real strong, controversy-stirring term—why do you think Madhubuti used nigger instead of, perhaps, brother?

Nuru: I think because of the shock value. Not an obscene, cheap shock value, but the sort of shock value that conjures Madhubuti on some proverbial street corner in front of some guy; grabbing him by the shoulders, shaking him violently and shouting shrilly “CHANGE nigger!” shocking his consciousness from its stupor.

Rob: So, he’s using the term nigger in a condemnatory manner?

Nuru: Yeah, condemnatory in that he’s condemning the stupor of the guy’s consciousness, not the guy himself. Also, he’s forcing the guy to confront himself, to endure his stupor through being made aware of it.

Good poetry causes the reader to experience a shift in consciousness. I think the piece by Madhubuti accomplishes this. Nuru just hollered at me because he wants to continue our discussion. Good poetry can also spark lively discussion and Madhubut’s piece has obviously done just that…



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