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Aside from Gwendolyn Brooks, about whom I have already spoken, I was very much inspired by

the work of the late Anne Sexton. I was so taken with her use of imagery that I read every book

of poetry that she published, as well as her letters published by her daughter Linda Gray Sexton.



Poet Pinkie Gordon Lane Passes Over

Poems, Poetics, Papers, Remembrances

Angle of Song: Pinkie Gordon Lane (1923-2008)

By Jerry W. Ward, Jr.

December 6, 2008


I am listening to Nia Long deliver the words of “I Am Looking at Music,” a poem by Pinkie Gordon Lane, on the soundtrack of Love Jones (Columbia CK67917).  I am listening in my mind’s ear to Pinkie being exuberant, voice sparkling like champagne, telling me by phone in 1997 that Nia Long got the poem right in the film, “even the sniffles.”  I am watching in my mind’s eye Pinkie sitting on the staircase in Margaret Walker’s house in 1973, elegant in black; I am listening and watching as Pinkie tells me at a Furious Flower conference in 1994 how happy she had been of late with doing residencies at various colleges, a confirmation that all the effort she had put into writing a dissertation on metaphor at LSU was finally paying off.  What was really paying off were the metaphors in her poetry.

Death and the final lines of “I Am Looking at Music” bring down treasures from the attic of mind:

Secure between fading green covers is the document “Butler Poetry Festival 1972-1980,” Pinkie’s compilation of all the poetry festival programs at Southern University. 

The need to touch something Pinkie touched  prompts me to pull out the one for May 3, 1972, the First Annual Black Poetry Festival at Southern University and A.&M. College in Baton Rouge.  Yes, I remember. I was on a panel with Charles H. Rowell, Kalamu ya Salaam, and Ruby R. Ennis at 9:00 a.m. in W. W. Stewart Auditorium.  Margaret Danner, Don L. Lee, and Ahmos Zu-Bolton were featured poets. Alvin Batiste and the Southern University Jazz Ensemble brought a truth to the line and the curve of sound.  That festival was my introduction to Pinkie Gordon Lane and the beginning of a new  friendship.

The physics of touch activates other memories. Pinkie and Charles Rowell introduced me to Eugene Redmond, locating me in that dimension where the fact of Pinkie’s transition evokes tales of time. That Miriam Makeba and Odetta walked out the door just ahead of Pinkie is no trivial matter.

The curve and the line of Pinkie’s poetry—all of it—will not release me from 1972 until I say, as I did of her first collection Wind Thoughts that she wrote with passion and stoic grace.

“What is attempted in Wind Thoughts is difficult: to convey weighty experiential insights in simple, unobtrusive language.  However, Lane knows the magic of language has control of the subsurface of language.  Well-chosen words cluster into powerful image and symbol.”

These words propel me forward twenty-eight years, to 2000 and an elegy for Etheridge Knight and six of its lines:

You left us your songs

     to mourn your death

      to mourn your life,


to say the prayer that

     could not stop your headlong

      final plunge.

I make a quicksilver dive to now, quoting my blurb for Elegy for Etheridge:

“Pinkie Gordon Lane’s fifth book of poems is aptly named, drawing attention to the efficacy of ancient poetic modes in the contemporary world. Elegy for Etheridge is more than a pensive song for the literary past; it is a poignant calling for aesthetic and intellectual engagement with everyday life.  Lane exploits the range of the lyric to aid memory and to guide us into resisting the spell of mechanical response.  Her poems enlarge and multiply our perspectives.  Their sweep and breadth and flow serve as vivid reminders that ecological and spiritual holocausts consume those who ignore sensibility.  Through the colors of language, Lane persuades us to use our being in time and our being in nature wisely, to seek elegiac resolutions.”

I am listening to music, and the angle of Pinkie Gordon Lane’s song bids me to sing  “Farewell, Death.  Good morning, Life.”

Jerry W. Ward, Jr.

December 6, 2008

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Southern University’s nationally honored poet and Louisiana Poet Laureate Pinkie Gordon Lane—[13 January 1923 — 3 December 2008]—died early Wednesday. Funeral arrangements are incomplete. Pinkie Gordon Lane was 85. . . . Lane left her job in a sewing factory in 1945 to enter Spelman College in Atlanta, Georgia . . . Her poem, "Lyric: I am Looking at Music," from one of her four volumes of poetry, Girl at the Window, was read aloud by actress Nia Long in the 1997 motion picture, Love Jones. WAFB 

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Pinkie Gordon Lane (13 January 19233 December 2008)—nationally honored poet and Louisiana Poet Laureate—was born in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, to William Alexander Gordon (d. 1940) and Inez Addie West Gordon (d. 1945). She was the youngest of 4 children, but the only one to live beyond infancy. She attended the Philadelphia School for Girls, graduating in 1940.  Lane left her job in a sewing factory in 1945 to enter Spelman College in Atlanta, Georgia, where in 1949 she earned a bachelor’s degree in English and art, and began teaching in the public schools of Georgia and Florida (1949-1955).  It was during her senior year at Spelman that she met and married Ulysses Simpson Lane (d. 1970) in May 1948. 

In 1955 she returned to Atlanta and began working on a master’s degree in English from Atlanta University.  Upon receiving her degree in 1956, she and her husband left Georgia and moved to Baton Rouge, Louisiana, where she took a teaching position at Leland College in Baker, La. from 1957-1959.  She left Leland to accept a position as instructor of English at Southern University (Baton Rouge, La.). In 1963 she gave birth to her only child, a son, Gordon Edward Lane.

In 1967, Lane became the first African American woman to receive the Ph.D. degree from Louisiana State University in Baton Rouge.  While continuing her professional development at Southern University, she was promoted to full professor and served as Director of the English department from 1974 until her retirement in 1986. 

Lane’s literary career began in 1956 when she found some success as a short story writer.  She decided upon poetry as her chosen medium and her first published poem appeared in Phylon: The Atlanta University Review of Race and Culture in 1961. In addition to her numerous publications in periodicals, she has published 5 books of poetry: Wind Thoughts (1972), Mystic Female (1978), I Never Scream: New and Selected Poems (1985), Girl at the Window (1991), and Elegy for Etheridge (2000). She has served as editor or contributing editor to anthologies and periodicals such as Poems by Blacks (1973), Discourses on Poetry (1972), Callaloo, and Black Scholar.    

Lane traveled globally, participating in numerous workshops, seminars, and poetry readings throughout the United States, Africa, the Virgin Islands, and Haiti. She has held positions as director of the Melvin A. Butler Poetry Festival, 1974-80; Louisiana State Poet Laureate, 1989-1992; Louisiana Black History Hall of Fame inductee, 1991; Visiting Distinguished Professor at the University of Northern Iowa, 1993-94; and Du Pont Scholar, Bridgewater College, 1994.   LSU Library

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The Pinkie Gordon Lane Papers at Louisiana State University

The Pinkie Gordon Lane papers include correspondence, writings, printed items, photographs, conference materials, instructional materials, publications, and topical files that document the personal and professional life of Pinkie Gordon Lane (1923-2008).  Correspondence details her personal relationships with colleagues and family, as well as professional literary activities as writer and editor. Writing materials consist of working copies of her published books of poetry, loose copies of her poems, prose, and articles she composed throughout her career.  Printed items consist of press releases, programs, newsletters, newspaper clippings, fliers and invitations, and printed publications relating to events and topics which were of interest to Lane.  Photographs illustrate Lane’s connection to her literary colleagues, travels, and family; photocopies of photographs comprise the most recent years of the collection.   Conference and instructional materials illustrate Lane’s commitment to keeping current within English studies and writing instruction. Also included are correspondence, manuscripts, submissions, newsletters, etc., from Lane’s time as editor for South and West Inc.  LSU Library

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Pinkie Gordon Lane as Poet

Lane began writing fiction in 1956, but in 1960, during the hectic years working toward a Ph.D. at Louisiana State University, a colleague gave her a copy of Gwendolyn Brooks’s A Street in Bronzeville (1945). Brooks was the first contemporary black female poet that Lane had ever read, and Lane was inspired to abandon prose and write poetry as a result. Her first published poem, “This Treasured Book,” appeared in the periodical Phylon: The Atlanta University Review of Race and Culture in the fall of 1961. The poem, which follows the form of a Shakespearean sonnet, expresses Lane’s love of books.

Lane wrote and published prolifically from that point on. Her structure would soon shift to free verse. Feeling that any subject is suitable for a poem, Lane began to develop her own style; she began to make greater use of figurative language, relying more on imagery, careful word selection, and connotation. Lane used free verse and concrete images in her poetry, which categorized her as an imagist. Lane later drew influence from the metaphorical style of Anne Sexton, and began to write of internal experiences with subjects such as her family, nature, racism, and her profession. PaBook

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Pinkie Gordon Lane On Poetry and the Poetic Process

I came to the writing of poetry rather late in life. I started out writing fiction and thought that this was my primary interest. But, and I have told this story so many times, a friendly chat with a colleague of mine at Southern University (Baton Rouge) where I taught for so many years, said to me: "You have the sensibilities of a poet. Have you ever thought about writing poetry?" This came to me as a surprise. I had written a few verses in my early years, but never thought of myself as a "serious" poet. Then he asked me, "Have you ever read any of Gwendolyn Brooks poetry?" "Who is she?" I asked. Now mind you, this was about 1960. Brooks had won the Pulitzer Prize for poetry in 1950 for her book Annie Allen. Yet, 10 years later I had never heard of her.

How could this happen? Well, one must understand that when I was growing up (in Philadelphia) prior to the Civil Rights movement of the late sixties when many changes took place, including the initiation of Black Studies in schools and colleges, black writers were not part of the publishing "establishment." Those of us who later began to build a literary background of African American writers had to do it on our own through self-study and exploration.

So, when my friend introduced me to the works of Gwen Brooks' A Street in Bronzeville, this became my initiation into the world of black literature. For, you see, I had never before read a book of poems by a black woman poet. She immediately became a literary role model for me. I distinctly remember saying, "If she can do it, I can do it." It was then that I abandoned my ambitions to become a fiction writer and became a poet. . . .

I can write a poem at any place, at any time. I have created a poem while sitting in my office (when I was teaching at S.U) between classes, while riding in a car, when relaxing in my bedroom looking out at my backyard watching small things fly or crawl across my vision). I always create first in pencil in a spiral notebook always at hand, and then go to the typewriter to work on line-length in order to see how it will look on the printed page. . . .  Even though my first draft of poems changes very little, any editing I do will be to sharpen the image, to economize with words (not to overwrite). After working with a poem for a fairly reasonable length of time, I will put it aside for a few days and go back to it with fresh vision. Sometimes a poem that I thought was OK will come across to me as not OK. I will put this aside (I never throw anything away). And also, sometimes with a poem that failed to satisfy me at first draft, a few days later I am surprised and say, "Gee, I think this will work.  WebDelsol

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A Quiet Poem

                      By Pinkie Gordon Lane


This is a quiet poem

Black people don't write

many quiet poems

because what we feel

is not a quiet hurt.

And a not quiet hurt

does not call for muted tones.

But I will write a poem

about this evening

full of the sounds

of small animals, some fluttering

in thick leaves, a smear

of color here and there

about the whispers of darkness

a gray wilderness of light

descending, touching


I will write a quiet poem

immersed in shadows

and mauve colors

and spots of white

fading into deep tones

of blue.

This is a quiet evening

full of hushed singing

and light that has no

ends, no breaking

of the planes, or brambles

thrusting out.

If I were sitting

on the banks of the river

I would write poems

about seaweed or flotsam

making their way

to the end of the sea

or the expanse of the bridge

that falls into the sky

If a flight to nowhere

curled waves of air

beneath my feet

or framed my vision, a poem

would draw images

from wings of the jet

filling corners of clouds

But my blue room

where I die each night

frames this poem

The curtain is striped

blue on white

the walls the color

of twilight just before death

of the sun

and the doors pale

as the morning sky

And so I write

a blue-room poem

My mind penetrates walls

and hangs like mist

on the wake of trees

swaying low over the town

Only the crickets know

I am there, and they sing songs

to the low-touching

wind          Only they

will know

I have passed over the earth

gathering periwinkles

and ivy

to take to the hills

This poem plants itself

and grows like the jasmine

coating my fence

It creeps over the page

like holly fern

and bores into the depths

of my mind like the wild palm

that sentinels my yard's

center, spreading fanlike

at all points

caught up in a web

of light

a ring of gold

painting the earth

Source: Trouble the Water

posted 6 December 2008 

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Dear Rudy,
I'm shocked and saddened to hear we've lost such a fine poet and teacher. Pinkie was a great friend and supporter of my work as I was of hers. We read our work together several times and she interviewed me after one of my books came out. Sadly I had lost track of her after the flood. I think I first met her at a reading at the New Orleans Public Library, and then later at Tom Dent's house. She often stayed over night with me when she came to New Orleans.
There are so many people I haven't heard from recently. My telephone was out for over a year. Many thought I didn't make it through the flood, which was partly my fault as I'm always a poor correspondent thinking I'll have time to catch up with everyone later. Another one of our great libraries gone. Best, Lee

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When I was a youngster (17) and a freshman at Southern University I fell in love with Dr. Lane.  Over the last forty-eight years, I'm fortunate to say that there have been times when she sent words of encouragement at just the right time.  I've had an occasional e-mail (usually to comment on something that I've sent to my list) and think of her as one of those individuals who exerted positive influence on my life.

I never had a class under her but she was always teaching and that went beyond grades and examinations.  To me, having her say that I did well, of her own volition was an "A" grade.

She was a great person, poet and educator.  I hope that her son and other members of her family will keep her light shining.CES

Audio: My Story, My Song (Featuring blues guitarist Walter Wolfman Washington)

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