ChickenBones: A Journal

for Literary & Artistic African-American Themes


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 there is a wider world, equally breathtaking, a beautiful world where

 man's creative ability can supplement nature and turn it into paradise



Books by Rose Ure Mezu


Women in Chains: Abandonment in Love Relationships in the Fiction of Selected West African Writers (1994) / Songs of the Hearth (1993) /

Homage to My People (2004) / A History of Africana Women's Literature (2004)

 Black Nationalists: Reconsidering Du Bois, Garvey, Booker T. & Nkrumah (1999) Chinua Achebe: The Man and His Works (2006)

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Songs of the Hearth

By Rose Ure Mezu 




Music is the art I envy most of all and for this reason, I love lyrical poetry because it is more like music, has a personal quality, spontaneity, and is so peculiarly individualistic, flowing from the heart outwards, from the personal to the collective weal and equally from the hearth and home to reach and embrace the outer, wider world depicting joy, sorrow, success, needs and other complexities.

For ancient Greece, lyrical poetry originally means a poem that is "sung on the lyre." Hence the immense appeal to me of the Psalms and the Song of Solomon. The personal quality of lyrical poetry also underscores the individual's relationship with the inner self and with God. It reaches into the depths of being to forge and underlying link with the divine. The range of emotions is as varied as life itself extending to abstract qualities such as love, loyalty, envy, betrayal, human suffering, joy, patience, and success.

At various times in our lives, each of us has experienced these feelings. The poems that follow are therefore the aesthetic expressions of deeply felt personal emotions on a variety of subjects. I write about the thoughts I felt and things that did happen and that are both real and important to me. In the words of Alice Walker, African-American novelist, poet, and essayist

 . . . what is real is what is happening. What is is what did happen. What happened to me and what happens to me is most real of all. I write the, out of that.

These poems then sum up the experiential realities of some periods of a life. What are the things important to my life? The Igbo proverb "Eji eshi uyo mara nma fuma ama" literally translates "Charity begins at home." For me, the home -- the "hearthstone" -- is the cornerstone of existence and it is the hub which all other ideologies are built. The Senegalese novelist Mariama Bâ, stresses it sufficiently:

C'est de l'harmonie du couple que naît la réussite familiale. - . . . Ce sont toutes les familles . . . qui constituent la nation. La réussite d'une nation[du monde] passe donc irrémédiablement par la famille.

[The success of the family is born of a couple's harmony . . . The nation is made up of all the families. . . . Therefore, the success of a nation [world] depends inevitably on the family]

Home, made up of man, woman, and children living in mutual love, trust, and companionship, must of necessity represent sanity in a world of shifting values and loyalties, a world literally engulfed in conflicts and riddled with hunger, insecurity, and misery. And when I am away from the hearth and home, I feel miserable. I miss the grounds of Akwuosa, my home, its colorful gardens, the lush vegetation surrounding it, the very soil on which it stands.

It is a private world all right. But there is a wider world, equally breathtaking, a beautiful world where man's creative ability can supplement nature and turn it into paradise. The acquisitive man, instead, full of lust for inordinate power seems to forever turn this world into a living hell for some. The terrors of Desert Storm, the Iraqi/Allied Army War of January 1992, for instance, turned life-giving waters into an oily horror representing peoples' inhumanity to themselves and to nature. That motivated "Children of the World Arise!" and "Watching You Grow." In other zones, villages and cities are being daily turned into cemeteries.

In the light of present world condition, liberal feminist Betty Friedan's definition of of the family as

the symbol of the last area where one has any hope of individual control over one's destiny, of meeting one's most basic human needs, of nourishing that core of personhood now threatened by vast impersonal institutions . . . government bureaucracies . . . and the bewildering, accelerating pace of change

becomes all the more relevant. Now and more so in the future, our societies need to inject a new vigor to family, reconstructing its very foundation on the basis of equity, forbearance, confidence and compassionate love, not might, inflexibility, fear, and hypocrisy.

A new social order shorn of obsolete or nuisible social mores and prejudices will ensure a mutually supportive and complementary conjugal union in which happiness is possible because both, the man and the woman, are committed to a full, unfettered development of capabilities. The home can literally generate enough love to recreate an entire society. This way, we can with joy, witness the "miracle of birth" each time it happens; we can watch our children grow into a new generation of purposeful, compassionate leaders of our world.

Children are important to me, their birth, growth, and happiness. As Buschi Emecheta's Nwakusor in The Joys of Motherhood blatantly put it to Adaku, "Our life starts from immortality and ends in immortality." Children are our claim to immortality. Of course, above all else, they are primarily of supreme value to themselves. But equally, in homes (where it happens), they are important for parents' well-being and completeness -- they ensure a state of oneness with all humanity, they represent that love of something beyond oneself which can work miracles, such that like Grange Copeland in The Third Life of Grange Copeland, one is capable of changing for the better (because of them) and may be willing, if need be, to die so that the "best that can be produced can continue to live in someone else."

Therefore, I strive to grow and achieve, and fulfill the goals of life, not only for my sake but also for the wonderfully, responsive and talented adults I know my children can become. I do what I have to do because of them, not in spite of them; as Buchi Emecheta would say (Second Class Citizen), because of "their sweet background noises." Children molded right represent the best that we can produce and they need the best environment (not necessarily the richest) to thrive. 

So it is a thing of joy watching them grow. It is cause for immense sorrow, seeing conditions necessary for their growth deteriorate. It is a long song of lament, losing any of them because things are not right for their well-being and growth. These thoughts, conscious or buried deep in me form the background of the poems ("Obinna," "Spare a Thought," "Watching You Grow," "Children of the World Arise!") that deal with birth, suffering and death or just the progress of children, mine and other people's.

Love to me also is an enthralling concept. In our world, love is life itself. Zora Neale Hurston's Their Eyes Were Watching God celebrates life, happiness, and romantic compassionate love. Janie Crawford knows what it is that can enhance the full flowering of her capacities and when she finds Tea Cake, the "dust-bearing bee" to which the "thousand sister calixes" of her bosom are arching to meet in a love embrace, Janie recognizes him as the bee to her blossom

a pear tree blossom in the spring. he seemed to be crushing scent out of the world with his footsteps. Crushing a romantic herbs with every step he took. Spices hung about him. he was a glance from God [emphasis mine].

That is love in a companionate marriage. If it can be envisioned, it can happen. For me, marriage is a celebration of love. My own husband is my "glance from God." A man who strives to ensure that I realize my potentials, develop them to their peak, just has to be good for me. A man who cooperates with me to give to our numerous children the best life possible while we struggle together to be proper role models, is every woman's dream of a husband that is a chum, a friend. "I Walk in Pride" and "Ode to a Jubilee Year" are therefore a testimony of that love. And rather than a bed of roses, it has been an uphill task for all. My poem on his fiftieth birthday is thus my salute to this sun and spice of my life.

Love is the bedrock of marriage and it is my considered opinion that the qualities of love that make a union successful are loyalty and forbearance, trust, and humor. Since no two people can cohabit without friction, without tribulation, ability to forgive injuries becomes a priceless virtue -- the cement binding the myriad bricks of a union constructed jointly. Ultimately, love connotes the ability to accommodate divergent views and interests and a readiness to change, when necessary, for the better. 

Each partner's positive capacities must be given free rein to flourish. Accommodationism becomes then that union of an enlightened man and woman, working together for the good of the family and society. The accent on reconciliation and complementarity will obviate divorce or separatism -- twin evils that blight the happiness of all in the family, in society.

Analogously, the fate of the woman ("The Will to Change") has to be reevaluated. The African woman, sometimes has to wade through a sea of societal impediments in the form of harmful features of tradition, societal mores and prejudices to emerge self-realized. these constraints can take the the form of concrete issues such as barrenness, polygamy, infidelity, forced marriage, an exploitative dowry system that confers on the woman the same value as cattle.

But to survive these and be in a position to contribute to any meaningful change, the modern African woman must have the enlightenment that education confers; it is a sine qua non to productive living. And independent means of sustenance assures self-reliance (not self pre-occupation) which in turn confers feelings of self-worth. The quality of our womanhood is of paramount importance. We need to know ourselves, what is happening to us, and how or why it happens, and how we can go about effecting a change. And so, "Knowing" forms part of this collection.

What do we really believe in? I, for one, have to believe in something or in someone. And if truth be told, so do most people. We need it for anchor. Man is alone, at birth and in death, but living can be intimidating and the prospect of transition, can be more meaningful if there is faith in something greater than oneself. This will help to make bearable some of the heart-breaking and really shattering experiences one sometimes encounters in this life. And so some poems, religious in tone, are included.

My faith in God as a Supreme being, and in the God within me gives meaning to my life. It is faith that I cherish, that has stood me in good stead in times of great troubles, constituting a core of steel, precluding any possibility of total collapse. It is a faith that translates to prayer -- my secret of balance amidst tensions and existential crises. And I am happy with the results thus far.

It is a faith that assures that no matter how wrong things seem, no matter how permanent and powerful rulers are, no matter the injustices, one day there will be a change, for the better. And hence the poems "Patience" and "Song of Victory." Consequently, the whole concept of leadership with its awesome powers and responsibilities, which can build up as well as blight, is taken very seriously by me. All power derives from God. From this faith in the Almighty, stems the vein of optimism that runs through the poems. Hand in hand with faith is love -- feeling His loneliness.

After all is said and done, it is a most beautiful world. As we celebrate the different seasons, their variety, the interplay of the elements -- "Rain" or sun, wind or blizzard, hail or snow, "Spring" or the delicious "Harmattan" -- ensure that we are continually surprised and gratified. It is really a great age in which to be alive, in which technology and communication wizardry have made the world smaller as nations are brought closer to one another. 

"The Will to Change" is a salute to this age; an age when women have come into their own, are free to stretch and grow and make their mark in the family, in the public realm, at work and at play; an age in which it is even thinkable to harvest in full bloom, the fragrant roses planted and nurtured by women of a harsher era; an age when it is possible to reap in the gardens watered with the sweat of our mothers and grandmothers, who have suffered that we might live, who have sweated that we might luxuriate in coolness, who have sown that we might harvest bountifully.

We owe no less to our children, to the new generation, and the New Age to make the home safe and secure, to teach leadership by example, as fitting role models to compete, not with our husbands for dominance, not with our sons and daughters for favors, but to compete capably and honorably in society for the good of our family, nation and world. As mothers, we are concerned about what is taking place in our world, from the inner one of Self to the outer one embracing all Humanity. Above all, we owe it as a duty to ourselves and to life to do well that which we do best, following the example of the Mother of God.

For me, finally, it is a duty to love, to teach and to write. My writings represent my emotions and thoughts, my perception and my imagination. It could well be possible that others might find something of themselves therein. You are welcome to listen tot he songs issuing from my hearth.

*   *   *   *   *'s 25 Best Selling Books



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#6 - Selected Writings and Speeches of Marcus Garvey by Marcus Garvey
#7 - The Ebony Cookbook: A Date with a Dish by Freda DeKnight
#8 - The Isis Papers: The Keys to the Colors by Frances Cress Welsing
#9 - The Mis-Education of the Negro by Carter Godwin Woodson

#10 - John Henrik Clarke and the Power of Africana History  by Ahati N. N. Toure

#11 - Fail Up: 20 Lessons on Building Success from Failure by Tavis Smiley

#12 -The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness by Michelle Alexander

#13 - The Black Male Handbook: A Blueprint for Life by Kevin Powell

#14 - The Other Wes Moore: One Name, Two Fates by Wes Moore

#15 - Why Men Fear Marriage: The Surprising Truth Behind Why So Many Men Can't Commit  by RM Johnson

#16 - Black Titan: A.G. Gaston and the Making of a Black American Millionaire by Carol Jenkins

#17 - Brainwashed: Challenging the Myth of Black Inferiority by Tom Burrell

#18 - A New Earth: Awakening to Your Life's Purpose by Eckhart Tolle

#19 - John Oliver Killens: A Life of Black Literary Activism by Keith Gilyard

#20 - Alain L. Locke: The Biography of a Philosopher by Leonard Harris

#21 - Age Ain't Nothing but a Number: Black Women Explore Midlife by Carleen Brice

#22 - 2012 Guide to Literary Agents by Chuck Sambuchino
#23 - Chicken Soup for the Prisoner's Soul by Tom Lagana
#24 - 101 Things Every Boy/Young Man of Color Should Know by LaMarr Darnell Shields

#25 - Beyond the Black Lady: Sexuality and the New African American Middle Class  by Lisa B. Thompson

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Sister Citizen: Shame, Stereotypes, and Black Women in America

By Melissa V. Harris-Perry

According to the author, this society has historically exerted considerable pressure on black females to fit into one of a handful of stereotypes, primarily, the Mammy, the Matriarch or the Jezebel.  The selfless Mammy’s behavior is marked by a slavish devotion to white folks’ domestic concerns, often at the expense of those of her own family’s needs. By contrast, the relatively-hedonistic Jezebel is a sexually-insatiable temptress. And the Matriarch is generally thought of as an emasculating figure who denigrates black men, ala the characters Sapphire and Aunt Esther on the television shows Amos and Andy and Sanford and Son, respectively.     

Professor Perry points out how the propagation of these harmful myths have served the mainstream culture well. For instance, the Mammy suggests that it is almost second nature for black females to feel a maternal instinct towards Caucasian babies.

As for the source of the Jezebel, black women had no control over their own bodies during slavery given that they were being auctioned off and bred to maximize profits. Nonetheless, it was in the interest of plantation owners to propagate the lie that sisters were sluts inclined to mate indiscriminately.

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Salvage the Bones

A Novel by Jesmyn Ward

On one level, Salvage the Bones is a simple story about a poor black family that’s about to be trashed by one of the most deadly hurricanes in U.S. history. What makes the novel so powerful, though, is the way Ward winds private passions with that menace gathering force out in the Gulf of Mexico. Without a hint of pretension, in the simple lives of these poor people living among chickens and abandoned cars, she evokes the tenacious love and desperation of classical tragedy. The force that pushes back against Katrina’s inexorable winds is the voice of Ward’s narrator, a 14-year-old girl named Esch, the only daughter among four siblings. Precocious, passionate and sensitive, she speaks almost entirely in phrases soaked in her family’s raw land. Everything here is gritty, loamy and alive, as though the very soil were animated. Her brother’s “blood smells like wet hot earth after summer rain. . . . His scalp looks like fresh turned dirt.” Her father’s hands “are like gravel,” while her own hand “slides through his grip like a wet fish,” and a handsome boy’s “muscles jabbered like chickens.” Admittedly, Ward can push so hard on this simile-obsessed style that her paragraphs risk sounding like a compost heap, but this isn’t usually just metaphor for metaphor’s sake. She conveys something fundamental about Esch’s fluid state of mind: her figurative sense of the world in which all things correspond and connect. She and her brothers live in a ramshackle house steeped in grief since their mother died giving birth to her last child. . . . What remains, what’s salvaged, is something indomitable in these tough siblings, the strength of their love, the permanence of their devotion.—WashingtonPost

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The Warmth of Other Suns

The Epic Story of America's Great Migration

By Isabel Wilkerson

Ida Mae Brandon Gladney, a sharecropper's wife, left Mississippi for Milwaukee in 1937, after her cousin was falsely accused of stealing a white man's turkeys and was almost beaten to death. In 1945, George Swanson Starling, a citrus picker, fled Florida for Harlem after learning of the grove owners' plans to give him a "necktie party" (a lynching). Robert Joseph Pershing Foster made his trek from Louisiana to California in 1953, embittered by "the absurdity that he was doing surgery for the United States Army and couldn't operate in his own home town." Anchored to these three stories is Pulitzer Prize–winning journalist Wilkerson's magnificent, extensively researched study of the "great migration," the exodus of six million black Southerners out of the terror of Jim Crow to an "uncertain existence" in the North and Midwest. Wilkerson deftly incorporates sociological and historical studies into the novelistic narratives of Gladney, Starling, and Pershing settling in new lands, building anew, and often finding that they have not left racism behind. The drama, poignancy, and romance of a classic immigrant saga pervade this book, hold the reader in its grasp, and resonate long after the reading is done.

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The White Masters of the World

From The World and Africa, 1965

By W. E. B. Du Bois

W. E. B. Du Bois’ Arraignment and Indictment of White Civilization (Fletcher)

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Ancient African Nations

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The Death of Emmett Till by Bob Dylan  The Lonesome Death of Hattie Carroll  Only a Pawn in Their Game

Rev. Jesse Lee Peterson Thanks America for Slavery / George Jackson  / Hurricane Carter

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The Journal of Negro History issues at Project Gutenberg

The Haitian Declaration of Independence 1804  / January 1, 1804 -- The Founding of Haiti 

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update 27 February 2012




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