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 Hand's poetry traverses the terrain of form, music and language. This is an inspired,

well crafted poetry that is political in intent and spirited in execution and defies

any comparison to any literary predecessors or contemporary schools of thought.



whose really blues

By Q. R. Hand Jr.


As it steps from stage to page, the poetry of Q. R. Hand never stops testifying. That the poet has led and continues to lead a full life in a real world crammed with real ignorance as well as actual light these trembling pages make clear. In the title poem of this exciting collection, the poet asks a question:

how do we know the real robert johnson

met the real devil at the real cross roads

just 'cause he says so and his blues intone scripture for the 21st century.

Like a Mobius strip but also like a DNA strand, Q's heaven and hell twist and stick and wrap themselves around another: a cool but sweaty doo-wop dance pair, coupled to outlast the night.

The poems in this bookas they whisk and yank and ease you through 'that certain place at / that certain time'speak directly to the body that houses heart, mind and soul. As they eyeball human cruelty, greed, delusion and color prejudice, dogma of every stripe (campus- or street-triggered), poverty, social justice, science and social philosophy, time as history and time as time, personal geography (Brooklyn, Harlem, Oakland, San Francisco Bay), love's unchartable behavior and misbehaviorthese tough, caring, wayward poems take it all and everything. Forever at play in the fields of the word, Q. R. Hand is a homegrown American original.

Place this book to your ear and hear: 'All those beautiful fine / all those fine / all those who spread their love along the line / that stretches through heart beat and heart ache.'—Al Young, Poet Laureate of California

Q. R. Hand's poetry traverses the terrain of form, music and language. This is an inspired, well crafted poetry that is political in intent and spirited in execution and defies any comparison to any literary predecessors or contemporary schools of thought. Q. R. Hand is an entity unto himself; a true visionary walks among us.—Reginald Lockett, author of Random History Lessons and Other Poems

Words studiously sculpted with jazz precision by a musical poet.  "we are the people of the sun / glory morning peoples of so many selves". Much unified complexity, "on the one hand it's a rat fuck / on the other / you could write a good novel about it".  Words flow freely and melodically—energised by a structured spontaneity.  Self-aware of textual gush but "i am not as crazy as these words but / hopefully i will be sooner or later". Global Tapestry Journal  (England)

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Q. R. Hand, Jr. moved to the SF Bay Area from NYC about forty years ago. Originally published in the 1968 classic, Black Fire: An Anthology of Afro American Writing, edited by Amiri Baraka (Leroy Jones) and Larry Neal, which has recently been reproduced by Black Classics Press, he is the author of three poetry books, i speak to the poet in man (jukebox press), how sweet it is (Zeitgeist Press) and whose really blues, new & selected poems (Taurean Horn Press). He is a member of the wordwind chorus, a Bay Area quartet that has performed poetry with jazz for over twenty years.  Wordwind chorus has a cd, we are of the saying, recorded in 2000, with original members, Reginald Lockett, Brian Auerbach, Lewis Jordan, and Q. R. Hand Jr. 

He has recently been anthologized in The Outlaw Bible in American Poetry, edited by Alan Kaufman (Thunder's Mouth Press, 1999), An Eye For An Eye Makes the Whole World Blind, Poets on 9/11, edited by Allen Cohen and Clive Matson (Regent Press, 2002) and New American Underground Poetry, Volume 1: The Babarians of San Francisco — Poets from Hell, edited by David Lerner, Julia Vinograd and Alan Allen (The Press of San Francisco, 2005).

Whose Really Blues  is also available from Small Press Distribution,

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Searching for the Legend of Q. R. Hand, Jr.

By Martha Cinader Mims

In thinking about how to approach this column for Museletter, the word “legend” kept coming into my head. In my search for a precise meaning of the word, and whether it made sense to describe qr hand jr. as a legend, I learned an interesting thing or two about the history of the word.

Legend comes from the Latin adjective legenda, “for reading, to be read,” which referred only to written stories, not to traditional stories transmitted orally from generation to generation... but ever since the 15th century legend has been used to refer to traditional stories as well. Today a legend can also be “a person or achievement worthy of inspiring such a story...”

I searched for qr hand jr. on the Web, and found a reference to a poem by Lewis Jordan entitled “bothallandevery” dedicated to qr, but not the poem, and nothing on the man himself. I looked up Wordwind Chorus (the ensemble of performing writers of which qr hand jr. & Lewis Jordan are half—Brian Auerbach & Reginald Lockett are the other two), and came up with past performance dates at festivals, book stores, jazz clubs . . . but not a site dedicated to the group.

I went to, searching for books by the man, and came up with one entry: We Came to Play!: Writings on Basketball (Io, No. 54) by John Ross (Editor), Q.R. Hand Jr. (Editor), Spain Rodriguez (Illustrator)— a book with pictures of a native American and three African American athletes on the cover. Interesting, but not exactly what I was searching for . . .

An Oral Legend Among Poets

You see, to me qr hand jr. is a poet who moves me with his words and the way his words sound when he comes around to an open mic and shares them with the rest of us. I ask myself “how is it possible that a man whom every poet I meet already seems to know, could be so absent from the World Wide Web, a place where we look for what we can’t find in the commercial media?” Part of the answer is the humble nature of this man, but another part is the stuff that legends are made of . . . you don’t have to take my word for it. Soon his work will be available to all those who seek. Taurean Horn Press is to publish a collection of his poetry spanning several decades, entitled Whose Really Blues. qr hand jr., an oral legend among poets, will fulfill the ancient meaning of the word when his words, having long served his community, travel new roads, to be read.

In many ways the story of his life is an aspect of the legend of his generation, his personal approach to poetry inextricable from his focus on the civil rights movement and social service. He was raised in Bedford Stuyvesant and later Central Harlem, in New York City, part of an upwardly mobile middle class family. He wasn’t particularly rebellious but he always felt he was “someplace else.” His life did not take focus until he became involved in the civil rights movement, and even then it took time “before some real poetry came out.” His early leanings toward Marxism, in search of “creating more freedom” later gave way to a world view that “given lots of people with lots of guns, there will be the same result no matter what the ideology.” He is now a self-described Strange Anarchistic Populistic New World Black. He came to California in 1969 because he “had to get out of New York.” Trying to get a handle on himself he ultimately became a community mental health worker in the Mission District of San Francisco, for Progress Foundation, which he considered to be “good work” until he retired.

I recently visited qr and his wife Pam in their newly moved-into home in the historic district of Vallejo. I confessed to him that sometimes I don’t really care what he is saying because he sounds so good when he’s saying it. Not surprisingly he told me that he is not a musician or composer, but he has been influenced by music perhaps more than literature. The rhythm of what he likes to hear informs his writing and carries over into performance.

He described his experience while still in New York of proximity with Amiri Baraka, and Umbra poets Norman Pritchard, David Henderson, Calvin Herndon and others, as one that took him time to get over “being floored.” He didn’t write at all between the mid-sixties and the mid-seventies, but eventually could be found sharing a sudden flood of writing in places such as the Coffee Gallery in North Beach and other reading spots of the time. Once again, a focus on civil rights and social movements helped him to find his voice. It was during this time that he came into contact with the people who would eventually become the members of Wordwind Chorus.

Wordwind Chorus

Now collaborating together for more than twenty years, qr hand jr., Reginald Lockett, Brian Auerbach and Lewis Jordan make up the group Wordwind Chorus. They have appeared at one time or another practically everywhere in the Bay area, and have recently put out a cd entitled we are of the saying, finally documenting the legend. We were recently treated to a performance by the group at Listen & Be Heard in Vallejo. I commented to qr that I rarely hear a group of poets who truly perform as a group and not just a collection of individuals. I was really moved by the way these four men came together and put so much energy and intelligence into the rendition of each other’s work. He replied by telling me that he could not recall any “unproductive clashes” between them: “. . . sometimes tough shit comes up, but we always worked our way through that.”

The mass media tries to create legends all the time, throwing the word around like a bouncing ball, and not always keeping track of where the ball finally lands. But in the end legendary people create themselves in their own personal search for truth. I asked qr why he likes to go to open mics, and he told me that forty years ago he would have laughed at anyone who told him he would do it, but he likes to perform and he enjoys other people. Other people enjoy qr hand jr., too. If you live in or come to the Bay area, check your local listings for qr and Wordwind Chorus.

If you can’t wait, or you can’t get here . . . or send an email to Brian Auerbach at, and ask him how you can get a copy of the CD.


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numberless are the sands on the sea shore

                                                           q.r. hand, jr.

us folks are the peoples who look towards the sea
vision and memory past perfect futures are
strewn about our musics like sea weeds on the shore
our eyes hearts afired dancing on
limbs aghast and bedazzled caressing these sands
hand clappin spirits our souls are numberless

like bands of the spectra our hues are numberless
jump back brothers see our sisters prancing on the sea
their curves and spheres rounding off the edges of the sands
making sheets of molten glisten we are
evocations of this sweet liquid strumming on
these vibrant far reaches on our faith full shore

this ritual clamor we are on this shore
spelling out the seasons of reason numberless
beings grow gills sprout wings drunken on
the bottom of pink coral reef then leap the sea
sailing easy to afar to a star we are
stoned reflections of to view from there these sands

who do not know they are us not these sands
our foundations on these wheels of things rolling shore
surf washed waves yearn to roll in murmurs on these grits are
relentless too in change in forms numberless
pasteled in pale yellows mixed by the sea
wind sun our constant companions on

this sphere on this beach head here on
our minds and communal heart molds sands
into cities and ports to welcome from the sea
more ancestors to be to play on this shore
notes of universal hide seek time here is numberless
we’ve known not its name we are

the growth here we are the trees we are
the creatures here so it is said on
which cosmic bet no wages subsist numberless
are the names of this life on these sands
on the dream washed up on these shores
us folks are on the peoples who look towards the sea

looking towards the sea our songs are
the bread of the shore our spirits our spawn on
these quick sands we name our selves numberless

© 2003, qr hand jr.

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whose really blues

By Q. R. Hand Jr.

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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

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posted 16 March 2009 




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