On the Margin:
E. Ethelbert Miller Interviews Brenda Marie Osbey
WPFW FM Pacifica Radio
Thursday 28 June 2016 9:00 a.m.
Brenda Marie Osbey’s long poem, “History,” from which we have published an excerpt here, comes from her recent collection History and Other Poems (Time Being Books 2013). The subject of these poems is colonialism, the slave trade, but also, the telling of history itself. We have asked Brenda Marie Osbey to discuss the relation of poetry to history, and to discuss the relation of history to the literary symbol, and we have transcribed this discussion below:
Noam Scheindlin: Your poems engage with a long tradition of the poet as historian. Your poems also seem to manifest something of the impersonal
thrust of history: the disembodied voices, snatches of songs, unattributed quotations could be understood to perform the way history creates subjects. But there is of more than this: there is a counter-thrust; an opposition not just to the way things happened—but to the way-things-are-told. How do you understand the function / phenomenon of poetry in relation to that of "history?" Can a poem be history?
Brenda Marie Osbey: ... . Isn't history always the way/s in which things are told, who does the telling and on what authority? Antar ibn Shaddad, the Black Raven of Saudi Arabia, wrote that three things define man: “to make love, to make war, to make verse.” Long before his 6th century epic of war and love, the Gabon Death Rite Suites and hunting poems were composed, and the Khoikhoi lyric poems on the nature of the universe, all of which tell such a great deal about ancient sub-Saharan African social and political life, religion, mythology and warfare. The teachings of Lao-Tsu come to us in verse. Much of the accepted history of Western antiquity comes to us from Homer. And, of course, the Nahuatl philosopher-poet-king and master craftsman Nezahualcoyotl recorded in poems and songs much of what we've come to understand about life in the pre-Columbian Americas. Indeed, much if not most of what we know (or claim to know) about the ancient worlds of Africa, Asia, the Americas and Europe, we know through poetry anyway. What ancient societies can we claim to know that didn't have generations of peripatetic bards carrying news and history in some combination of song, lyric and narrative poem?
A Conversation with Brenda Marie Osbey
"Don’t Deny My Voice": Reading and Teaching African American Poetry,
Project on the History of Black Writing (HBW)
University of Kansas, Lawrence