Three Yaddo Poets Measure the Length of Empire

June 30, 2020

A moment of stillness, a zing of recognition, a window opened on the soul— these are among the rewards of poetry, each of them sorely needed right now. Join us here for an occasional Yaddo series, curated by Soren Stockman.

Chet’la Sebree Photo: Kiersten Ness

The Lure” by Chet’la Sebree

Source: Connotation Press, Issue VI, Volume X : July 2019

Sebree’s speaker interrogates the pastoral tranquility essential to the American self-conception first by admitting the lull of its beauty, confessing “I can be seduced by globular street lamps . . . Victorian houses shaded by wax-shine leaves.” Her exclusion from this vision shutters its allure. When “freight trains . . wind through rural central wherever,” we understand she is not at home. Sebree states “I’ve always wanted to write a poem like this,” however these images of land and property belong to wealth available only to a select group. The very symbol decorating this gaudy setting inescapably matches that of her violent denial of entry: “I’ve always wanted to feel safe anywhere, but / there’s chaos in the cloth writhing on the flagpole.” — SS

Tanure Ojaide Photo: Lynn Roberson and courtesy of Tanure Ojaide

“A Poem for My Grandchild” by Tanure Ojaide


Imperialism’s new forms cannot disguise it’s brutal impact. Ojaide’s speaker identifies “crude oil gushing into slave ships / refurbished into free-market super-tankers,” noting profits from the extraction of natural resources never return to those who live on plundered land: “My children have no scholarships . . . the river transformed into a snake of a tomb.” Lamenting the degradation of a country depleted of its rightful wealth by “Marines keep(ing) the pipeline safe” while “villages of imploring eyes . . . are mowed down,” Ojaide concludes “the new Stone Age . . . has begun . . . poaching inland as centuries ago.” — SS

Mari Evans Photo: C.B. Claiborne

“The Rebel” by Mari Evans


The trappings of racism and discrimination are so ingrained, they persist even beyond the realm of the living. Evans speculates “When I / die / I’m sure / I will have a / Big Funeral …” yet the innocuous thought concerning her death turns swiftly to the nefarious framing she cannot elude in her life. Laundering her own language, Evans refers to “Curiosity / seekers” visiting her funeral, evoking a public spectacle of unspeakable cruelty. In clipped lines that betray incredulity to the point of pity, she acknowledges the crowd in her mind is “coming to see / if I / am really / Dead … / or just / trying to make / Trouble.” — SS