Posts Tagged ‘Ebenezer Ray’

Langston Hughes, Joseph Stalin, Jesus … and a little bit of Mayakovsky, too

Friday, December 30th, 2011
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Langston Hughes vs. ...

It’s the sixth day of Christmas, by my count, and my friend Elaine Ray has sent me a post from her blog, entitled “Langston Hughes, my father, Joseph Stalin and Jesus”, discussing a rather anti-Christmas poem by Harlem Renaissance poet Langston Hughes, and a 1940 article objecting to the poem written by her own father, the New York Age columnist Ebenezer Ray. 

In an article in Poetry magazine, Hughes biographer Arnold Rampersad noted that during the most difficult days of the Great Depression, Hughes “had composed some of the harshest political verse ever penned by an American. These pieces include Good Morning Revolution and Columbia, but above all, Goodbye Christ. Here the speaker of the poem ridicules the legend of Jesus in favor of the radical reality of Marx, Lenin, ‘worker,’ ‘peasant,’ ‘me.’”

What struck me about the poem was … hadn’t I read this before?  It sounded awfully familiar.  My search for the poems Vladimir Mayakovsky, the gifted and misguided bard of the Bolshevik  Revolution, in my ancient edition published by the USSR’s Progress Books, led to an unsuccessful household excavation.

So I tried google instead.

My nose hadn’t led me astray.  In fact, Hughes translated Mayakovsky. The Communist writer Louis Aragon had offered his guidance to the American poet, and give an indication of how Hughes may have interpreted the Russian’s legacy.

From a paper by UCLA’s Ryan James Kernan:

Hughes’s choice of a literal translation for Mayakovsky was, in part, the result of his decision to heed Aragon on how to translate the peculiarities of the Russian master.

... Ebenezer Ray

Aragon most likely hand-delivered his advice for explicitly Western translators to Hughes when the two crossed paths in Paris.  His advice offers both a justification for Aragon’s own literal translation of Mayakovsky, and a prescription for future translators.  He urges that they forsake the reproduction of the formal elements of Russian poetry in the interest of preserving the totality of Mayakovsky’s revolutionary message and spirit for the purpose of its infusion into Western Europe:

Oui, le poèmes de Maiakovsky sont rimes. Mais allez comparer la rime française, et je ne dirais pas la rime russe, mais la soviétique! Tout un nouveau langage, le langage d’une nouvelle vie, des mots qui n’ont jamais été usés par les rabacheurs poétiques, jetés du jour au lendemain à la disposition du lyrisme. [....] De plus, la rime de Maiakovsky toujours imprévisible, souvent complex, faites de plusiers mots, tient peut-etre advantage du jeu de mots que de la rime.

Yes, Mayakovsky’s poetry rhymes. But let’s compare French rhyme, and not Russian rhyme, with Soviet rhyme. An entirely new language, the language of a new life, composed of words that were never used by old, tired poetics, which should not be thrown out because of a thirst for lyricism. [....] Moreover, Mayakovsky’s rhyme, always unexpected, often complex, is perhaps more concerned with word play than rhyme.

Rick Banks and his controversial question: “Is Marriage for White People?”

Wednesday, October 26th, 2011
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Provocative author (Photo: Natalie Glatzel)

My friend Elaine Ray has an interesting recent post on Rick BanksIs Marriage for White People?, a book that, with a title like that, has obviously gotten a lot of attention.  She did a short Q&A with him here.

These days, “black women are about half as likely to be married as their 1950s counterparts,” he writes. “Marriage has also declined among black men, fewer than half of whom are husbands.”

Elaine’s interesting blog, My Father’s Posts, honors the journalism of her father, Ebenezer Ray, who emigrated to the New York from Barbados.  He died when she was 13.  Last month would have marked her parents’ 63rd wedding anniversary.  She describes her parents’ courtship and marriage this way:

I don’t know if my parents had planned to get married anyway or if the pregnancy [with Elaine's older sister] forced their hand. There also is the possibility that my mother’s father, John Henry Brown, a  piano mover who is said to have been around 6’4″ with a shoe size in the vicinity of a 13 EEE, might have offered a bit of “encouragement.” My dad was 5’4”.

My father was a printer by trade; and though he was quite erudite, I don’t think he had a college degree. My mother, a social worker and teacher, did.  Until my dad’s death, their 19-year marriage seemed sturdy and stable. For most of their life together, before my father took ill, they were able to live on his salary. My mother was a stay-at-home mom, an arrangement my father preferred.

Faced with the same set of circumstances today, would my parents’ marriage have survived?  Would they have even gotten married in the first place?

Her own story is a quick review of some of the social dynamics within the African American communities decades ago.

Banks says he is offering no advice in his book, but he does conclude that black women might find their professional and intellectuals equals in other races.  Hence, the uproar. I guess I don’t quite understand.  Hasn’t interracial marriage been happening for some time now, in both directions?

One excerpt from Elaine’s interview:

ER: What kind of reactions have you gotten from black men to your book?

Ebenezer's daughter (Photo: Photo by Rachael Behrens)

RB: The reactions range from very positive – Kirkus Reviews described the book as “Triumphant”– to very negative. I’ve been called a “racial pimp” who is trying to “profiteer” off black women’s difficulties with “sensationalized bullcrap”  In addition to my “reprehensible title” I have been told that the book “relies on haphazard, shabby research and unsubstantiated theories wrapped in hollow, sophisticated rhetoric to make you give it a good look.” Of course, these comments are all from people who I know for certain haven’t read the book. 
 Those people who have read the book are struck by its candor, insight, and writing. My favorite response is from a New York Times editor who told me it was “unputdownable.”  One of my aims with the book is to promote a national discussion about the obligations of black women to black men.  The issues are complicated and emotionally fraught, and are perhaps best captured in the question of one CNN viewer: Do black women deserve better than what black men have to offer?

Aside from Kirkus, I think the reviewers were black men. Others are supportive, even if they don’t like, as my brother-in-law put it, “giving the white man a hunting license to take the black man’s woman from him.” “Brothers done lost so much,” he said, “now the woman going to be taken away too!”

I bristle a bit that men still talk about women this way,  as if women were objects without agency, to be passed or ceded from one party to another.  I know, I know, he’s only quoting.  Still I bristle.