Arts & Life
3:29 am
Mon September 1, 2014

MK Asante's Poem 'In Summer' Honors Paul Laurence Dunbar

Originally published on Mon September 1, 2014 5:55 am

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Transcript

DAVID GREENE, HOST:

All this summer on MORNING EDITION, we've been asking poets to read work that evokes this season.

STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

This next poem is by Paul Laurence Dunbar. He was an African-American poet who died in 1906. He was noted for featuring black dialect.

GREENE: One of his poems is called "Summer." And it's read here by the Baltimore-based poet MK Asante.

MK ASANTE: Oh, poor were the worth of the world. If never a song were heard, if the sting of grief had no relief and never a heart were stirred. So long as the streams run down, and as long as the robins trill, let us taunt old Care with a merry air, and sing in the face of ill.

GREENE: Now Asante says, that last line calling for the reader to sing in the face of ill points to the poet's most crucial task, reminding us that the world is full of both beauty and struggle.

INSKEEP: Now, to wrap up our collection of summer poems, Asante actually composed a new poem for MORNING EDITION, which is also called "In Summer" as an homage to Dunbar.

ASANTE: Woke up in summer, claimed victory. Velcro-ed that good energy so it sticks to me. Sun shining so they say, don't get to me. It's a new season. I'm seeing things differently. Like, maybe some things wasn't meant for me. Or maybe they just wasn't meant to be. Bloody summer, these wars don't make sense to me. Open air apartheid in the 21st century. My heart cried Gaza, summertime in infamy. New Jim Crow in old penitentiaries. Open the door for poetry, that's chivalry. First take you another place, that's Tennessee. That triumphant thumpin' that you can run with. They say it can't be done, but we done done it. My life's the memoir "Buck," kept at 100. Summertime still the shift, pinky to keyboard double shift, 'cause I don't spit for little rewards. I spit for little 'cuz (ph), booked across three wars. Dreams of seashores, but sure never see shores. Navigate like Ms. Jake's (ph) through life's detours. I bang a right at the light and round the applause. Thank you, thank you - far too kind. Those that can't see us winning - far too blind. Beams of light still peeking through faulty blinds. So what's up summer? We trying to find a cookout. Lookout, young bucks get took out on that crook route. Summertime - be bad and pull a good book out.

GREENE: Pull a good book out. That sounds like a great idea. That was MK Asante reading his poem "In Summer" inspired by Paul Laurence Dunbar. Asante composed that poem for MORNING EDITION's summer poetry collection. His latest book is a memoir. It is called "Buck." Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.