Michael S. Harper

Winner of the 2008 Frost Medal

Brother John

Black man:
I'm a black man;
I'm black; I am—
A black man; black—
I'm a black man;
I'm a black man;
I'm a man; black—
I am—

Bird, buttermilk, bird—
smack, booze and bitches
I am Bird
baddest nightdreamer
on sax in the ornithology-world
I can fly—higher, high, higher—
I'm a black man;
I am; I'm a black man—

Miles, blue haze,
Miles high, another bird,
more Miles, mute,
Mute Miles, clean,
bug-eyed, unspeakable,
Miles, sweet Mute,
sweat Miles, black Miles;
I'm a black man;
I'm black; I am;
I'm a black man—

Trane, Coltrane; John Coltrane;
it's tranetime; chase the Trane;
it's a slow dance;
it's the Trane
in Alabama; acknowledgement,
a love supreme,
it's black Trane; black;
I'm a black man; I'm black;
I am; I'm a black man—

Brother John, Brother John
plays no instrument;
he's a black man; black;
he's a black man; he is
Brother John; Brother John—
I'm a black man; I am;
black; I am; I'm a black
man; I am; I am;
I'm a black man;
I'm a black man;
I am; I'm a black man;
I am:


* * *

Poem by Michael Harper. All Rights Reserved. Reprinted with the permission of the author.
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Ruth Kaplan on Michael S. Harper

As a deeply respected teacher, mentor, and editor, and—supremely—as a poet, Michael S. Harper, University Professor and Professor of English at Brown University, where he has taught since 1970, has contributed profoundly to literary culture in our time. He has published more than ten books of poetry, including Selected Poems, Songlines in Michaeltree: New and Collected Poems, Honorable Amendments, Healing Song for the Inner Ear, and two collections nominated for the National Book Award, Dear John, Dear Coltrane and Images of Kin: New and Selected Poems.

Professor Harper has edited the Collected Poems of Sterling A. Brown and is co-editor with Anthony Walton of The Vintage Book of African American Poetry and Every Shut Eye Ain't Asleep: An Anthology of Poetry by African Americans Since 1945. With Professor Robert Stepto, he edited Chant of Saints: A Gathering of Afro-American Literature, Art, and Scholarship, published in 1979.

He was the first Poet Laureate of the State of Rhode Island and has received many other honors, including the Melville Cane Award of the Poetry Society of America, a fellowship from the Guggenheim Foundation, and a National Endowment for the Arts Creative Writing Award.

In the Chicago Sun-Times, G.E.Murray heralded Harper's Images of Kin as the work of "one of the dominant poetic voices of his generation," extolling "his keen sense of political and personal histories, his breadth of expression." "As a vision of America," David Ignatow wrote in The New York Times Book Review, Images of Kin could have been the epilogue to Hart Crane's masterpiece The Bridge.

Professor Harper, your brilliant, uncompromising, and hugely influential poems have earned you a unique place in American letters, and it is with great pride that on behalf of the Board of Governors of the Poetry Society of America, I present to you our highest honor, the Frost Medal.

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