Hubert Laws‘ album “In The Beginning,” was one of the first in my teen collection of music. Now realizing that the album’s title is also the first line of one of my early poems (and no doubt a thousand other poet’s poems) makes me wonder about the multiple influences on my writing. Having had a daily regiment of the Bible as a kid I assumed the line of that poem could be traced to reading Genesis over and over again. Now I wonder if subconsciously it came instead from my love of Laws’ music and Pete Turner’s photography (See the details and availability of his photographs below). The music, photography and graphic design all influenced my early poetic sensibilities. The poem with that biblical opening line, “Manchild,” appears in my new book The Armageddon of Funk:
by Michael Warr
In the beginning I read Manchild in the Promised Land
for the sex. For the fascination with whores.
I had a long-distance rapport with whores
from the rolled-down window of my brother’s first car.
A black Buick cruising through the Fillmore where he
educated me in the fine art of distinguishing between
the two T’s – trim and transvestite.
Lessons learned in the underworld of the Tenderloin
where souls where saved by heroines officially decked
in rabbit-fur capes, but always in fishnet-stockings,
platforms and psychedelic mini-skirts, spreading their
gospel within earshot of the men who owned, sweet-talked,
beat them. To us they were ex-slaves that had “gotten over.”
When not pretending to be “The Temptations,” singing
in the echo chamber known as the boys bathroom,
we all wanted to be pimps. Pimps and gangsters.
We worshipped Al Capone. I drew his portrait and sold it
at lunch to pay for butter cookies. The sugar did not make
me soft. I still wanted to be a gangster. A something “Slim.”
A “Red” something. A “Detroit” something. A “Chicago”
something. As long as it was “Slim.”
We dreamed of gangster leaning like Super Fly in suede
Eldorados. Like that chocolate-brown Cadillac, sometimes
parked on Divisadero, somehow covered in a coat of suede
we dared not touch for fear of being shot by the owner.
Until we had a “Caddie” of our own we wore pimp shades,
pimp stripes, pimps socks, copped a pimp ‘tude, walked the
pimp walk in pink walking suits, stepped with a pimp beat,
carrying a walking stick with Isaac Hayes and Curtis Mayfield
playing in the background. Sliding and dragging our bad foot
like a cool Quasimodo leaning towards Mecca. Wearing fake
alligator shoes, stolen Timex watches, and party jewelry.
Our brims slanted to the side. Our minds slanted towards
the pits of pimpdom.
Then Malcolm Little, Detroit Red, escaped pimpdom,
carrying a dictionary instead of a walking stick, escaped
the social prison that offered only broken careers and broken
heroes: gangster or pimp, prisoner or cadaver. Outside the
schoolyard Black Panthers hawked papers crying “pig, pig, pig,
kill the pigs, pigs, pigs.”
Now I drew portraits of Huey in that Wicker Throne
and “Manchild” took on another meaning.
Published in The Armageddon of Funk, (Tia Chucha Press). Recipient of the 2012 Black Caucus of the American Library Association Poetry Honor Award.
The photograph “Twins,” Pete Turner, is for sale in signed editions 13 X 19-1/2 and 20 X 30 inch prints. These are signed editions of 25 and 17. The price is $4,000 and $6,000.