Pinkie Gordon Lane: The Love Jones Poet You Don’t Know

Her poem, “Lyric: I am Looking at Music,” was featured in the 1997 motion picture, Love Jones. In a 1997 phone conversation with Dr. Jerry Ward, English Professor at Dillard University, she said actress Nia Long got the poem right in the film, “even the sniffles.”

Pinkie Gordon Lane was Louisiana’s  first African-American poet laureate. Lane traveled the state vigorously–reading, visiting classrooms, and promoting poetry. Some locals say her work as laureate is unmatched. In 1967 Pinkie Gordon Lane became the first African-American woman to earn a PhD from Louisiana State University, where her papers are now housed.

Pinkie Gordon Lane came to poetry late in her life and I believe it afforded her perspective and patience in her work.  I’m told she was a gentle woman, a painter, a nature and dog lover, a writer, and a demanding instructor. Her books include: Wind Thoughts (1972), The Mystic Female (1978), The Mystic Female, I Never Scream (1985), Girl at the Window (1991) and Elegy for Etheridge (2002.)  She was nominated for the Pulitzer Prize in 1979.

Pinkie Gordon Lane was criticized by some in the Black Arts Movement for not having militant/revolutionary themes in her poetry. But a new generation of black poetry lovers heard her poem in Love Jones and didn’t even know it. The use of the poem,”Lyric: I am Looking at Music,”(and its rendering) in the film shatters the notion that all open mic poets must have a poem memorized or read it with a certain cadence/style/volume to be effective.

Her work lives on.

Although, she wasn’t a native of New Orleans, she  taught in the state and paved the way for many black poets in Louisiana. Every year Southern University and A&M College (she served as a Chair of the English Department) celebrates her life with a poetry contest for local students. It’s national poetry month and there are many unsung black women poets who will never have a stamp or be included on a reading list. However, Pinkie Gordon Lane’s work is still  important and worthy of exploration.

 

A Quiet Poem

                      By Pinkie Gordon Lane

 

This is a quiet poem

Black people don’t write

many quiet poems

because what we feel

is not a quiet hurt.

And a not quiet hurt

does not call for muted tones.

But I will write a poem

about this evening

full of the sounds

of small animals, some fluttering

in thick leaves, a smear

of color here and there—

about the whispers of darkness

a gray wilderness of light

descending, touching

breathing

I will write a quiet poem

immersed in shadows

and mauve colors

and spots of white

fading into deep tones

of blue.

This is a quiet evening

full of hushed singing

and light that has no

ends, no breaking

of the planes, or brambles

thrusting out.

If I were sitting

on the banks of the river

I would write poems

about seaweed or flotsam

making their way

to the end of the sea

or the expanse of the bridge

that falls into the sky

If a flight to nowhere

curled waves of air

beneath my feet

or framed my vision, a poem

would draw images

from wings of the jet

filling corners of clouds

But my blue room—

where I die each night—

frames this poem

The curtain is striped

blue on white

the walls the color

of twilight just before death

of the sun

and the doors pale

as the morning sky

And so I write

a blue-room poem

My mind penetrates walls

and hangs like mist

on the wake of trees

swaying low over the town

Only the crickets know

I am there, and they sing songs

to the low-touching

wind          Only they

will know

I have passed over the earth

gathering periwinkles

and ivy

to take to the hills

This poem plants itself

and grows like the jasmine

coating my fence

It creeps over the page

like holly fern

and bores into the depths

of my mind like the wild palm

that sentinels my yard’s

center, spreading fanlike

at all points

caught up in a web

of light—

a ring of gold

painting the earth

Source: Trouble the Water

Kelly Harris is a poet and the founder of BrassyBrown.com. Photo: Pinkie Gordon Lane. Credit: The Archives and Manuscripts/John B. Cade Library/Southern University and A&M College/Baton Rouge, Louisiana. Parts of this post originally appeared on The Poets & Writers Inc. website.

 

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