- The Blackbird FliesRemembering Carolyn M. Rodgers
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It was the early 1970s, and Carolyn was sitting in her Hyde Park apartment talking about her next volume of poetry. Something outrageous about people would strike her funny as she entertained me with stories, and she'd throw her elegant neck back and laugh joyously. "I can't use it!" she exclaimed with her characteristic sentence. It was as if she were making something of life and throwing away with a good laugh anything she could not implement to make her Something.
She was Carolyn Rodgers, slim and dark, head wrapped in a dark scarf, bound tightly; wouldn't you know, her groundbreaking second volume was named after her, Songs of a Blackbird. Of course, she knew about Paul Laurence Dunbar's "Sympathy"—"I know why the caged bird sings." Carolyn, this blackbird, was free, determined to stay free inside the city of her birth. She battled difficult climates. You wouldn't know it to look at her—she had resilience, if not physical strength.
let uh revolution come. uhstate of peace is not known to meanywaysince grew uhround in chi townwherehowlin wolf in the tavern on 47th st.and muddy waters made us cry the salty nigger blues where pee wee cut lonnell fuh messin wid his sistuh and blood baptized the street at least twice ev'ry week and judy got kicked outa grammar school fuh bein pregnant and died tryin to ungrow the seed we was all up in there and just living was guerilla warfare, yeah.
let uh revolution come,couldn't be no action like whati dun already seen.
That day in the early 1970s Carolyn thought about calling her new volume Blues Gettin Up, for she, like Langston Hughes, was very much in touch with the sounds and souls of her people. She loved the Blues, all the music of Black people. Like the testimonies of the [End Page 920] Blues singers her song were distinct, singular, her own. Like the Blues singers she knew she could be knocked down, but she would not stay down. She was always gettin up, leaning on her writing hand. Her strength was in her pen. In her songs. She wound up calling that volume How I Got Ovuh, after a gospel song, and that volume was nominated for the National Book Award. She was a quiet queen, given to reflection and profound personal and collective probing, given to irony, humor, artistic innovation, and faith. I don't even know if she would want to be called "queen," though she carried herself with the presence of one. She moved with a kind of regal grace.
Carolyn Marie Rodgers was born December 14, 1940, in Chicago, Illinois, to the union of Clarence and Bazella Rodgers. Her father was a welder; Carolyn called him "the fixit man." Her mother was a factory worker; Carolyn called her "a sturdy Black bridge." Carolyn started writing in grammar school as early as fifth or sixth grade. She was a natural poet. Carolyn had one brother, Robert, now deceased, and two sisters who survive her—Gloria V. Rodgers and Nina Rodgers Gordon. Carolyn earned a BA from Roosevelt University in 1965, and an MA from the University of Chicago in 1980. Between those years when Carolyn earned degrees she earned a distinct and important place in African American poetry. She earned a seat at the table of excellence. She earned a place at the banquet of posterity.
Carolyn's first book of poems was Paper Soul (1967), published by Third World Press, now the oldest and most recognized of African American publishers. Carolyn was one of the founders of Third World Press. She shared that distinction with Jewel Lattimore (now Johari Hudson) and Don L. Lee (now Haki R. Madhubuti). This triumvirate was also founding members of the Organization of Black American Culture (OBAC) Writers Workshop, chaired by the extraordinary Hoyt W. Fuller, editor of Negro Digest/Black World magazine. Other founding...