I became a poet in 1969, shortly after my 11th birthday. I didn’t bother to write any poems, see, because that’s not what poets do. Writing poems down is what published poets do. I was a poet, though unwritten. It was on a warm autumn’s day that I stumbled across the 64 pages of Don L. Lee’s (now Haki R. Madhubuti) tome, Don’t Cry, Scream. In that transcendent work, there was a piece that struck me. It wasn’t the thee thigh tho thy thither pseudo-Shakespearean shit they tried to cram into my psyche in school.
This was real shit. So real, it even made me like poetry, real. And there, scattered on the disheveled floor of my uncle’s room, was Don L. Lee, and perhaps a few verses from Nikki and others, but Don L. spoke to me. This was the poem that made me a poet. At was in this short, powerful, humorous piece, that I finally learned the lessons my English teachers had been trying to force on me: words were power, when used well.
I never did understand the fascination with the drunken, child-loving louts of Romanticism, but this shit, I got. It stuck, thank god.