Writing as A Tool in Healing: Poetryforpeace Celebrates More than 100,000 Hits, Hundreds of Comments & A Loyal Group of International Readers: Here’s to You, My Poetry from Around the Web


                  —Patricia Jabbeh Wesley

The calabash
now shattered

her contents
like palm wine

across the regions
of the world.

                     I began blogging Poetryforpeace in late July of 2007 as an outlet for my overwhelming excitement after visiting Medellin, Colombia, a guest of the International Poetry Festival of Medellin in Colombia, South America, where I was one of 75 international world poets featured in that celebration of poetry. There, in Colombia, I saw a confirmation of my belief in writing as a source of healing all of the traumas we can experience as people. The Colombian people who by that year had seen 40 years of brutal fighting and disintegration of its people were confirming my belief that no matter how bitter the trauma, the pen is more powerful than the bullet and that writing can heal. This is because throughout my life, even as a child, I wrote to get rid of whatever bad feelings I had during those childhood and adolescent years, so now, this was another stage for me in the writing process.


——— Patiricia Jabbeh Wesley (Copyright: Where the Road Turns, Autumn House Press, 2010)

On the side walk, patches of people
linger late.

In the day, they are like rice grains
along the roadways,

and at night,
they wallpaper lame bodies
in the draft darkness
of the broken city.

Crowds of war returnees,
waiting for nothing,
day after day,

waiting for nothing
after refugee camp,
after their former cities
of refuge

spewed them out like dirt,
after wandering the globe.
After death’s passing,
they have returned

looking like returnees
from the dead.

The city is hot, burning like steel
with hunger.

The air used to belong to us here
one woman said,
there used to be a road
to take us back home.

Today, the road homeward is now lost
The road to Cape Palmas, filled
with dry bones.

But on the street,
a motorcade is coming.
Someone is living.
Someone is living on these bones.

     I was in the middle of the Liberian civil war when I began to use my talent in writing Poetry and prose to search for healing from the traumatic experience of the bloody Liberian civil war I was in. After my husband, children and I survived those first two years and moved to the US, I was so devastated, I needed something more than prayer to help me. I was so emotionally traumatized by the killing of numerous people we had witnessed, the torture my family and I had experienced, the ugliness of war revealed in the starvation many of us war refugees experienced,  the pain from watching children and the elderly die in the war, the bombs and the burning buildings, and all that war can bring upon any people, I could not stop crying. During my first years out of the war, even as a mother of then three little children, a wife and a professional person, I broke down every time anyone wanted me to say something about my experience of the then on-going Liberian civil war.

This was when I returned to writing. I decided in that first year of my arrival in the US, in 1991, to write down my memories of the war, to tell it all, first in a narrative of five hundred pages, writing that entire year. Later on, I found the strength to begin writing poetry again, my favorite genre in the writing process. I wrote endlessly, writing first about the war that had happened to Liberia, to its people, people other than myself. I was too hurt to bring images of the war close to myself in the poetry I wrote in those early years, poetry, that became part of my first book, Before the Palm Could Bloom: Poems of Africa.   


                     —–Patricia Jabbeh Wesley

At night, it is like fire
spreading beneath us.
This vast city
aflame, and the plane groaning.

The city is more beautiful
from the sky at night.
At noon, it looks like
a worn-out garage,
a thing in the middle
of swamp country.

All the buildings are worn-out,
rusted to the bone
of steel, twisted
to make way so life
can go on.

Everything is bent and broken
along the hilltops.
I touch air to see if air
is still there.
The touchdown,

and we appear all worn-out,
too, like the city, broken.
All the birds
moved out long ago.
The trees too.

      It was then I discovered that the more I wrote down my hurt feelings, my sorrow, and bitterness from the torture I’d experienced, the less I cried, the less angry I was, and the more I could reason and accept my and my country’s situation for what was happening to us. I was becoming healed even though the war still raged. I know that healing for me also involved prayer and spiritual healing, but writing down my feelings meant that I was admitting that indeed, these things had happened to me and to my people, and yes, indeed, it was okay to feel hurt, and yes, I could indeed be healed. 

    Writing poetry set me free from all of the anger from watching the devastation of my beloved Liberia, dulled the pain of losing so many relatives and all I had worked so hard for, including losing my mother and stepmother, and even as more family members and friends were killed in that prolonged war, I would turn to my computer and write, using powerful images as they came to me to express my feelings. I wrote about everything, my anger, my fears, my hope, my prophesies about the end of the war and hopes of a day when we would no longer be at war. 


     So, again when I found another means of writing to find healing in blogging, I added this form of creativity to my poetry. Here, today, I celebrate Poetryforpeace, an international blog and its high traffic of my faithful readers and those seeking for something, many stumbling upon this site accidentally. I don’t feel deserving of your words of encouragement or your time taken out for this blog, but I feel a kind of connection to you. I feel like you are part of my life, and you do know where I am and where you are. It is for you that I write. When I write, I often think of people across the world who will read every word, even if those are few, even if those will find my accidentally. You and I are going to change the world.  My hope is that despite my slow posting in the past couple years, you will find something within the past of my blogging to hold on to until I find the time to revisit you with a few new words.

I want the site to bring everything to everyone. Some will find poetry; others will find politics; others have found mundane stories, news, etc. All have been welcome. Here, today I celebrate with a small sample of my poems, all, published poems in my four books of poetry. These were already scattered around the web, but are gathered for your pleasure. Enjoy and let’s live. Life is short and beautiful. Let’s keep our hopes for all the women around the world as we celebrate International Women’s Day and as we celebrate Women’s History Month. Happy Women’s History Month even if you’re a man. Remember, without a woman, there is no man.


          — Patricia Jabbeh Wesley (copyright: The River is Rising Autumn House Press, 2007)

Closure is such a final thing- the needle in the arm,
one last word or no last word at all, a death chamber

where the supposed convict lies waiting so the poison
will descend or ascend to the heart, a final beat,

and then sleep, that eternal thing none of us living
has ever seen. In California, today, a man is being

put to death, but outside, his supporters wait; candles,
flames, anger- the cold chill of death and life,

and a country that waits for all the arguments to die
or live on. The victim’s mother will see closure today,

they say, and move on after the murderer or the supposed
murderer is laid to rest with her son, side by side.

Death is such an ironic thing to know. To know death
is to know rot, hush, the lack of pain. It is 3 am

in Pennsylvania. Time, so deceptive, and arbitrary
and imperfect. Around the world, we all wait, for

the executioner’s poke into vein, blood meeting poison.
We are such civilized people, I’d say, dishing out death

in small poking needles. The newsmen tell us they
cannot find his vein. The awkwardness of asking the one

awaiting death to find his own vein so they can murder
him too- the executioner’s awkward fingers, the knowing

fingers- afraid of both the man and the art of killing the man.
I hate death. I hate the dying, the ugly process of dying,

the ritual of murder. So I too, keep vigil on my carpet.
Tomorrow, I’ll tell my eleven year-old daughter how

we have all murdered another human being. An eye
for an eye, so far away from my bedroom of dim lights,

a comforter or two, the surrounding hills in close view.
There is always a mountain here in Pennsylvania,

always that looming presence of life and death and the
far away feeling of the valley below, of being so far away

from home. There is no closure, I see, after the poison
has reached the heart, and the accused, stretched out, finally.

The victim’s mother begins to weep all over again-
as if this was just the beginning of the dying.


I NOW WANDER    (Copyright: Becoming Ebony, SIU Press, 2003

                                                    Patricia Jabbeh Wesley

I raised ducks, pigs, dogs, barking watchdogs.
Wild chickens loose, dancing, flapping old wings.

Red and white American roosters, meant to be sheltered
and fed with vitamins until they grow dumb;

in our yard I set them loose among African breeds
that pecked at them until they, too, grew wild and free.

I planted papayas, fat belly papayas, elongated papayas,
tiny papayas, hanging. I planted pineapples, mangoes,

long juicy sugar canes, wild coco-yams. From our bedroom
window I saw plantain and bananas bloom, again and again,

take on flesh and ripeness. And then the war came, and the rebels
slaughtered my pigs, my strong roosters, my hens,

my heavy, squawking ducks. Now I wander among strangers,
looking for new ducks, new hens, new coco-yams, new wars.



                                        Patricia Jabbeh Wesley

The women in my family were supposed
to be men. Heavy body men, brawny
arms and legs, thick muscular chests and the heart,
smaller than a speck of dirt.

They come ready with muscled arms and legs,
big feet, big hands, big bones,

a temper that’s hot enough to start World War Three.
We pride our scattered strings
of beards under left chins

as if we had anything to do with creating ourselves.
The women outnumber the men
in my father’s family, leaving our fathers roaming

wild nights in search of baby-spitting concubines
to save the family name.
It is an abomination when there are no boy children.

At the birth of each one of us girls, a father sat prostrate
in the earth, in sackcloth and ash, wailing.

It is abomination when there are no men
in the family, when mothers can’t bring forth
boy children in my clan.



                Patricia Jabbeh Wesley (1998, Before the Palm Could Blook

When I get to heaven
I’m going to shout hallelujah all over the place.
Dancing the Dorklor, the Wahyee,
the Ballet, the Rock and Roll.
I’ll dance the Brake, the Rap, Hip-Hop.
All the dances only sinners have danced.
I’ll sing Opera, the African way,
dance the Ballet the African way.

When I get to heaven
I’ll pray so loud, shaking hands the White way,
the Black way; greeting with kola nuts
as the Grebos do.
I’ll lie prostrate, to greet
the Yoruba way. Snap fingers to greet
as Liberians do.
There will be no boundaries, law laws, no rules.

When I get to heaven
I’ll sing the blues and dance the Sumu.
I’ll paint my face with white chalk and red rock,
sit with missionaries so all can see
I’ll pound my drums, shaking my Sahsah.
Blowing my trumpet the African way
Dancing to Jesus the African way



                              –Patricia Jabbeh Wesley

So what shall I use to wipe my brow?
To bring back a life
snatched away in its prime?
What shall I say, and what shall I lay hands
so helpless upon to wipe the sorrow
from my brow?

What shall I wear to mourn a life
whose end has dealt us this blow?
Shall I wear black, so when our townswomen,
hearing the drums, come wailing, wailing
they shall see the sorrow
of my heart on my dark lappa?

Shall I tie a string around my forehead?
Shall I lie prostrate on The Mat?
Shall I cry tears for those you’ve left us to feed
when we ourselves cannot feed ourselves
in a land where the hungry, forever hungry,
keep the faith?

What dirge shall I sing?
Shall I recount the battles fought at Nganlun?
Shall I sing of blood shed at the cracking of a gun
when I myself am so afraid of the gun?
What shall I say when the women,
hearing my song, come wailing
and knocking at my door?



                            Patricia Jabbeh Wesley

“Good friend, please help me.
Did you happen to see
two boys when you lived in Kataka?
One dark, chubby?
The other, light with dark eyes?
Good friend,
did you see them while you lived in Ganta?
One would have been ten
and the other this tall.
My big boy, Nyema, the small one, Doeteh.
Good friend, can you tell me
if they went to Tapeta?
Were they given weapons, did they kill?
Good friend, can you say
if they walked to Bassa?
Did they starve to death?
Good friend, can you say
if there was a mother walking by their side?
Was she healthy? was she treated well?
Oh, good friend, so this is where
they took them out of line?
Good friend, were they hungry
when they met their end?
Oh, good friend, I will follow
to wrap up their bones.
Thank you, good friend.
But how will I know their bones?





               —-Patricia Jabbeh Wesley

Medellin, Oh, Medellin…
to God, I wish I could take out my heart for you,
but how will I sing this song to you without a heart?
You, with so much heart for love and poetry,
for hope in the eyes of the little girl
who with a scrap of white paper, wants me to say a word
to her, to autograph my name for her, to write it in her
name. She tells me with that unusual smile how
she loves my poems, but she is only eight years old.
She and Carlos, the five year old brother who have
pushed through the thousands to get to me.

Medellin, Oh, Medellin…
where we go down from the mountain
into the bowl of a city, into the deep heart of a city,
so warm, a city where people still smile
and clap to a poem, and cry for the war, a city
where concrete houses hold up the hills with muscles
of steel, muscles of pain, and somewhere along the roads
as the bus descends from the airport, the poor have
erected their own lives so sadly, waiting,
and yet, they overlook the city with hope.
From the edge of sharp cliffs and the side roads,
the burning lights and flames of the city, hard
and indistinguishable from anger.
But theirs is of the pain from the years gone.

Medellin, Oh, Medellin…
Waiting can be so hard, Medellin.
And I love you from my heart. I love your laughter,
your warm hugs and kisses, your Spanish, so simply
plain and warm. I love even your tears that
you have shared with me, when a poem I’m reading
touches you in that place where only a poem can go.
At the International Poetry Festival, you sit there,
along your hill arena, clapping, thousands of people,
sitting and thinking and listening and hoping,
Medellin, I have never seen anything like this before.
Thousands of people sitting for long hours
at a poetry reading, Medellin…
we wait for that day, Medellin, we wait.
Trust me, I know how to wait, and I know you do too.

My Poem, “One Day,” is the American Life in Poetry Selection for the Week: Thanks to US Poet Laureate (2004-2006),Ted Kooser for Selecting Me in A Country of So Many Great Poets

When you come from the small West African country of Liberia, you are not expected to be picked by the US Poet Laureate in his search for what he knows is a great poet to share with his millions of fans and readers. So, you can understand why someone as lowly as I am should be so grateful that US Poet Laureate chose my poem several months ago to be featured today on American Life in Poetry and to be permanently included on the Poetry Foundation website. Thanks, Mr. Kooser for selecting and featuring me this week. It makes my life better to know that there are poets who are so well learned that they understand the simplicity of the language some of us from far away backgrounds speak, and that even our voices must be heard. I am humbled by this kind honor.

If you are wondering where to go to read this poem, here is the link:


Click to access COL325.pdf

American Life in Poetry: Column 325


Many of us have attempted to console friends who have recently been divorced, and though it can be a pretty hard sell, we have assured them that things will indeed be better with the passage of time. Here’s a fine poem of consolation by Patricia Jabbeh Wesley, who teaches at Penn State.

One Day

Love Song for the Newly Divorced
One day, you will awake from your covering
and that heart of yours will be totally mended,
and there will be no more burning within.
The owl, calling in the setting of the sun
and the deer path, all erased.
And there will be no more need for love
or lovers or fears of losing lovers
and there will be no more burning timbers
with which to light a new fire,
and there will be no more husbands or people
related to husbands, and there will be no more
tears or reason to shed your tears.
You will be as mended as the bridge
the working crew has just reopened.
The thick air will be vanquished with the tide
and the river that was corrupted by lies
will be cleansed and totally free.
And the rooster will call in the setting sun
and the sun will beckon homeward,
hiding behind your one tree that was not felled.

“One Day” was originally published in my fourth book of poems, Where the Road Turns (Autumn House Press: 2010)

Happy Mother’s Day to All You Mothers Out There! No One Can Ever Match the Love of A Mother. Love Your Mother While You Still Have Her!

My Late Mother Here Below: Hne Dahtedor Mary Williams  who died in 2000.

I celebrate each mother’s day by remembering my own mother, Hne Dahtedor Mary Williams, who was a wonderful mother to me. May her soul and the souls of all our gone mothers rest in the peace of God. I have a short blog post this time, a few poems and just a word to encourage those of us, for that includes me, who have chosen to be mothers to know that the labor from dawn to dust is not in vain. It is difficult to be a mother living in the Diaspora, raising children away from family and friends, from the grandparents, some of who have passed on, away from aunts and uncles, from extended family members. Many of us have raised children who will be strangers to their own family, but we do not give up. Life is w

hat we make it. Love you all.

if there are any heavens my mother will

——–By e e cummings

if there are any heavens my mother will(all by herself)have
one.  It will not be a pansy heaven nor
a fragile heaven of lilies-of-the-valley but
it will be a heaven of blackred roses

my father will be(deep like a rose
tall like a rose)

standing near my

(swaying over her
with eyes which are really petals and see

nothing with the face of a poet really which
is a flower and not a face with
which whisper
This is my beloved my

(suddenly in sunlight

he will bow,

& the whole garden will bow)

When a Poem Stays With You Forever: Recalling Those Poets That Influenced Me. Post Your favorite poems in No Longer than 20 Lines in Response, Will You?


Some poems stay with you forever. They are there when you need them- they nag you, inspire you, make you change your world, comfort you when you need comforting, help you climb your own hills as if you were a hill climber. Some poems manufacture other poems within your deepest guts, and make you walk on water. Some poets remain with you like the poems they carve, and as a poet, when that happens, you become what you were to be. You come across these poems in school, often as early as grade school, in college, during your search for your own poetry career, and are there when you need that extra push. They shape your philosophy about poetry, about the world and its people, and you go back to them again and again for solace. For me, the poets I am listing and many more that cannot fit this blog’s limited pages, these poets and poems have been with me forever. They have influenced me in some ways, often, helping me carve up my own career as a poet. Even though I have picked out just one poem from some of these poets, there are many more of their poems that have affected me positively. What I want my own poetry to do for my readers, lovers of my poetry and those who are eternally lovers of any poetry is that I affect you just as beautifully as these poets have affected me. I want to help you carve up the brushes along your own path, and find where you’re going. I am not saying that poetry is everything, that poetry is god; I am saying that poetry is essential to our lives, and that each of us is a poet inside, whether we know it or not, In any case, if I inspire you in any way, just find a moment and write a poem, read a poem, or just support a poet. Poets are not rich people. They work very hard and hardly ever get paid for helping to reshape the world. Enjoy my poets the way I enjoy them, and leave a note if you feel strongly about poetry.

John Pepper Clark

John Pepper Clark Bekederemo

(1935- Present)

Nigerian Poet and Playwright, John Pepper Clark Bekederemo was one of my first favorites. His use of African oral traditional images, the dirge, song, and music in his style intrigued me. His ability to capture the Nigerian civil war in “The Casualties” affected me decades before I could even imagine that I too, would be a victim of a civil war in my own country.


————-John Pepper Clark Bekederemo

The casualties are not only those who are dead;
They are well out of it.
The casualties are not only those who are wounded,
Thought they await burial by installment
The casualties are not only those who have lost
Person or property, hard as it is
To grape for a touch that some
May not know is not there
The casualties are not those led away by night;
The cell is a cruel place, sometimes a heaven,
No where as absolute as the grave
The casualties are not those who started
A fire and now cannot put to out. Thousands
Are burning that had no say in the matter.
The casualties are not only those who escaping
The shattered shell become prisoners in
A fortress of falling walls.

The casualties are many, and a good number well
Outside the scene of ravage and wreck;
They are the emissaries of rift,
So smug in smoke-room they haunt abroad,
They are wandering minstrels who, beating on
The drum of human heart, draw the world
Into a dance with rites it does not know

The drum overwhelm the guns…
Caught in the clash of counter claims and charges
When not in the niche others have left,
We fall.
All casualties of war,
Because we cannot hear other speak,
Because eyes have ceased to see the face from the crowd,
Because whether we know or
Do not know the extent of wrong on all sides,
We are characters now other than before
The war began, the stay- at- home unsettled
By taxes and rumor, the looter for office
And wares, fearful everyday the owners may return,
We are all casualties,
All sagging as are
The case celebrated for kwashiorkor,
The unforeseen camp-follower of not just our war.


Wole Soyinka

(July 13, 1934- Present)

Wole Soyinka, Nobel Prize winning poet in Literature, playwright and memoirist is one of my favorite. I admire his use of African oral tradition in his plays, but “Telephone Conversation’s” biting sarcasm and wit can knock anyone off their feet. I discovered the poem while I was still in high school, and have loved it since. I met the great one during the African Lit. Association conference in Burlington, VT last April, and of course, he was a great orator, literary critic and all during his keynote address to our conference.

Telephone Conversation

——————by Wole Soyinka

The price seemed reasonable, location
Indifferent. The landlady swore she lived
Off premises. Nothing remained
But self-confession. ‘Madam,’ I warned,
‘I hate a wasted journey – I am African.’
Silence. Silenced transmission of
Pressurized good-breeding. Voice, when it came,
Lipstick coated, long gold-rolled
Cigarette-holder pipped. Caught I was, foully.
‘HOW DARK?’ . . . I had not misheard. . . .
Button B. Button A. Stench
Of rancid breath of public hide-and-speak.
Red booth. Red pillar-box. Red double-tiered
Omnibus squelching tar. It was real! Shamed
By ill-mannered silence, surrender
Pushed dumbfounded to beg simplification.
Considerate she was, varying the emphasis –
‘ARE YOU DARK? OR VERY LIGHT?’ Revelation came.
‘You mean – like plain or milk chocolate?’
Her assent was clinical, crushing in its light
Impersonality. Rapidly, wave-length adjusted,
I chose. ‘West African sepia’ – and as afterthought,
‘Down in my passport.’ Silence for spectroscopic
Flight of fancy, till truthfulness clanged her accent
Hard on the mouthpiece. ‘WHAT’S THAT?’ conceding
‘DON’T KNOW WHAT THAT IS.’ ‘Like brunette.’
‘THAT’S DARK, ISN’T IT?’ ‘Not altogether.
Facially, I am brunette, but madam, you should see
The rest of me. Palm of my hand, soles of my feet
Are a peroxide blonde. Friction, caused –
Foolishly madam – by sitting down, has turned
My bottom raven black – One moment madam!’ – sensing
Her receiver rearing on the thunderclap
About my ears – ‘Madam,’ I pleaded, ‘wouldn’t you rather
See for yourself?’


Gwendolyn Brooks

Gwendolyn Brooks (1917 – 2000), one of my favorite poets that I met before she died. I was a part-time instructor of English, African  and African American Lit. at Aquinas College in Grand Rapids Michigan. She was a visiting poet at that Catholic college sometime in the middle 1990s. After her reading, I stood in line to meet her, and she noticed me in my African dress, and drew me close. I was of course, a part-time teacher, an insignificant person as far as my colleagues were concerned, and I was having the toughest time in my career that year. In fact, I had the worst experience of my teaching life at that college, so it was such a fresh blessing to be spoken to in such kind words by the famous Gwendolyn Brooks, whose work I was teaching in my African American Lit. classes there. I told her that I was a poet or at least I thought I was, unpublished in the US, and looking forward to putting together my first book of poems. She hugged me, smiling proudly, telling me that if I had made it out of the Liberian civil war then in 1995, I would make it to be the finest poet ever. Maybe she was right; maybe not, however. When I finally got a publisher in 1997, I sent my manuscript to the famous poet, asking her for a blurb. She wrote back immediately, telling me that she was not doing well, and was dealing with the pressure of finishing one last book before life could overtake her; cheering me on, she told me how proud she was of me, and that she wished me a great career as a poet. She also sent me a card, congratulating me on my publication. Her long letter, written in her fine handwriting even then, gave me more reason for my dream to be a poet. I knew then that it was not only my father, Moses C. Jabbeh, who could push me on. She also recalled meeting me years earlier, and that her hopes for me had been realized. Very rarely does one ever come across a sweetheart such as Gwendolyn Brooks.

Young Afrikans

by Gwendolyn Brooks
of the furious

Who take Today and jerk it out of joint
have made new underpinnings and a Head.

Blacktime is time for chimeful
but they decree a
jagged chiming now.

If there are flowers flowers
must come out to the road. Rowdy!—
knowing where wheels and people are,
knowing where whips and screams are,
knowing where deaths are, where the kind kills are.

As for that other kind of kindness,
if there is milk it must be mindful.
The milkofhumankindness must be mindful
as wily wines.
Must be fine fury.
Must be mega, must be main.

Taking Today (to jerk it out of joint)
the hardheroic maim the
leechlike-as-usual who use,
adhere to, carp, and harm.

And they await,
across the Changes and the spiraling dead,
our Black revival, our Black vinegar


(26 March 1859 – 30 April 1936)

A.E. Housman was one of my favorites when I was a grade school student. I loved his narrative style and his ability to create concrete images that made the storyline in his own violent world then, real. Most of all, I loved his ability to deal with real issues of life, dying, conflict of relationships and the world of youth.

Is My Team Plowing by A. E. Housman

“Is my team ploughing,
That I was used to drive
And hear the harness jingle
When I was man alive?”

Ay, the horses trample,
The harness jingles now;
No change though you lie under
The land you used to plough.

“Is football playing
Along the river shore,
With lads to chase the leather,
Now I stand up no more?”

Ay, the ball is flying,
The lads play heart and soul;
The goal stands up, the keeper
Stands up to keep the goal.

“Is my girl happy,
That I thought hard to leave,
And has she tired of weeping
As she lies down at eve?”

Ay, she lies down lightly,
She lies not down to weep,
Your girl is well contented.
Be still, my lad, and sleep.

“Is my friend hearty,
Now I am thin and pine,
And has he found to sleep in
A better bed than mine?”

Yes, lad, I lie easy,
I lie as lads would choose;
I cheer a dead man’s sweetheart,
Never ask me whose.


Nikki Giovanni

(June 7, 1943-Present)
I have never met Nikki Giovanni, but she was one of my earliest influences as a young poet, writing in Monrovia, Liberia. I heard her read one of her most powerful poems about the connection between African Americans and Africa during the early 1980s. The Liberian Association of Writers (LAW) visited the United States Embassay to hear her read via satelite TV, and I was never the same after that. I wrote my poem, “Heritage” that is included in my first book of poems, Before the Palm Could Bloom: Poems of Africa (New Issues Press, 1998). I rushed home that day and wrote the poem that also talks about another kind of connection, the one between myself and my place as a Grebo woman from the Tuobo Patton (Clan). Over the many years of my career since my twenties, I have enjoyed reading Nikki, and have come to adore her powerful lines, her ability to bring to life images that are truly about black people and the black experience. I continue to be her fan today.

Today, my colleague, friend and sister, fellow Penn State professor, Sandra Staton Taiwo sent me two photos of her meeting Nikki Giovanni at a literary event where she still is. I was intrigued and jealous of course, of my sweet friend. I thought, oh, my goodness, it should have been me. But I’m joking. Sandra deserves to meet the great one, Nikki Giovanni, whom so many of us adore. She continues to be a great inspiration today. Enjoy the two photos.


Prof. Sandra Staton Taiwo and Nikki Giovanni (Nov. 2009), taken by Sandra’s Blackberry.

Sandra and Nikki

Nikki can reached an adult as well as a child. Here is my friend’s daughter, the intelligent one that she is, meeting this great mountain that is Nikki.

They Clapped
—————-by Nikki Giovanni

they clapped when we landed
thinking africa was just an extension
of the black world
they smiled as we taxied home to be met
black to black face not understanding africans lack
color prejudice
they rushed to declare
cigarettes, money, allegiance to the mother land
not knowing despite having read fanon and davenport
hearing all of j.h. clarke’s lectures, supporting
nkrumah in ghana and nigeria in the war that there was once
a tribe called afro-americans that populated the whole
of africa
they stopped running when they learned the packages
on the women’s heads were heavy and that babies didn’t
cry and disease is uncomfortable and that villages are fun
only because you knew the feel of good leather on good
they cried when they saw mercedes benz were as common
in lagos as volkswagens are in berlin
they shook their heads when they understood there was no
difference between the french and the english and the americans
and the afro-americans or the tribe next door or the country
across the border
they were exasperated when they heard sly and the family stone
in francophone africa and they finally smiled when little boys
who spoke no western tongue said “james brown” with reverence
they brought out their cameras and bought out africa’s drums
when they finally realized that they are strangers all over
and love is only and always about the lover not the beloved
they marveled at the beauty of the people and the richness
of the land knowing they could never possess either

they clapped when they took off
for home despite the dead
dream they saw a free future


W. H. Auden (1907-1973), powerful poet writing  during times of war. I mostly have been influenced since grade school, by his ability to articulate the angry feelings that war evokes. His poem below has been used by everyone in times of adversity.

Stop all the clocks, cut off the telephone

W. H. Auden

Stop all the clocks, cut off the telephone,
Prevent the dog from barking with a juicy bone,
Silence the pianos and with muffled drum
Bring out the coffin, let the mourners come.

Let aeroplanes circle moaning overhead
Scribbling on the sky the message He Is Dead,
Put crepe bows round the white necks of the public doves,
Let the traffic policemen wear black cotton gloves.

He was my North, my South, my East and West,
My working week and my Sunday rest,
My noon, my midnight, my talk, my song;
I thought that love would last for ever: I was wrong.

The stars are not wanted now: put out every one;
Pack up the moon and dismantle the sun;
Pour away the ocean and sweep up the wood.
For nothing now can ever come to any good.


Kofi Anyidoho


Renowned Ewe and African poet, Kofi Anyidoho of Ghana is one of those poets who has contributed much to many of us newer African writers in so many ways. He is able to bring the African oral tradition to life in every line, whether that line is in English or in Ewe. I was a fan of his poetry and his writing prior to meeting him. In fact, I used his writing to reference the scholarly section of my Ph.D. defense in preparation for my Creative Writing (Poetry) dissertation. I was very blessed to meet him first, finally, in Illinois at the ALA conference. But when I met him in Accra, Ghana, at the PALF writing residency I had summer of 2008, he was a great inspiration to me. He gave me a tour of the University of Ghana, introducing me to university officials, giving me a tour of the English Dept. at Legon, the other name of the university, and gave me a cd of his beautiful poetry. Then I heard him recite his poetry at one of the evening readings at the Pan African Literary Forum. He is a brother, a mentor, and an African poet, who has helped many of us newer poets see that one can certainly be an African writer even while writing away from home. Below is one of his beautiful poems. Enjoy.

photos-for-mom-112This is me with Poet and Professor, Kofi Anyidoho

My Song

Kofi Anyidoho


I sell My Song for those with ears to buy
It is to a tree that a bull is tied
You do not bypass the palm’s branches
to tap its wine

The things I have to say

I say them now
I shall stand aside
from those who care
to clear their throat and
dress their shame in lies

When you meet a poorly-dressed neighbour
at a great durbar
you do not spit on the ground
and roll your eyes to the skies

The umbrella I bought
You stole from my rooms at dawn
Now I walk in the early morning rain

You point at me to our young maidens
And they join you in laughter

My People
Think well before you laugh at those who walk in the rain.

The gifts that bestows at birth
Some had some splendid things
What was mine?
I sing. They laugh.
Still I sell My Song
for those with ears to buy

My cloth is torn, I know
But I shall learn to wear it well

My voice is hoarse, I know
But I shall learn to wear it well.


Langston Hughes

Hughes (February 1, 1902 – May 22, 1967), one of those poets whose mark remains with you forever. I discovered him early, probably as late back as in high school, and then in college, where I drank every bit of his poetry with hopes of following after his footsteps. I thought him in the 1990s and currently in African American lit classes and in any literature course about the world. As a poet writing in the 1960s, his voice joined the many voices of African poets seeking to bring Africa out of Colonialism. He was the Negritude poet for me just as poet, Aime Cesaire was in Martinique or Leopold Sedar Singhor was in Guinea. His poem below is one of my favorite.

The Negro Speaks of Rivers

———by Langston Hughes

I’ve known rivers:
I’ve known rivers ancient as the world and older than the
flow of human blood in human veins.

My soul has grown deep like the rivers.

I bathed in the Euphrates when dawns were young.
I built my hut near the Congo and it lulled me to sleep.
I looked upon the Nile and raised the pyramids above it.
I heard the singing of the Mississippi when Abe Lincoln
went down to New Orleans, and I’ve seen its muddy
bosom turn all golden in the sunset.

I’ve known rivers:
Ancient, dusky rivers.


Herb Scott

Herb Scott, (Feb. 8, 1931-Feb. 12, 2006) of Michigan, founded the New Issues Press that has published some of the finest poets in America today. He was my professor, mentor, friend and publisher, and without his influence, my career would not be where it is today. Herb was one of those who believed in you no matter where you come from, and worked with you no matter your race, class, educational level, etc. His life was lived as if he had not time to left, and when you walked into his life, he was there for you. Of all my influences, he remains a living monument in my life and poetry. He was as personal as a father could be. Love you Herb, and blessings to your beautiful family who shared you with the world. Enjoy the poem below. I recall reading it in tears at Herb’s memorial service in March of 2006.


By Herb Scott

Skin, and bone, and weed
flower in the flesh.
Do not go to sleep.

Love is a dust we keep,
silt of the body’s dreaming.
Do not go to sleep.

If I were the speech of leaves
I’d let my body sing.
Do not go to sleep.

Words like willow branches
bend to the earth’s reach.
Do not go to sleep.


Marie Howe


One of my favorite poets, Marie Howe is a great American poet. I was influenced by her couplets, her ability to bring images to life, and her love of life. My favorite of her books, What the Living Do remains a lasting impression on me. I met her last spring at the AWP conference, and wasn’t it wonderful? She and I communicated by e-mail briefly after that, and despite my inability to meet with her this summer, I plan to reopen our dialogue and meet with her next summer for coffee. She is a great poet and I am her fan. Love you, Marie, and never told you that Marie is my middle name that got lost in the long list of names my parents gave me. My childhood friends still call me Marie, however.
The Star Market
by Marie Howe January 14, 2008

The people Jesus loved were shopping at the Star Market yesterday.
An old lead-colored man standing next to me at the checkout
breathed so heavily I had to step back a few steps.

Even after his bags were packed he still stood, breathing hard and
hawking into his hand. The feeble, the lame, I could hardly look at them:
shuffling through the aisles, they smelled of decay, as if the Star Market

had declared a day off for the able-bodied, and I had wandered in
with the rest of them—sour milk, bad meat—
looking for cereal and spring water.

Jesus must have been a saint, I said to myself, looking for my lost car
in the parking lot later, stumbling among the people who would have
been lowered into rooms by ropes, who would have crept

out of caves or crawled from the corners of public baths on their hands
and knees begging for mercy.

If I touch only the hem of his garment, one woman thought,
could I bear the look on his face when he wheels around?

looking for cereal and spring water.

Jesus must have been a saint, I said to myself, looking for my lost car

in the parking lot later, stumbling among the people who would have

been lowered into rooms by ropes, who would have crept

out of caves or crawled from the corners of public baths on their hands

and knees begging for mercy.

If I touch only the hem of his garment, one woman thought,

could I bear the look on his face when he wheels around?


There are numerous more influences that I cannot include in these brief pages. Some of these great authors are short story writers or have no poetry online to post. Writers like Ama Ata Aidoo of Ghana, whose story telling style reminds me of how my Iyeeh and my mother told the ancient Grebo tales to me, Buchi Emecheta’s feminist drive for bringing out the stories of women, Kojo Laing and his humor, and Kwesi Brew and his oral traditional wit have all left their mark on me. Others like Bai T. Moore of Liberia, whose poem, “Monrovia Market Women,” remains embedded in my mind, S. Henry Cordor, who was one of my first writing mentors, Robert H. Brown of Liberia, and Althea Romeo Mark, fellow writers, former professors, friends and mentors  have all left their mark on my own career, and there would be no space on the Internet were I to recall all of these great writers. If you are like me, maybe all you can do is to continue to write and publish, continue to pass on your skills to other students of writing, continue to cry out against injustices through your own poetry, just continue to be you. It is a privilege to be able to say that someone touched my life and maybe I, too, can touch another person’s life. Maybe you too can touch someone’s life. Life is too short to live forgetting those who have given more than their share to you directly or indirectly.

Fall for the Book Festival-2009—My Friend, Gabeba Baderoon and I, Patricia Jabbeh Wesley Read at the Smithsonian National Museum of African Art on September 19, 2009 at 2 pm


Fall for the Book Festival Reading: Gabeba Baderoon and Patricia Jabbeh Wesley- Saturday, Sept. 19, 2009, at 2 pm. The reading takes place at the Smithsonian National Museum of African Art on 950 Independence Ave. You are invited, and please, bring all of your friends.


Fall for the Book Festival 2009 began on September 6, 2009 with preview events, and will continue throughout the DC, Virginia and Maryland areas this month. Many great readers will bring their works to literary audiences through readings, discussions, and other festivities in libraries, institutions and other locations throughout the Washington DC area. This year, the festival is significant to me because my friend, Gabeha Baderoon, a poet, originally from South Africa and I will be participating in the readings as featured authors. Our reading takes place during one of the many preview events of the Festival. I would like to take this time to invite you to come and hear us read from our books of poetry, and enjoy the diverse cultures of Africa through our works. Our work will also surprise you because when you come to the reading, you will see that we do not only write about the great continent of Africa, but we also write about our experiences as  Americans and immigrants from another world, living in a new world, exploring all of the images both of our homelands and our new found home of America.



Our Published Books:


Gabeba Baderoon, here presenting at a previous occasion, will be reading from her collections of poetry, including  “The Dream in the Next Body” “A Hundred Silences,” among others. I believe Gabeba will also read a poem or two from newer poetry. Gabeba is an Assistant Professor of Comparative Literature and Women’s Studies at Penn State University. She is particularly dear to me because she is my friend and colleague. Over the last two years since I first met her, Gabeba and I have collaborated on various projects, including presenting on a panel on African Women’s Literature at the African Literature Association, visiting one another’s African Literature classes at Penn State talking on issues to our scholarship, reading together at other poetry events, among others. This fall, she and I will be part of a discussion on a panel with the African author and friend of ours, Binyavanga Wainaina, when we will discuss the topic, “Who Owns African Literature.” In November, I will be visiting Gabeba’s Comparative to read from my new book, “The River is Rising,” for the benefit of her students who are currently reading the book. Gabeba and I usually compliment each other in our readings, if you ask me. This is because my own poems and poetry reading complement the silences in Gabeba’s images, the beauty of softness of her language and the vividness of feelings her work brings to the reader. Where my images can be brutal in its portrayal of war and ruin, Gabeba can bring the softness, and where my poetry may often burst out with humor, she can bring calm and seriousness. All of this is from my own observation, but you will have to speak to Gabeba yourself or hear us read to know. I have read all of her books not because she is my friend, but mainly because her voice as a writer originally from South Africa is a necessary voice in this contemporary day of poetry, and because I believe poets have a lot to learn from each other.


Patricia Jabbeh Wesley performing at the City of Asylum Poetry-Jazz Festival 2008

Our Published Books:


Here I am  above, reading at another occasion. My books above include, “The River is Rising,” “Becoming Ebony,” and “Before the Palm Could Bloom: Poems of Africa.” I will also read from a new manuscript. I am shamelessly inviting you and your friends to attend our reading on September 19,2009 because unless you come, Gabeba and I will have to collaborate again this time by reading to each other.  I don’t want to say anything about myself because when you attend the reading, you will get to know my poetry and about me. The one thing, I’d say is that I am also a professor at Penn State, but I teach Creative Writing and English mainly, specializing in poetry writing. When you explore the rest of my blogging, you will get to know me. We are both fortunate to be among 130 writers from across the US who will participate in this important occasion, and it will be our honor to come hear us at the Smithsonian. Sherman Alexie is the main reader, I think. Don’t take my word for it. Visit the Festival site at:



———————-POETRY FOR YOUR ENJOYMENT———————————————————-

The Sound of My Name

————-              By Gabeba Baderoon

To step into another language
direct the breath
swell the mouth with vowels
feel the jaw configure itself around the word
write another script on the tongue

A woman learning Russian describes
the new inclination of her head,
her chest, her hands,
the muscular changes in the tongue
the way sibilance tightens
the upper lip
like bee stings around the jaw
the movement of air over her throat
a subtle invasion
taking possession of her mouth

I teach you to say the first letter of my name,
a sound between g and h,
for which there is no letter in English.

Breathe in,
take a sip of water,
make a flat oval of the lips,
breathe out.
Remember the sound of the exhalation.

Clear the throat.

Between the two is the start of my name.


The River Is Rising

————————Patricia Jabbeh Wesley

a song for Liberian women

The river is rising, and this is not a flood.
After years of drought, the ground, hardened

and caked in blood, in dry places, here we are, today.

River banks are swelling with the incoming tide,
coming in from the Atlantic just beyond the ridge

of rolling hills and rocks in Monrovia.

Finally, here we stand at the banks!
Finally, here we are, see how swiftly

the tide rushes in to fill the land with salt.

Fish and crabs and the huge clams and shrimps-
all the river’s creatures are coming in with the tide.

The river is rising, but this is not a flood.

Do not let your eye wander away from this scene.
Yes, all the bones below the Mesurado or the St. Paul

or Sinoe or the Loffa River will be brought up
to land so all the overwhelming questions
can once more overwhelm us.

But they are bringing in our lost sister
on a high stool, and there she stands, waving at those

who in refusing to die, simply refused to die.

This is not a song just for Ellen. This is a song for Mapue
and Tenneh and all the Ellens there are.

This is a song for Kema and Musu and Massa.

This is for Nyeneplue and Nyenoweh, for Kou and Glayee
and Korto, for the once solitary woman of war.

This is a song so Wani will also dance.

This is a song for that small girl child who came out
just this morning. They are still seeking a name

to call her- a river name, a name from the water
and from the fire too. That solitary mother in flight

will no longer birth her child by the roadside
where shells were her baby’s first bed.

Let the womb quiver!
Let church bells jingle!
Let hundreds of drums pound, Klan-klan-teh!
Let men bring out old trumpets
so the wind will take flight!

Let that small pepper bird on the tree branch cry
and sing no more the solitary song.

Let the Mesurado behind my home or what was my home
or still is or maybe, maybe, who cares?

The river is rising, but this is not a flood.

Let no man stand between us
and the river again!

A TRIBUTE TO AIR FRANCE 447 VICTIMS- A Horrible Tragedy: Please Find those Black Boxes

Photo for possible web

When a Plane Crashes in the Middle of the Ocean, We Are Left Helplessly Grieved—


Compostie of some of the victims. From top left: Neil Warrior, Jose Souza, Graham Gardner and Arthur Coakley. From bottom left: Aisling Butler, Jane Deasy and Eithne Walls Photo: MARK ST GEORGE / PA

May Their Souls Rest in Peace—

Two days ago, we awoke to very sad news that a French airliner, Air France 447 was missing en route to Paris from Brazil. Then not too long after that, news came in that the plane had possibly crashed in the middle of the Atlantic, that long flight between the continents. Now, it is clearer to us that those 228 passengers and crew, including eleven children have all perished. This is a sad day for everyone who loves human beings no matter where they come from.

Anne and Michael Harris, American couple living in Brazil

Anne and Michael Harris, Americans living in Brazil, Perished.

Dr. Aisling Butler of Ireland, crash victim (Ap photo)

Dr. Aisling Butler of Ireland, also flying on Air France

FRANCE BRAZIL PLANEGrieving family members

There is a somber kind of hopelessness to realizing that your beautiful family or friends who took off on one of the most reliable means of travel in the world have joined a small number of crashed victims in the history of aviation. Everyone knows that flying is safer than driving, and yet each time I board an airplane, I am aware that something might happen, and I might not get off alive. What a scary thought, but let’s take a moment to think of the numerous family members, and friends who have lost so many good people.


When a plane crashes anywhere, and so much life is lost, everyone is at a loss for what to do. The living simply can stand around and mourn, try to make sense of the senselessness of the crash. Those responsible for investigating the crash examine all the theories, search for the Black Box in order to discover the last signs of trouble and communication prior to the crash. The painful thing about a plane crashing in the ocean is the feeling of the lack of closure. There are often no bodies to claim or bury, and forever, one might keep looking for closure.

Brazil PlanePhoto of young, Lucas Juca of Brazil who also went down with the plane.

Photos of grieving families at the airports both in Brazil and in Paris can be heart breaking for anyone. Families can only comfort one another.

Air France as an airliner is a familiar plane to me. Twice, I have flown my family members, including my late mother and my father-in-law on that airliner from Africa to the US. I too, have had to fly Air France and its Sister or cousin airline, Air Afrique.

But I am a skeptic about all of the instructions given to passengers during the take off. Maybe this is because I have flown way too many times or because I know about the inevitability of a crash, and that most plane crashes mean a death sentence for most passengers. So every time I hear these carefully and legally worded instructions, I wonder how fit the plane is, how sober the pilots are, whether or not they have the experience to fly the plane. I often wonder if they have had enough sleep, whether they are paid well for their difficult job, and whether the stewardesses are also trained for any kind of emergency.

Often, I simply bow and say a good prayer for myself, the pilots, the entire crew, fellow passengers, and turn my life over to God. I have stopped worrying, but I still have my wondering mind about the connection between the poor world economy and the running of safty

In my own grief for the victims of Air France crash, it is my hope that the families will find closure, will overcome their grief, will cherish the memory of their loved ones, and will move on into the future. I also hope that the families and friends will work hard to make the French and Brazalians find the Black Box.  I hope the French government will not call off the search for the Black Box. Let them not quit looking for it. The Black Box will help investigators determine whether the crash was natural, human error or a terrorist attack. Planes that are equiped to fly across the globe do not just vanish out in the thin air.  I hope the French will not be clumsy about quitting the search. We owe that much to the victims and their families.

Let us conclude this reflexive tribute on John Donne’s powerful poem:

Holy Sonnet X: Death Be Not Proud by John Donne

Death, be not proud, though some have callèd thee
Mighty and dreadful, for thou art not so;
For those whom thou think’st thou dost overthrow
Die not, poor death, nor yet canst thou kill me.
From rest and sleep, which yet thy pictures be,
Much pleasure, then from thee much more, must low
And soonest our best men with thee do go,
Rest of their bones and soul’s delivery.
Thou art slave to fate, chance, kings and desperate men
And dost with poison, war and sickness dwell,
And poppy or charms can make us sleep as well
And better than thy stroke; why swell’st thou then ?
One short sleep past, we wake eternally,
And death shall be no more; death, thou shalt die.

Say a prayer for these, will you? May their souls rest in perpetual peace and may their families be comforted.

AWP Conference 2009 In Chicago, Illinois, and I Am Thinking In Poetry: Read A Few Poems from Some of My Favorite Poets


The Associated Writing Program Conference in Chicago will bring writers from mostly the US and a few from outside the US together. Last year, thousands gathered in New York City to read, sign books, present papers about writing and network for new publishers and agents. Last year, I did book signing and read my poetry with three other writers, Pulitzer Prize winning poet,  Yusef Komunyakaa, the acclaimed, award-winning, poet, Quincy Troupe, and the internationally acclaimed young African novelist, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie. Quincy Troupe, one of my favorite poets and his wife Margaret became my good friends then. They are two of the most fun people I’ve met. This blog will pay tribute to some of my favorite writing friends or influnces. Enjoy.



dscn0705I took this photo during my visit to New York University where I was invited to read my poetry with two other writers on October 24, 2008. Here, Quincy was introducing me. But here is a clearer photo of him.


Quincy Troupe is the author of numerous books, including many books of poetry, and has won many awards. Some of his books of poetry include:
Miles and Me (George Gund Foundation Book in African American Studies)  Quincy Troupe (Paperback – May 30, 2002) and The Architecture of Language (Paperback – Oct 1, 2006). Quincy is the editor of Black Renaissance Noire, a literary magazine published out of New York University, and teaches at New York University. He and his wife Margaret are two of the most fun people I know. Below is one of Quincy’s poems taken from the webstie of Poets.org.

For Duke Ellington

— By Quincy Troupe

that day began with a shower
of darkness, calling lightning rains
home to stone language
of thunderclaps, shattering, the high
blue, elegance, of space & time
where a broken-down, riderless, horse
with frayed wings
rode a sheer bone, sunbeam
road, down into the clouds

spoke wheels of lightning jagged
around the hours, & spun high up
above those clouds, duke wheeled
his chariot of piano keys
his spirit, now, levitated from flesh
& hovering over the music of most high
spoke to the silence
of a griot-shaman-man
who knew the wisdom of God

at high noon, the sun cracked
through the darkness, like a rifle shot
grew a beard of clouds on its livid, bald
face, hung down, noon, sky high
pivotal time of the flood-deep hours
as duke was pivotal, being a five in the nine
numbers of numerology
as his music was one of the crossroads
a cosmic mirror of rhythmic gri-gri

so get on up & fly away duke, bebop
slant & fade on in, strut, dance swing, riff
& float & stroke those tickling, gri-gri keys
those satin ladies taking the A train  up
to harlem, those gri-gri keys
of birmingham, breakdown
sophisticated ladies, mood indigo
get on up & strut across, gri-gri
raise on up, your band’s waiting

thunderclapping music, somersaulting
clouds, racing across the deep, blue wisdom
of God, listen, it is time for your intro, duke
into that other place, where the all-time great
band is waiting for your intro, duke
it is time for the Sacred Concert, duke
it is time to make the music of God, duke
we are listening for your intro, duke
so let the sacred music, begin

(taken from Poets.org.)




Marie Howe is one of my favorite poets, one who has influenced my own writing. I discovered her while I was in the Ph.D. Creative Writing Program at Western Michigan University. My professor then, Nancy Eimers, who herself is a great poet,  adopted Howe’s book, “What the Living Do,” and that semester changed a lot of style or my line structure. I love the book she is reading from on this photo. Her use of couplets introduced a new kind of couplets to me, couplets that were couplets even though the verse was as free as any contemporary poetry could be. My second is filled with couplets influenced by Marie’s style. One of my dreams is to meet her one day. I love not just her line structure, but her poetry, her intensity of feelings, her use of Christian images at times. Below is one of my favorite poems. Enjoy.

The Star Market

by Marie Howe January 14, 2008 (copyright: The New Yorker)

The people Jesus loved were shopping at the Star Market yesterday.
An old lead-colored man standing next to me at the checkout
breathed so heavily I had to step back a few steps.

Even after his bags were packed he still stood, breathing hard and
hawking into his hand. The feeble, the lame, I could hardly look at them:
shuffling through the aisles, they smelled of decay, as if the Star Market

had declared a day off for the able-bodied, and I had wandered in
with the rest of them—sour milk, bad meat—
looking for cereal and spring water.

Jesus must have been a saint, I said to myself, looking for my lost car
in the parking lot later, stumbling among the people who would have
been lowered into rooms by ropes, who would have crept

out of caves or crawled from the corners of public baths on their hands
and knees begging for mercy.

If I touch only the hem of his garment, one woman thought,
could I bear the look on his face when he wheels around?




Gabeba Baderoon (pronounced Habeba Baadaroon) is one of my favorite poets and friends. I discovered her or she discovered me more than two years ago when we both were attending MLA in Philadelphia. I had just arrived at the main conference hotel and was driving into the garage or being assisted by the valet. And since I was in a Penn State car, she, having just arrived herself with her husband, saw me and called me. At the moment, I did not know her, this my South African sister-poet-friend. From then on, she and I read together at University Park, where she teaches African literature. I invited her to my campus at Altoona, where she spoke to my students about South African Literature. She is the author of three books of poetry, including, “The Dream in the Next Body” and “A Hundred Silences.” She is an award winning poet from South Africa, a well traveled scholar and a dear sister. What I have learned as a poet also from Africa, from knowing Gabeba is how to know a hundred silences. She is one of those soft spoken people whose heart for the world is larger than anything you have ever seen. I have learned a lot from knowing Gabeba in a short time. My favorite memories of her to date is when she and I were at the African Literature Association conference, and I was complaining about my nasty hotel room, envying her in her beautiful hotel. She quickly offered me a place in her room, insisted that I moved in with her, and even though I did not take her up on her determined effort to be a true sister, I was quite moved by that. Of course, I stayed in my ugly hotel until I found a room in the better hotel two days later. Find Gabeba’s books and enjoy reading them. Enjoy the poem below.

I Cannot Myself

______by Gabeba Baderoon

To come to this country,
my body must assemble itself

into photographs and signatures.
Among them they will search for me.

I must leave behind all uncertainties.
I cannot myself be a question.




I discovered Cynthia Hogue’s poetry naturally because she and I were published by the same press. New Issues had just published her book, “Flux” came out in 2002, so she was obviously signing books at New Issue Press book table, and the late Herb Scott, who was at the time my mentor, introduced me to Cynthia. I had read the entire book, so imagine how happy I was to meet the poet herself. From then on, Cynthia has always been one of my biggest supporters in the world of poetry. Over the years, I have turned to her for that sister-poet relationship every poet needs. She is the author of five or more books of poetry. Her book, “The Incognito Body” is one of my favorites. I am looking forward to seeing her this year at AWP. Last year, we played the “someone is looking for you” game at AWP New York. I would go to a table, and someone would say, Cynthia is looking for you, and she would get the same world, and not for the thousands of others looking for one another, we may have found each other at that over-flowing New York City AWP. Enjoy the poem below. This is Cynthia for you with her sly power over words.

The Man Who Mistook His Wife for a Tree

by Cynthia Hogue

It’s just like her to cry,
Oh, stop living in your head ,
Billy! It makes more sense

where the sun always shines
on dreams programmed for optimism.
Often the man wakes up laughing.

He’s lost his wife and calls
himself divorced, but each night
she says, Good night, my dear,

as if she still lived in the house
he bought for her. He hears her
in the live-oak through the open window,

telling him what to do. Everyone tells him
he’s better off. He thinks,
I’ve wasted my life! The man wishes

his wife would come back because
his beard has grown like Spanish moss.
Letters in his book swim through the room

like zebra fish. The salamander-
colored dog noses the screendoor.
The man knows somewhere there’s a reason

to go on. He wrote last week that he hoped
“to build a new life.” He sent the letter,
with his baby picture, to the Times-Picayune,

which put it in the personals. Someone
called to him from the magnolia tree,
which has bloomed into huge, disk-like flowers,

so many satellites waiting for signals.
Goldfinches flit at the tree’s foot.
He loses himself in the perfumed air.

His wife loved hummingbirds,
though the feeder has hardened
with old sugar.




Poets, Poetry Readings and the Adventures of Literary Connections


The Connection between poets and writers is unique. Here below, you will find me paying a visit to the University of Ghana campus near Accra to meet with the renowned Ghanaian poet, Kofi Anyidoho. Kofi Anyidoho is a poet from the Ewe tradition, a Professor of English for many many years. I wanted to sit with him and just learn from his wisdom as an African poet while I was teaching poetry writing with Pan African Literary Forum in Ghana this summer. So, here I was, being taken around the campus, visiting the officials of the campus with this well respected poet and Professor. There is much to learn from simply talking to Professor Anyidoho. Here are some photos for your eyes: I am here standing with Kofi at the English Department building at Legon.


photos-for-mom-121 Here I am standing before the English Dept. at Legon

photos-for-mom-109Presenting my three books to Kofi for the English Dept. library

photos-for-mom-112Sitting in the English Dept at Legon

photos-for-mom-113This is Kofi here at his desk at Legon.

photos-for-mom-115This is me reading the poem, “For Kwame Nkrumah,” from my third book of poems, The River is Rising.

The visit ended with my photographer, Enock Amankwah also getting a shot taken of him. He was my faithful photographer, tour guide, the Ghanaian best friend of my son, MT. Here is Enock posing to have the chance to also be seen with Kofi. Afterwards, Enock said that before this day, he had always only heard about the Professor and poet, but today he had set eyes upon the renowned Kofi. There was no one as patient with me as Enock when he worked with me in Accra.


Enock and Kofi

photos-for-mom-098My friend, fellow writer, Faith Adiele, reading at the Pan African Literary Forum in Ghana. Faith is one of those rare people you meet and always know. Meeting Faith in Accra was one of those reunion activities for me. There were other writing friends too, like Pamela Fletcher who is one of my friends from long ago. Faith’s reading that night made us laugh and think about the way of life we call African culture.

photos-for-mom-458And of course, another reading here in Monrovia, Liberia, at the Liberian government forum.

Poetry Readings are usually very interesting both for the invited poet and the institution, students, and audience who may often come from the community. My students over the past years have often come away from readings with all sorts of comments about the invited poet, often some of the comments not so encouraging. I do a lot of poetry readings across the country and now in other countries. Usually, I look at a reading as a sort of a performance, something the inviting institution is paying their hard cash for, however small or large, and I, the invited one must do my best to articulate my poetry so the audience can get a clearer perspective for what is important to me. I want my images to be clear in my reading, and I want people to walk away with a sense of what poetry is. Sometimes, I think I do a good job. Sometimes, hey, I can’t know. Below are a few photos of a few readings I have recently done. Sorry, I can’t load the numerous videos I have, but the photos will tell you how seriously the inviting groups often believe poetry reading is. And who can blame them?


This is me here practicing with the famous Oliver Lake Jazz Group, Mr. Lake standing there, and me looking like I was ready to die just from doing the same poems over and over to match the reading to the music.  We are practicing here one poet at the time with several other poets for the Pittsburgh City of Asylum’s Poetry Jazz Concert that was held one day later on Sept. 13.


poetryfestival3After all that trouble, and all the poets had practiced well, here is the occasion. There were a couple thousand people at least in the audience of an enthusiastic crowd, a few voices of various poets, including Gerald Stern,  Lynn Emmanuel, Terrance Hayes, Nikola Madzirov, among others. A fantastic evening after all, and I drove back home the next morning, leaving behind Pittsburgh and all the memory as always. The Concert was a fund raiser to help settle two exiled poets in the US each year. My favorite poet among all of us was Gerald Stern, one of the finest poets who still has a sense of humor and a heart after decades of living the life of a poet. On the morning of concert day, I walked into the breakfast hall of our hotel where the Festival founder, Henry Reese had lodged us, and Gerald welcome me to his table with his wonderful humor and his warm heart. He is one of my most beloved poets, even past 80, he is still bubbly with poetry and a heart.

POETS FOR A BETTER COUNTRY: Pittsburgh Poets Rally in A Big Poetry Reading for the Obama/Biden Campaign

poets for a better country:

Some of America’s finest poets, many I know personally and have much respect for will rally in Pittsburgh this weekend to voice their support for the Democratic ticket of Barack Obama and Joe Biden. If you live within the Pittsburgh area or if you can drive up to Pittsburgh, this should be a once in a lifetime experience you cannot afford to miss.

Here is what the announcement says:

We urge you to join with us in forging a national movement to transform political consciousness. Barack Obama has defined democracy as “a promise that says each of us has the freedom to make of our own lives what we will, but that we also have the obligation to treat each other with dignity and respect.”


Continue reading “POETS FOR A BETTER COUNTRY: Pittsburgh Poets Rally in A Big Poetry Reading for the Obama/Biden Campaign”

I Bring You Greetings From Liberia: A Country of Survivors- Liberia, Land of Liberty, Where the Sun Still Rises Each Morning- Aye-Yah, My People!

Meeting the President

This is part I, which is really a pictorial reflection of my trip to Liberia. Some of you have asked for photos of my misdoings out there in my home country, so here are a cross section of photos. During my trip, I was privileged to be in the presence of many important people, and thought of myself as extremely blessed. Many of those I call important are the ordinary Liberian women who gave me the opportunity to tape record their war stories, which of course are beyond human imagination. The cruelty of Liberia’s war that was fought for fourteen years has no comparison, and the stories will break your heart. Those photos are not for this blog. I also met many government officials that were my former students from the University of Liberia, college day friends, etc. I also spent a lot of time with press people, including Mr. Kenneth Best and his staff at the Daily Observer (Liberia’s leading newspaper), giving many interviews, etc. I was privileged to visit with Dr. Amos Sawyer at his office, still the excited and vibrant scholar, my college day mentor and friend.  Most of what I am today is because Amos inspired in me the desire to be a college professor and to excel. But my visit would not have been complete had I not had time to see the Liberian President, Her Excellency Madame Ellen Johnson Sirleaf. I was privileged to be on a panel with President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf just one day before my departure. I got a call two days before, and was asked if I wanted to speak at the Liberian Government Forum on “Engaging Diaspora Liberians in the Reconstruction of Liberia,” and since I had no printer or anything to work with out there, I was given the choice of speaking from my perspective as a poet and researcher out there. To my delight, I was placed next to the President during the panel, and when I said something she liked, she would turn to me and encourage me with a touch or a nod. I felt validated because as a woman, I believe in what women can do and have done over the years in world history. I know that there are problems in her government, but I believe in what she is doing to bring our nation back on track.

Arriving in Liberia, here is my little sister, Margretta Eee-ee Jabbeh meeting me here at Roberts International Airport.

My brother, Norris Tweah poses for a quick shot before letting me into the city.


I arrived in Liberia on July 14 after a ten day intensive poetry writing teaching experience in Accra, Ghana, where I was a poetry faculty with the Pan African Literary Forum’s Study Abroad program. Ghana was hot, but Liberia was a welcome relief as I braced for what I knew would be a hot and rainy stay. My brother, Norris Tweah, who is a Scott Family Scholar with the Ministry of Information was at the Roberts International Airport with my little sister, Margretta Jabbeh to meet me. We sped to drop off my luggage at Norris’ home, and then we were off to my father’s compound where my siblings and other family awaited my arrival for the Kola Nut greetings at the Jabbeh house. Below is the official Kola Nut greetings, the normal Grebo traditional kola nut ceremony after my long stay in the United States.


Arrival Photos

The Kola Nut Welcome At My Father’s

Monrovia In Photos

Brief Photos of My Book Donation Project

A Moment at the Grebo Church

Brief Photos of the Diaspora Forum With President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf

Farewell and the Kola Nut Ceremony Send Off

Here I am with my family, holding my sister, Kwadi Jabbeh’s baby.  My sister, Margretta and others were cut out of the photo.

Here is my 83 year-old father, laughing, happy to see me after eight years, and happy to have us gathered as a family after nearly twenty years during which most of the family were dispersed by the fifteen year old civil war. After the kola nut and spiced pepper Grebo greeting, then comes the drinks and speeches. Family members are cut out of this photo.

Here Is Monrovia, a city still on the edge between the meandering Mesurrado River and the Rolling Atlantic Ocean, the rocky hills between Crown Hill and Mamba Point. Up above are the ramnants of the E. J. Roye Building where we used to gather for the National Flag Day Oration when we were in grade school, and on the left above is the Centennial Memorial Pavalion after many years of bombings and shelling of the city. Below on Johnson Street, near the Johnson Street Bridge (not in the photo) where I stood to take the photo is Lbieria recovering. Life goes on in this triving city where the scars of war are not always visible, but the people remain strong as the government seeks to restore life to what it used to be.

“Monrovia, Revisited”

by Patricia Jabbeh Wesley

This is the city that killed my mother;
its crooked legs bent
from standing too long,
waiting so angry people can kill
themselves too.

No grass along street corners—
so many potholes from years of war.
Immigrants from all
over the globe used to come here
on tender feet,

in search of themselves.
Abandoned city—
a place that learned
how to cry out loud even though
nobody heard.

This is the city where I first learned
how to lose myself.
Windy city, blue ocean city.
They say a city on the hill
cannot be hid.

The city of salty winds, salty tears,
where stubborn people still hold
us hostage after Charles Taylor.
You should come here if you want
to know how sacred
pain can be.

My 20 day stay in Monrovia came with the usual July rainfall of heavy raindrops. Sunday, July 19, 2008 was such a rainy day, we had to wait just to get to church, and when we arrived at the church through puddles of flooding, no one was there. More than a thousand people were made homeless when their homes were destroyed by the flooding and the rain.

Continue reading “I Bring You Greetings From Liberia: A Country of Survivors- Liberia, Land of Liberty, Where the Sun Still Rises Each Morning- Aye-Yah, My People!”