Two Poems for Now — I have long admired Elijah Cummings, the congressman from Baltimore who died last week, so I paid particular attention to the news coverage surrounding his passing. Several of the stories that I saw on television included a video clip of the very first speech he ever gave in Congress back in 1996. In this speech, he recited the following poem titled “Just a Minute” by the famed civil rights leader Benjamin Mays:
I only have a minute,
60 seconds in it,
Forced upon me,
I did not choose it,
But I know that I must use it,
Give account if I abuse it,
Suffer if I lose it.
Only a tiny little minute,
But eternity is in it.
Hearing Cummings’s eloquent recitation of Mays’s poem, I had a sense that this short poem perfectly captures the spirit of Cummings’s purpose-driven life. The fact that this poem was written by Mays, who was Martin Luther King’s mentor at Morehouse College, underscores for me how Mays and King and Cummings are all interconnected.
In a sense, Mays’s poem is part of a larger American saga–a saga about the ongoing struggle for liberty, civil rights, and equal opportunities. It has connections to other poems that also relate to this saga. I am reminded of “The New Colossus” by Emma Lazarus, a Jewish American poet from New York City. In 1883, she wrote “The New Colossus” as her contribution to an art and literary auction organized to raise funds for the construction of the pedestal for the Statue of Liberty. Twenty years after Lazarus wrote “The New Colossus,” a bronze plaque bearing the text of Lazarus’s poem was installed on one of the walls of the pedestal, and it has been associated with the Statue of Liberty ever since. Although it was written 136 years ago, Lazarus’s poem is as relevant today as it was when she first penned these words:
Not like the brazen giant of Greek fame,
With conquering limbs astride from land to land;
Here at our sea-washed, sunset gates shall stand
A mighty woman with a torch, whose flame
Is the imprisoned lightning, and her name
Mother of Exiles. From her beacon-hand
Glows world-wide welcome; her mild eyes command
The air-bridged harbor that twin cities frame.
“Keep, ancient lands, your storied pomp!” cries she
With silent lips. “Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me,
I lift my lamp beside the golden door!”
Mays’s poem and Lazarus’s poem not only speak to each other but they also speak to us as we decide what role we will play in this great American saga. These are two poems for now, for this minute. By reciting Mays’s poem in the halls of congress, Cummings reminded all of us that we might just have a minute, so we should use it wisely. Cummings made the most of his.
News from the English Learning Community — Students in the English Learning Community are enjoying their first semester at UNC Charlotte both on and off campus. Last weekend they visited the Carolina Renaissance Festival along with their new advisor Gina Kelley, where they got to see a “Joust to the Death.” On Friday, they experienced their first SlamCharlotte Poetry Slam at the Knight Gallery, helping to judge some of the best spoken poets in the country. On campus, they are looking forward to becoming more involved with the English Department by helping out with the English Department Halloween Take-Over and hosting faculty at the Meet and Greet Coffee Hour on November 22nd. If you would like to include the ELC in your event or program, please contact Tiffany Morin.
Kudos — As you know, I like to use my Monday Missives to share news about recent accomplishments by members of the English Department. Here is the latest news:
Liz Miller recently accepted an invitation to serve as Co-editor of Brief Research Reports for TESOL Quarterly. She will begin her three-year term in March 2020.
Upcoming Events and Deadlines — Here is information about upcoming events and deadlines:
October 25 — The English Department faculty meeting will take place on Friday, October 25, from 11:00 to 12:30 in the English Department Conference Room (Fretwell 280C).
October 25 — Janaka Lewis will deliver a faculty talk titled “Black Girlhood and Radical Creativity” on Friday, October 25, from 1:00 to 2:00 in the English Department Seminar Room (Fretwell 290B).
October 25 — A Halloween Party will take place in the English Department from 4:00 to 8:00. Jointly sponsored by the Children’s Literature Graduate Organization, the English Graduate Student Association , and Sigma Tau Delta, this party will feature a costume contest, games, prizes, and food.
Quirky Quiz Question —The Statue of Liberty was a gift to the United States from another country. What country gave this famous statue to the United States?
Last week’s answer: Bank of America Finalist
In 2004, David Amante received an important honor from the university, earning him a spot on our department’s Wall of Fame. What honor did he receive?