devorah major: moves through different genres

For me poetry is a word song that is distilled language using rhythm, word choice, line breaks and tools like metaphor and rhyme to create the score of each song.    devorah major

she could see too much

i veiled her eyes

                                    but she still saw

i locked her indoors

                                    but she still saw

i blackened all windows

                                    but she still saw

i cut out her eyes

                                    but she still saw

i cut our her heart

                                    but she still sees

me. I tremblee

Poetry need not be narrative, but it should capture a moment, give a vision and touch the heart.  Prose is a wide cloth that has many of the ingredients of poetry, good word choice and a certain rhythms or flow but it depends more on story, real or imagined, and relies on solid sentence construction and a consistent voice.

I write poetry, fiction, novels, short stories and essays. That said, I am not sure what kind of writer I am. I move through different genres because I feel each one has its own magic and possibilities, much like a lake, pond, river, and sea are each a kind of water yet have their own uniqueness.

As a writer’s daughter, I began to write at an early age. although that was not my career destination. I write because it the gift and curse that has been given to me, a certain obsession with language, a need to communicate, to connect through these abstract symbols pressed on the page. In college others claimed me as poet when I called myself dancer and actress.  It was a few years before I accepted that mantle and more before I wore it confidently and truly entered the house of writer.

I grew up a lonely child in a house full of books. I read voraciously. Coming into my teens during the Black Nationalist Movement and entering young adulthood under the Black Arts Movement I understood that the act of naming oneself and one’s people was a serious undertaking. Having seen my father crowded behind a Royal typewriter throughout my childhood I knew that It was a habit that could claim all one’s attention. Having a godfather who wrote and orated pointed me towards the power of the word. I wanted to have a command over words that could cast spells, transport one to other places or times, answer questions, create dreams and sometimes even heal.

The place I was born, the islands that my father’s people came from and the lands I have travelled have shaped my vision and given me a firm foundation and deep roots that shape and manifest in my writing.

To write honestly, compassionately and with courage demands that one address and indeed embrace social justice as a part of that process. The Covid epidemic besides birthing a few poems on that topic has in its isolation gifted me with more time to write and a certain increased focus. As always, I have several projects, expanding my collection of science fiction stories, creating a poetry play tentatively titled Mother’s Howl about the pain that mothers are enduring all over the globe and a memoir/history of my father.

I want the world to know me as a writer.  What they will discover will be revealed in my text.

usa fire alarm

the house is burning

we can smell its smoke

sparks singe the curtains

our eyes water as growing fires

sizzle at our front and back doors

on the top floors

some of the residents

are in a thick fog sleep

others are trapped

in the darkened basement

straight-backed and frightened

i sit in the living room

i am not alone

the house is burning

the arsonists say

they will rebuild the frame

with our bones

glue together ashes for the walls

they have no need to

replace the windows

the house is burning

and we are inside

i have a bucket of water at my feet

where should I throw it

Returning home


a boy in  khaki shorts and sandals,

loped down the packed dirt road

black skin sweating years of sun kisses

a large package balanced on his head

as we rode to aunt margaret’s new providence house

with her avocado trees weighted with ripe fruit

africa i queried my father, who drove the tree-lined narrow street

bahamas he answered, but yes in many ways the same, home


eleuthera rocky and green, dressed in smooth white and pink beaches

adorned with empty conch shells humming deeply, home

the ancestors accepted this long thin island as their home

despite hurricane whirl and growl, our family was planted

and we grew thick and lush, spreading branches

bearing fruit under her skirts  until she gently urged us out 

devorah major


Woe to the downpressors:
They’ll eat the bread of sorrow!  Bob Marley

you walked on our bones for centuries

turned them to sand

poured into sandboxes

for your children to build sandcastles

and when the sand became translucent

filled with the sunlight

burning your eyes

you found more to sacrifice

sent vultures to strip away our skins

and built ladders formed

from our ribs, limbs and skulls

on which you climbed

to get a better view of the lands

you planned to conquer

and now we rise

joined by

some of your children

and grandchildren

who have eaten of shame

and refuse to travel

on the rails you laid

with our bones

and each of you

who blocks our path

tries to press us back

will be blinded by our brilliance



blinded by our brilliance

From devorah’s poetry collection

 califia’s song

my heart does not sing songs

of hate, fear, or regret

for my name will be braided

into the lightening of time

califia, daughter

of sea‑faring mandinka

queen of amazon defenders

tamer of wild beasts     

i have ridden the backs of griffins

to come to these rocks

where clothed in sea crystals

draped gold and the evening’s wind

i savour freedom’s harvest

Califia’s Daughter is about family and loss, the cosmos and the earth, love as an underpinning of all of it.

California was named after the possibly real but absolutely mythic African Queen Califia.  Born in California I am one of Califia’s daughters, hence the title.

This book is much more personal looking at family and seeking to place it in the vastness of our universe.  Poems on the death of my parents were searing, poems on my relationship to my body or silence revealing, poems on my understandings of the universe, wind, the earth, difficult. I’m not sure there was a feeling of triumph on completion, but instead satisfaction in presenting a palette with a range of colors and textures that worked well together.

I don’t have a specific audience. I sought to create a balm for harsh times.

I am pulling the I out of my work and focusing more on the we while writing again with a certain urgency.

I am working on a poetry play “A Mother’s Howl” investigating the pain of mothers worldwide due to war, famine, scourges of racism and oppression and have these howls points to ways to return to times of celebration.

Sometimes a line is a key. I sit with it and simply write. Sometimes there is a question I chew on.  I write with flow and then leave the piece to rise, like a bread with yeast, and then return to knead it, let it sit and return as needed until it is ready for a final edit.

My aspirations as a writer is to write what needs to be written in a way that it will be read and understood and help to inspire others to action or ease some pain or provide some laughter and respite and to be able to support myself economically with these offerings.

I write at midnight, I write in the morning, sometimes I am deep into words in the middle of the day. I have no consistent pattern to my writing, just a discipline to write often and well enough to continue to call myself a writer.

Devorah Major is a friend, a co-creator and a writer whose critique and advice I deeply respect. I met her shortly upon moving to the Bay Area, California in 1980 where I moved to pursue graduate studies.  She was then the poet in resident at The African American Historical Society, where among other things she hosted a poetry/open mic series. A  friend told me I should check it out and also meet her, devorah.

I met her and connected and we decided we wanted to do performance together. In my last year in the MA program at San Francisco State University,  a poet from New Orleans, Mona Lisa Saloy, got accepted into the program and we three quickly became friends and comrades and began performing together.  When Mona completed the program and returned to New Orleans, devorah and I continued to perform as Daughters of Yam with a number of prominent Bay Area musicians such as percussionist, Babatunde Lee, cello and bassist, Kash Killion and tenor, Richard Howell.

Our friendship has outlasted marriages, raising children, travelling, and is as constant ss our writing. We still meet vis internet to critique each other’s work, 40 years later.

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