Poems For Billie Holiday And Bessie Smith From The Blair House Collective

We are the Blair House collective, a
group of women who get together to write poetry together. We decided – I think last summer – that it was important for black women in Nashville to come together and share from our shared experiences our struggles and our joy in our poetry. And most often we are doing that through a blues persona named Rosie a woman in the Mississippi Delta that we created and we write to different aspects of her voice Today though we’re sharing poems that were inspired by Billie Holiday and Bessie Smith because they represent muses for us. As Caroline likes to say: Rosie is the archetype and these women are the artifact of what it meant to be a black woman in that time period sharing her blues. And so we’ve got these
poems that we wrote separately that we then bring together and allow our voices
to layer over each other as we write. Lady dresses herself in his name and gilds it
even though he made himself a stranger. Lady claims truth from her larynx
looks the man in the eye, calls out his strange bedfellows. Although the dart of her lips rise
at dawn, the day is blue and glows something strange. A lady’s father is killed today the way they
killed her father then. Do you hear the strain gently pulse in her throat? Lady, too, is killed
then, black and restrained, just the way a black lady still holds
and releases and dies today. Lady placed just so onstage gardenias splayed open
displayed mid-scream as crown upon her head their impossible white temporal, yes, yet– by images are myths made to rest the lady remains both siren and silent, wired
upright, electric in our memory still. i wonder after the final note
dragged out riding the collapse of your breath do you release rough arms and straining breast in the snatch of solitude you could collect
when the curtain falls? do you ease out from under
those gardenias? do you smile at the petals
so dead-ended, now touched
by spreading brown? This red in the bone / this blood
in the home / this / high / yellow / moan oh its violent / all white / everything / is violent yes violent / yes / light / skin only mean
one thing / trouble trouble to get / trouble to wear / a hard
story / a half mirror / this skin / mean my blood / trouble / a high /in the voice
treble / junk for the high / trouble/ get white
in the head / it’s violent do you see / this sweet brown
in my hand can you call me a lady
for the treble hours / those high white notes of daylight / trouble / strain
my vein / for that treble/ /it’s violent/
so I get alright / with my all white / hey can you hold that mirror / and my blues
just this high / yellow / arm trying to get some on purpose junk in the blood The deep killer of brown splits in her own direction, a leaf alone, though surrounded by a whole colony of green children of sky and sun. She shines and moonshines, she slices until you see her own bone. She survives. These blues in my veins tether to a woman lurching for oxygen and ochre. Nobody knows no body’s true except in song so she do we do you do & breathe. Say she a well reaching through blood-watered earth Say her roots run South to grapple against all that red, red, red war-blasted clay Say she drown loose sister graves packed stiff inside Jim Crow fist Say she rock awake a whole shock of brown seed scattered the whole South over. Teach me how to come to my own river
I said, Lord, let me get rough, like Bessie, I said God Jesus sent me some of that Stop singing to spit that unfettered flow
I don’t know which rules I follow
that I really believe in — Bessie, let me be wild.
Let there be gin. Let my body be its own prayer,
myself an altar to myself. I’m in my sin
I am of God and I’m in my sin –come let me deliver me. Lady placed just so on stage
This red in the bone / this / high / yellow / moan
oh its violent Say she a well. Say her roots
grapple against all that red red red Say she rough, like Bessie
Be wild / Be gin / Be myself an altar
I’m in my sin Ease out from under those gardenias This red in the bone
this / high / yellow / moan
do you hear the strain gently lord, let me get rough, like Bessie
let my body be its own prayer, let me be wild then, black and restrained, just the blues in my veins
lurching for oxygen and ochre oh its violent Lady placed just so on stage
the way a black lady still holds and releases and dies today Say she a well.Say She drown loose. Say She rock awake. she shines and moonshines, she slices until you see her own bone. Out from under those gardenias, the final note riding the collapse, so she do we do you do & breathe you

31 thoughts on “Poems For Billie Holiday And Bessie Smith From The Blair House Collective

  1. This is perfect. The poetry is brilliant and you ladies are amazing. Thank you NPR for this experience!

  2. Deep, beautiful, and fills a void of ache in this world. Thankyou so much, this art is spectacular. ~B#

  3. πŸ‘’β€πŸ‘’πŸ–€πŸ‘’πŸ’šπŸ‘‘
    Thanks for sharing!

  4. Caroline Randall William's
    Third rank INTRO as BILLIE?

  5. Right on, sisters! This clip is inspiring me to write! I hope there will be more clips of The Blair House Collective!

  6. Superman II & III 1981 To 1983 Expanded Archival Collection Music Composed & Conducted By Ken Thorne From Original Material Composed Superman Theme By John Williams WaterTower Music La La Land Records Limited Edition CD Soundtrack $100.00 www.Amazon.com Coming Soon?

  7. Not only poetry, but a performance that breathed such life into those words. NPR more content like this please.

  8. Beautiful! My Kid Ari has a Poetry Group here at Philly! Its so remarkable the way you heal your soul putting the words and the emotions together 🌸

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