top of page
For The Dance Starts in the Belly
I made/up/”The Idea of Ancestry” in the early sixties when I was in prison, in the Belly of the Beast. The initial creative/impulse for the poem occurred and many of the lines/were/made/up/during one of my stints in Solitary Confinement. Being in prison is in itself a trip; and/being/in “The Hole,” the prison within the prison is like having one foot in an emotional grave and the other on a banana peel. After some time in “The Hole,” not knowing night from day, I began to lose track of the days and weeks; I became disoriented–out of touch with my/self. So I started to RE/MEMBER: my grade school classmates, guys I’d/been/in the army with, and my FAMILY, most of all.
[DEVELOP] (I think Memory and Imagination [Develop]/are/the Parents are Creativity. And in my situation with such a bleak future facing me, Imagination, if not dead altogether, was definitely crippled.) Memory was all I had to drawn on. So I started to making/up/the lines and phrase out loud, memorizing them. I later finished the poem back in my cell.
It seems to me that “The Idea of Ancestry” belongs to a body of poems that I have come to call Genealogical. I, of course, didn’t have the term in mind when I made up the poem; if I had anything at all in mind, it was a desperate attempt to get a sense of my/self/–of who I/was/, at the time. By genealogical poems, I mean poems whose Authority is based upon personal–and sometimes collective–history as it is revealed by the poet to the Reader or Listener. Sometimes this happen in a single poem, but usually it seems to take a group of them. And I don't think the Listener or reader will trust the poet until this genesis is revealed; in other words, the poet is obliged to let her or his audience know where he or she is coming from. (I know that I personally don’t trust the social and political comments inherent in most poems until I do/know/the poet’s genealogy.)
Leap takes place.
[Develop] There seems to/be/two (probably more) characteristics that are highly/led in these genealogical poems: (1) Intonation. At some point in the poem, or poems, the recitation, the re/calling of the dead – and the accompanying Authority that takes place and (2) Tradition – aspect of the poems that ties it to a specific historical time and place. For instance, in Yeat’s “Blood and the Moon,” he sings:
(“Blessed be this place”) ?
more (Blessed still this lover)
I declare this tower is my symbol; I declare
This winding, gyring, spiring treadmill of a stair
is my ancestral stair;
That Goldsmith and the Dean, Berkeley and Burker
have travelled there.
That’s sorta what I mean.
Again, all of this I’ve said above – I had none of it in mind when I made/up/the poem. The poem was created in my belly and my breath. In prison air.
[Free Peoples’ logo]
bottom of page