- Perie Longo in conversation with Koketso Marishane
- From your life-long experiences within the literary field, which part of your exercise/practice did you most enjoy and why?
2. As the second official ‘poet laureate’ within the USA that was almost mandated though it was a kind request to recite a piece on the eve of the Inauguration of the first African American USA President, Barack Hussein Obama, how did you feel about this? Also, just to touch a little from your piece you rendered that night: “But there you are, 44th president, Michele by your side with daughters in hand smiling bright as a planet. Kind of a miracle, wouldn’t you say? Considering the 60’s when you were born? Now the first African-American family in the White House, I cry Halleluiah! and quote a saying found on-line:“Rosa sat so Martin could walk; Martin walked so Obama could run; Obama is running so our children can fly. Hosanna, Hosanna” Could you please take us on a narrative analysis about this event placing yourself both as a narrator and a third person (audience) with special emphasis on the following figures of speech: “kind of miracle”; “Í cry Halleluiah; and why did you end the piece by “Hosanna”?
This is a two part question. As poet laureate, I felt honored and humbled to be asked to write a poem on the occasion of Barack Obama being inaugurated as president. The event was held in one of our local churches and the audience was composed of a cross section of people of all ages, races and creeds, but all Obama supporters. It was a moving experience of many others reading poems, giving speeches and singing songs. It was our way to celebrate a “miracle” in American politics.
This brings me to the poem itself. Born December 7, 1940 the year after Pearl Harbor was bombed in WW II, I grew up with the mission of bringing peace to the world however I could. Writing poetry for me was my way of coming to internal peace, which is necessary, in my opinion, as a way to a wider peace in the family, community, and world. As such, I have been poetry chair for the Nuclear Age Peace Foundation for many years (www.wagingpeace.org).
When I wrote “Kind of a miracle, wouldn’t you say? considering the 60’s when you were born?” I meant the 60’s was when Obama was born, the decade where African Americans were finally granted equality. It was a miracle to me that in that short span of time, America had elected a mixed-race president to show how we had matured as a nation. Of course, there are those who still resist this. The quote that begins “Rosa sat so Martin could walk” is about Rosa Parks who refused to sit in the back of the bus where the “Colored” (as they used to say) had to sit. In doing so, she helped to create a climate where Martin Luther King, who spoke and marched for equality for all, could begin his work which eventually led to Obama being elected president. The quote was originally coined in a slightly different version by a senator from Louisiana, W.E. B. Dubois, and made popular by Jesse Jackson. The quote looks to the future with the words “so our children can fly”, which is of course about freedom of justice and racial equality. “I cry Halleluiah” to symbolize joy in a spiritual sense as in Gospel singing as well as any hymn, along with all those who voted for him. And I end the quote with “Hosanna, Hosanna!” as I began the poem, as an exclamation of praise to the Almighty, God, if you will, Divine intervention, for guiding us to make the right choice at that time in our history.
3. With your experiences in the literary arena, from teaching, heading organizations to your present title, what have you learnt from all of these and granted the blessings to live more, what do you wish/plan to do which you haven’t done before and why?
I wish to continue following the path I have all along. I would like to publish another manuscript of poetry that I have prepared, on a personal level. On a wider scale I would like to continue helping to bring peace to the world through writing and teaching.
4. As an experienced professional in literature, could you please share with us on the following: (a) Your artistic philosophy, (b) How would you position yourself on a global scale and (c) how you think or feel your words and performance was compared with that of the Presidential Poet Laureate, Dr. Elizabeth Alexander?
a) My artistic philosophy is that if each of us speaks from our hearts about what concerns us, we contribute to the good of the “whole,” making for a better world of understanding between all people. When I was a little girl I used to go to the drugstore close to our house with my father for ice cream cones. Above the counter was a saying: “Make the world a better place than you found it.” I took it to heart.
b) On a global scale I have small impact. I have gone to Kuwait in 2005 at the invitation of Dr. Haifa al Sanousi, professor of literature at their university, to speak on “Poetry as a Way to Peace.” That is probably the most global activity I have done. In 2009 I was asked to write a poem for the “Women and Peace” annual awards given by the Nuclear Age Peace Foundation. It is on their website (www.wagingpeace.org). This poem speaks for all women worldwide and was posted also on the “Speaking Tree” website last year, I believe. There is this interview, I am happy to say, and then with all my years of teaching, who know where the pebble dropped in the pond of human experience may pulse.
c) Dr. Elizabeth Alexander’s poem was magnificent before the whole world. Mine was on a far smaller scale for our local community. Our message is somewhat the same. She ends her poem: “On the brink, on the brim, on the cusp,/praise song for walking forward in that light.”
5) What message would you like to convey to your fellows, our fellows as well as the reading community?
When I was about 30 years old I heard a monk give a lecture in Santa Barbara. He said that in ancient times, as two opposing tribes met on the battlefield, the story goes they could not kill anyone until each person read a poem about who they were and who their ancestors were. This was astounding to me! When I was perhaps 5 years old I used to have a recurring dream very similar to that. I suddenly understood universal consciousness. I think if people of all cultures and beliefs delve into the poetry of each other, they will find we all want the same thing. We are all more powerful than we imagine. As Ghandi said, “Be the change you want to see in the world.” I think that change manifests more clearly the better we know ourselves through educating ourselves through reading and writing about the reasons behind our beliefs and opinions, which can range from the personal to the spiritual. Thank you for the honor of being awarded as an “Enchanting Poet.”