Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Put A Little Love In Your Heart

Recalling "Ritual Violence", by Tom Dent

Galveston, TX.
The Hoodoo Festival,
organized by Ahmos ZuBolton

Or maybe it was earlier than that,
late sixties, New Haven, Ct.

The Black Panthers were in New Haven.
Kingman Brewster canceled classes at Yale,
said students and faculty were to gather
in discussion about race and justice
in America. He said he doubted if a
Black Panther could get a fair trail
anywhere in America.

Around then, I remember waking
breathless from a black power dream —
Sly and the Family Stone had detonated
an atomic bomb in a garage in Jersey.

At the Hoodoo Festival
in Galveston, TX Tom Dent produced
his one act play, "Ritual Violence."

It played out in a bar —
a bunch of black people sitting
in a booth, laughing, talking
and then arguing.

One stood up. Pulled a gun.
Shot one of the other players.

Then Dent took stage,
said, "Stop right here.
We have to stop this, stop killing
each other."

The reason this memory is so vivid
these many years later I suppose
is that I was one of three white
people in an audience of maybe sixty —
the only fair skinned blond.

What Dent then said was black people
would be better off if they just
started shooting white people
"at random on the street."

And he pointed at me.

"Thanks a lot, Dent!" I said afterwards.
We both laughed.
"I see what you mean," he said.
And I saw what he meant
and it had zip to do with killing me,
or anybody.

A few years later, at a festival
in New Orleans, I asked Dent
if he could direct us to some real
New Orleans music, not the tourist
stuff. He didn't answer.

A bunch of folks —
poets, publishers, family
and friends were sitting around
the meeting hall after one
of the programs.

Tom Dent, who was later the director
of the New Orleans Jazz
and Heritage Foundation, produced
an elderly black man,
with a guitar, who played and sang —
sitting on a folding chair
a bit to the side of our

It was years before I realized
what he'd done.

Black anger exists,
as does a profound amount of quiet grace.
Anyone who is "shocked" by either
needs to get out more,
read history, pay attention.

©Susan Bright 2008

Susan Bright is the author of nineteen books of poetry. She is the editor of Plain View Press which since 1975 has published one-hundred-and-fifty books. Her work as a poet, publisher, activist and educator has taken her all over the United States and abroad. Her most recent book, The Layers of Our Seeing, is a collection of poetry, photographs and essays about peace done in collaboration with photographer Alan Pogue and Middle Eastern journalist, Muna Hamzeh.

Note: Today is the 5th anniversary of the illegal and ill-advised invasion by the Bush administration of Iraq. is organizing vigils all over the country, around the world. Go to their website to find one near you. In Austin, it will be in front of the capitol on 11th at 7pm.


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Anonymous Anonymous said...

Sly and the Family Stone were one of the most influential bands of the last 40 years. Check out my book about Sly at

5:37 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

About Sly --

Of course I heard his hit songs, "the lives of everyday people" - who knows where dreams come from -- but I always remembered the dream, the creative force and the pure force of the Black Power movement.

The art forms, the poetry, and of course, music, it produced informed and drove my own evolution, as did the work that came from the women's movement.

Odd, so long ago -- that music, the sound of it -- new, energetic, so graphically powerful in a dream I rememembered all my life.


8:51 PM  
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10:31 AM  

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