Poverty. The word carries a lot of weight. It means different things to different people. Poverty is mostly understood as a state of being in a material sense, but it can also be described as a spiritual or psychological experience. These experiences are told through poetry, stories, and art within issue five of Whirlwind Magazine.
Welcome friends, to our one year anniversary issue. We are excited to share these stories and images with you, the reader, our beloved supporter. It’s been a wondrous journey these past 12 months, thanks to the bold and fiery poetry in our first issue of Dennis Brutus, Nzadi Keita, and Jim Cory, to the words of revolt and wisdom in issue #2, featuring the late Sam Allen and dedicated to James Baldwin, to the visually stunning artwork and beautiful Spanish poetry of Karina Puente and the late Justin Vitiello in issue #3, and finally to all the veterans who contributed in issue #4, especially Preston Hood and our founder Lamont B. Steptoe.
Fatima Ijaz, a resident of Lahore, Pakistan, begins this issue with a short and seemingly simple poem about a boy on a street. Brooklyn based Daniel Jones puts us into perspective with a thought-provoking piece on a pauper. John Elliott offers a more abstract approach to handling the idea of inner conflict and struggle. Debra McQueen’s gripping, vivid poetry on exploring the hilly jungles of Guatemala will help you understand what it means to feel out of place. Ree Villaruel takes us to the Philippines, where a group of children’s innocent routine is broken, leading to unfortunate consequences. Jeff Burt’s post-apocalyptic tale of hoarding challenges those who believe they can withstand the forces of mother nature.
Sneha Sundaram’s haibun depicts the travails of a woman watching the wealthy from an alleyway; her use of the fascinating form of haibun is worth noting, as it is a centuries-old technique that combines haiku and prose in order to depict a complex story through poetry.
Award-winning writer Evan Guilford-Blake brings us a short story that displays how deep poverty can damage an individual. Richard King Perkins II also writes on the pain this causes, but through astounding poetic observations. Luke Coulter instead speaks about the other side of the same coin by writing on the ignorance of the privileged. Meanwhile, Bob McNeil’s unique voice comes out in full force in his two poems that are featured. Diane Funston shares a poem full of wisdom and gentleness that is quite remarkable. Shizue Seigel confronts the reader in a powerful piece about oppression in the deep south. Prerna Bakshi sings us a song of resistance for the underdogs of the world. Stephanie Han’s poetry is so intricate and profound, it’s amazing. Diane Payne’s story reveals how a domineering man performs his job as a social worker could prove to be a traumatizing experience for a woman. Rashaad Thomas strikes the heart with his portrayal of what it means to be black and arbitrarily stopped by the police. Marco Pina’s poem about a body bag is a must-read. And finally, we bring you the gripping poetry of Joel Salcido, a Mexican-American poet with an awful amount of talent. Salcido has a bright future ahead of him as a poet, and we have the honor of featuring three of his poems in this issue.
We end this issue on a note of reflection in memory of Sam Allen. The archival letters and photographs that appear are just a small, but captivating glimpse into the mind of a man who was a phenomenal poet and a good human being. Thank you so much for reading our one year anniversary issue. Let’s hope for many more anniversaries to come.
Samuel Washington Allen lived for almost a century, from 1917 to 2015, and in his life he fought for justice, as a lawyer, a scholar, but most importantly, as a poet. Richard Wright first introduced Sam Allen to the literary world via the Parisian journal Présence Africaine; Allen later published under the pseudonym Paul Vesey (in order to keep his legal and literary lives separate), and we at Whirlwind had the honor of publishing him last in 2014.
Sam Allen’s poems in our second issue, “Nat Turner or Let Him Come an Invitational Appeal” and “Law and Order” showcase the late poet’s many rhetorical nuances while maintaining a straightforward, almost demanding exhortation that invokes freedom and equality in his signature song-like voice stemmed from, but also innovating upon his African heritage. In the 90’s Allen read his hymn-like Nat Turner poem in the Sorbonne, one of his many Alma Maters; his student, Lamont B. Steptoe, reproduces that moment through the poem entitled “Spirits Movin’ in the Sorbonne,” which we have the honor of sharing with you. Through the letters, poems, and photographs in the following pages, we wish to offer our readers some insight into how this exemplary American author, Samuel Allen, perceived and wrote about injustice under the Empire.
As our founder’s mentor, Sam Allen wrote Lamont B. Steptoe over 160 letters, only a few of which are featured here. In the letter entitled “Congratulations Lamont,” Allen displays joy at Steptoe’s “flourishing” career, and expresses gratitude for Larry Robin’s organizing of a series on African Francophone poets. In another letter, Allen commends Steptoe’s reading style as an integral facet of communicating his poetry.
Sam Allen’s graciousness to curators of poetry is apparent in his thank you letter to a now extinct arts program at the Walt Whitman Center for hosting him in a residence. During that same visit the mayor of Camden, NJ awarded Allen a key to the city. Allen praised Steptoe later on in the letter as a “highly valuable asset” in booking famous poets to visit and perform at the cultural center in Camden, such as Gwendolyn Brooks, Sonia Sanchez, Allen Ginsberg, Amiri Baraka, and Dennis Brutus.
Steptoe wanted to do even more for fellow poets, and so he founded Whirlwind Press in order to publish the poetry of exiled anti-Apartheid activist Dennis Brutus. The subsequent book, Airs and Tributes, included an introduction by Samuel Allen, in which he proclaimed that the book stood as an “…eloquent testimony to the triumph of the creative spirit over the rigors of imprisonment and exile which have so vainly sought to silence [Brutus].”
And finally, we have the delight of witnessing the poetic processes of Sam Allen and Lamont B. Steptoe, as the former advises his mentee on editing Steptoe’s poems “Bleeding Diamonds” and “A Rose for Oliver Tambo.” Through these edits it’s apparent that Allen understood rhythm and the syntactical significance of words, even in the seemingly simplest of contexts, at a profound level, which proves to be highly edifying for his readers and students.
The genius of Samuel Allen remains evident throughout these letters, and it’s truly an honor and a pleasure to be able to share this literary giant’s writings. However, Allen has not yet received enough recognition for his talent and life’s work. At the time of this writing, one can find information online about Allen by prestigious institutions such as Oxford and Yale, but you have to google “Sam Allen poet” – because if you just google “Sam Allen” it comes up with some boring old businessman in a suit.
Not only that, but major outlets have not even reported on the poet’s death. So far the only media evidence of Sam Allen passing away comes from an obituary in The Columbus Dispatch. Let us hope that Samuel Allen receives the recognition he deserves as a literary great in his death, although his remarkable voice lives on through many of us regardless. The late Baraka once told Steptoe that he “must be one of the advanced.” Certainly this was due to the brilliance of Steptoe’s mentor Samuel Allen.
It is our responsibility as a community of poets and socially-aware humans to make sure that Allen’s legacy will endure. That legacy will arise in the same way as Samuel Allen wrote of Nat Turner, “In his name I say Come / For the thousands gone, Come / For the living the dead and the not yet born, I say Come…”
Indeed, the day will come. Otherwise we’re doomed to cynical nihilism. Thank you Sam Allen, for your words. Your spirit. The Empire collapses from within due to you.