A Tribute to my Mentor’s Mentor: Sam Allen

Sam Allen at Romare Bearden Collection

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.

Sam Allen, Everett Hoagland, Sonia Sanchez, Dennis Brutus, and Larry Robin
Sam Allen, Everett Hoagland, Sonia Sanchez, Dennis Brutus, and Larry Robin

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.

The Victim

You ate a spiderweb with morning coffee

and the victim is wrapped inside

your throat you’re mourning him/her

and yourself of course a part

of the daily routine to make sure

you’re still alive by almost accidentally

killing yourself. Then in the afternoon

you smeared glitter all over your part skinny

part chubby body you did it on purpose

you hate it it’s artificial but you look pretty

right? You’ve gotten past the self-conscious age

you forget that other humans exist the people around

are just representations like the internet.

And you’re a materialist you’re comfortable

with nothingness. You’re going to raise a family

in spite of nihilism so that your children’s children’s

children will know nothing of you until one day

when they’ll ask a Mormon to help remember

for some inane reason and all you’ll be is some

census data released a century later.

So drink/smoke/toke/pray up while you still can.

Night of the World, Morning of the Universe: A Gleam of Hope in a Vapid Global Society

It appears that a superficial orientation to any subject is rampantly extant as a buyer’s catalog/introductory for masses of consumers that are indeed introduced, yet are never fully immersed. Yes, they buy, but purchasing negates understanding.

If you can hear someone’s headache going away, what does that signify?

-Absolutely nothing, it is nearly impossible to observe objectivity while immersed in meaningless buzzing.

However, when your ear drums are infected, your brain does not have to rot, conversely, let it grow in spite of the drone. One may ask, how can you not experience ambivalence in relation to society? You must realize that this conflict stems from a general concern: apathy and zealotry are two sides of the same coin.

It is true that life is purgatorial, and that is why people are attracted to extremes, black and white, when in reality ambiguity pervades. The irrelevant word is not spoken just for the sake of it, it is given in order to create an image. When this does not pertain to anything of substance, with the sole purpose of maintaining an illusion, then it is un-genuine, deliberately subversive, and utterly unbearable. Societal norms are based upon this idea, especially in recent times, when humans are not judged, but their hopelessly fake self-reflections represented by (sometimes singular, oftentimes multiple) internet persona[s] are… Thus, undue credit to the self is too often pitifully given as a seemingly transparent contradiction.

However, there are cases when confusion abounds, or that words are misunderstood as meaningless because of a chasm between subjective experiences. This is not contradictory, as subjectivity and objectivity are also two sides of the same coin. In truth, you are familiar with the concept that is expressed but it is just presented in a completely alien way.

These proverbial children are degenerating in mass-produced shells, and like Agamemnon, are quick to wrath because of expected societal reactions. People think that they have experienced the objective simply because they exist, at least in some sense, when in reality they are merely another clone in their own self-absorbed world. It is foolish to think that solipsism (whether conscious or not)  and freedom can coexist. When regarding others, the subject must always revolve back to the problems that they cannot perceive. Intentions may be justified in their own mind, which is why they can never be wrong: inherently and ironically, they are perfect.

The ability to bear the perfectly imperfect fades and then dies. Sensing the motives and desires of others is ruinous for the self. There is pointlessness, there is an oversimplification of everything based on experiencing and wading through mounds of bullshit, no, humanshit. Yes, there are vast differences between individuals, and it is understandable that no one can understand one another. Yet it is apparent that the masses are indeed clones, and that worthlessness is paramount. This harks back to the idea of an online entity representing the self. It has become an epidemic in that it no longer represents the self, it has become the self. Humans are influenced by what they perceive as their own creation, when it is only a cloned construction dictated by the oligarchs that have been successfully pacifying the masses for centuries.

For a brief instant, Anonymous seemingly destroyed this oppressive tool by shedding the idea of having a false personality. This was unfortunately reversed, however when Anonymous was given a face, specifically: Guy Fawkes. This phenomenon was hijacked by capitalism, and it should have been unsurprising considering the Che Guevara t-shirt precedent.

Is this struggle orchestrated, or is it organic? Neoliberalism’s best defense is true in that most conspiracy theories are ludicrous, but it is the greatest shame that these fears are not baseless.

This is the decade of dreaming dangerously, yet will emancipation from this wretched, disorderly order come to fruition anytime soon?

Freedom will be realized once humanity settles the final frontier. Only then: when communities are protected from corporations and governments by the vacuum and enormousness of space, will there be peace.

Negligible

This little boy murdered me in my dreams. A twelve year old, blonde-haired blue-eyed. It was the first time that my being had ever experienced being shot. The child put a pistol up to my chest at point-blank range. He had no fear but at the same time he had no idea. The bullet pierced through my heart. The kind of machine he used to kill me was irrelevant, as my organ, and my life shattered regardless. It felt like a part of me was killing myself. There was unbridled panic and every instant carried with it less of a chance for survival. I opened up, realizing unbroken blackness. I woke up and wandered for miles. This was not me. I had not been able to deal with the thoughts resulting from this dream like usual ones. Every time I saw a child, they aroused those fears. Violence begets violence, and since I could not distinguish between the waking world and that of slumber, I thought of terrible things without any inner moral recourse. There were people around that seemed to recognize me, yet I did not know who they were. I could not spare my vapid thoughts to anyone else. That was when I truly gained an appreciation for reality. I reached the river. I fulfilled my unnatural desires and then threw myself into oblivion. I was awakened.

Understanding Disbelief

It is impossible for humans to prove the existence of God if they believe in an objective external reality because mathematical infinity is extant in this reality. God’s definition is that of a supreme being, and as Saint Anselm, describes it, “a being than which nothing greater can be conceived” (Proslogium, Anselm).  If human beings cannot comprehend mathematical infinity, then in turn, they cannot comprehend an infinite being.  If one cannot comprehend something, how could it be proven by them?  The logical argument for the existence of God is irrelevant in the case for morality, and instead people should focus on trying to do the right thing in relation to objective truth.  Why should mankind then, impossibly aim at attempting to prove the intangible, when we have control over ourselves and the tangible world around us?
The teleological and ontological arguments rest in the finite structure of the human mind.  Pascal is right when disregarding Paley’s watchmaker analogy for relying upon logic that does not take into account the existence of mathematical infinity; if God is infinite, and humans cannot comprehend mathematical infinity, how can humans comprehend the existence of God?  Pascal summarizes this point by plainly stating, “If there is a God, He is infinitely incomprehensible, since, having neither parts nor limits, He has no affinity to us.  We are then incapable of knowing either what He is or if He is” (Pensees 233, Blaise Pascal).  Thus, Pascal demonstrates that one cannot prove God’s existence, but why then, does he still argue for the claim that it is indeed rational to believe in God?  This is because Pascal compares the ultimate question on God’s existence to wagering a bet.  He claims that it is not worth hedging your bets against the existence of God, because if He does exist, then you will lose the bet, and you will not have anything to gain anyway if He does not exist.
The problem with Pascal’s gambling comparison is that it invokes an insincerity in belief.  W. K. Clifford recognizes this insincerity, and argues “…it is wrong always, everywhere, and for anyone, to believe anything upon insufficient evidence” (The Ethics of Belief, W.K. Clifford) through the story of a neglectful shipowner who is responsible for the deaths of all his passengers through flawed logic.  Clifford concludes that the shipowner is liable because he only inferred the ship’s safety through logical and rational argument, instead of confirming his belief through truthful inquiry; or as Clifford states, “He (the shipowner) had acquired his belief not by honestly earning it in patient investigation, but by stifling his doubts” (The Ethics of Belief, W.K. Clifford). The question is, how does this story relate to the existence of God, for surely there is no negative, outward consequences to believing in God. The truth of the matter is that every person who as convinced themselves of only one belief may tend to disregard every other system of thought, or as W. K. Clifford wryly put:
“If a man, holding a belief which he was taught in childhood or persuaded of afterwards, keeps down and pushes away any doubts which arise about it in his mind, purposely avoids the reading of books and the company of men that call into question or discuss it, and regards as impious those questions which cannot easily be asked without disturbing it–the life of that man is one long sin against mankind” (The Ethics of Belief, W.K. Clifford).
Thus, believing in God through Pascal’s rationale is wrong according to Clifford because it forces the person to lie to oneself about reality.
It can be said then that the ontological proof for the existence of God is flawed because it depends on the restricted imagination of the human mind. The logical argument that a supreme being must exist because the idea of Him exists is the ontological argument, and this argument is disregarded by Pascal and others that claim you cannot prove the existence of something through mere logic. The teleological argument too, relies on logic assuming that if something is created then it must need a creator.  Yet none of this is proven in our objective reality because we have no idea what context we are living in on planet Earth.  We know so very little about the tangible universe, that we can only make assumptions about things we do not know, some would say that it is in our nature.  Belief in God is not justified if it relies on rational truth because there is no rational truth, and thus the individual must commit to irrational faith based upon no tangible proof.  If there is not a rational truth, we can take comfort in the fact that there is an objective external reality, and we humans can determine what is right and wrong because of that objectivity.  Religion and God, among many other things, enable a sort of psychosis that blinds people from external reality, whether the beliefs be good or bad, they do not reflect a tangible reality that exists around us.  Belief in God is irrelevant because it does not reflect reality that can be observed by us, but this belief can have an effect our actions.  W. K. Clifford concurred that a belief determines a persons’ actions, whether it is consciously or subconsciously.  Hence, in Clifford’s view it is irresponsible for people to believe in something that cannot be proven, because such a belief hampers our freedom to understand objective reality.