A Poet’s Poet

The Life and Legacy of Naomi Long Madgett  (1923 - 2020)

Naomi Long Madgett, Poet Laureate of the City of Detroit since 2001 and recipient of the 2012 Kresge Eminent Artist Award, is the author of eleven books of poetry and two textbooks and editor of two anthologies. Her poems appear in numerous journals and more than 180 anthologies both here and abroad. Several have been set to music and publicly performed. Her career as a published poet spans more than sixty years. In 1980 Lotus Press, Inc. was recognized as a 501(C)(3) organization specializing in the publication of books of poetry of high literary quality. Naomi continued to serve as publisher/ editor until 2015 when Lotus Press merged with Broadside Press, becoming what is now Broadside Lotus Press.

“It was only when I gave myself away...

...that I began to find myself. Service, I have learned, is where true happiness lies. It has provided me with a compassion that I didn’t have in my youth. It has permitted me to walk in the shoes of many and feel the warmth of their feet as well as the pebbles that injure them. I have found that cheerfulness, kindness, and helpfulness bring as much joy to the ones who extend them as those who receive them—perhaps a great deal more.”

“Woman With Flower”
1965

I wouldn’t coax the plant if I were you.
Such watchful nurturing may do it harm.
Let the soil rest from so much digging
And wait until it’s dry before you water it.
The leaf’s inclined to find its own direction;
Give it a chance to seek the sunlight for itself.
Much growth is stunted by too careful prodding,
Too eager tenderness.
The things we love we have to learn to leave alone.

You Are My Joy And Pain

You Are My Joy and Pain is Naomi Long Madgett’s latest and possibly most endearing poetry collection. Bill Harris, a 2011 Kresge Foundation Eminent Artist, said of the book, "Even with the evidence of over a half-century or more of first-rate poetic artistry by Madgett, this collection is a breath-arresting surprise and delight. Poem-by-poem and section-by-section amaze. Each poem in the collection is a master class in technique and in her ability to transpose an idea into a tightly composed example of the craft of poetry."

The reader will know after reflection that he or she is in the presence of a master.

Herbert Woodward Martin

Author of The Shape of Regret (Wayne State University Press, 2019)

Even with the evidence of over a half-century or more of first-rate poetic artistry by Madgett, this collection is a breath-arresting surprise and delight.

Bill Harris

2011 Kresge Foundation Eminent Artist

This work is a blessing that assures that the range, depth, profundity of her voice, and complex subtlety of her poetics will continue to impact, nourish, and advance literary vision.

Melba Joyce Boyd

Author and Distinguished University Professor and Chair of the Department of Africana Studies at Wayne State University

Love's blossoming thrills, passionate commitments, and painful demise form the arc of Naomi Long Madgett's You Are My Joy and Pain and reflect a lifetime of love. Honesty, wit, and formal dexterity undergird these poems.

Terry Blackhawk

Author of One Less River

You Are My Joy And Pain

You Are My Joy and Pain is Naomi Long Madgett’s latest and possibly most endearing poetry collection. Bill Harris, a 2011 Kresge Foundation Eminent Artist, said of the book, "Even with the evidence of over a half-century or more of first-rate poetic artistry by Madgett, this collection is a breath-arresting surprise and delight. Poem-by-poem and section-by-section amaze. Each poem in the collection is a master class in technique and in her ability to transpose an idea into a tightly composed example of the craft of poetry."

Poetry reading

“City Nights”

“Midway”
1959

I’ve come this far to freedom and I won’t turn back
I’m climbing to the highway from my old dirt track
I’m coming and I’m going
And I’m stretching and I’m growing
And I’ll reap what I’ve been sowing or my skin’s not black
I’ve prayed and slaved and waited and I’ve sung my song
You’ve bled me and you’ve starved me but I’ve still grown strong
You’ve lashed me and you’ve treed me
And you’ve everything but freed me
But in time you’ll know you need me and it won’t be long.
I’ve seen the daylight breaking high above the bough
I’ve found my destination and I’ve made my vow;
So whether you abhor me
Or deride me or ignore me
Mighty mountains loom before me and I won’t stop now.

Midway was first published in Freedomways in 1959, but I think I wrote it in 1958. The poem grew out of a discussion with a friend that acknowledged that the Supreme Court desegregation ruling, which legalized racial justice for the first time, led to the determination of Black people to move forward and never again accept the status quo.

Naomi Long Madgett

You Are My Joy and Pain is Naomi Long Madgett’s latest and possibly most endearing poetry collection. Bill Harris, a 2011 Kresge Foundation Eminent Artist, said of the book, "Even with the evidence of over a half-century or more of first-rate poetic artistry by Madgett, this collection is a breath-arresting surprise and delight. Poem-by-poem and section-by-section amaze. Each poem in the collection is a master class in technique and in her ability to transpose an idea into a tightly composed example of the craft of poetry."

You Are My Joy and Pain receives its name from the Billie Holiday song "Don’t Explain" and is divided into three parts. The first part, "A Promise of Sun," contains fourteen poems relating to the hopeful and joyful beginning of a new relationship. The second part, "Trinity: A Dream Sequence," consists of twenty poems with religious imagery and encompasses both the beginning and the end of a relationship. The third part, "Stormy Weather," includes thirty-two poems that relate to the heartbreaking experience of a love gone wrong. These are not love poems in the abstract—the richness with which Madgett writes hints at the firsthand experience of a lifetime of loving.

While several anthologies of love poems exist in the world, it is rare to find a single-author collection that so closely examines love in all of its messy and beautiful layers. Readers will identify with the hope and disappointment that Madgett presents in these poems.


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A Poet's Voice

Octavia and Other Poems

Travel back to Guthrie, Oklahoma with award-winning poet/publisher Naomi Long Madgett. Learn about a dead aunt's legacy and the coming of age of her impressionable niece. This film juxtaposes a poetry reading by Madgett, a 73-year-old African American woman, with footage of interpretive art works created by Detroit artists who were inspired by Madgett's poems. In addition to the original artwork, the film makes use of still photographs, historical film footage and music. A cameo appearance by James Earl Jones is just one of the many noteworthy moments in A Poet's Voice.

Madgett's poetry speaks with lyric tenderness about her efforts to step out of her Aunt Octavia's shadow and into her own light.


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