Haki R. Madhubuti Essay - Madhubuti, Haki R. (Pseudonym of Don L. Lee)

Don Luther Lee

Madhubuti, Haki R. (Pseudonym of Don L. Lee)

Madhubuti, Haki R. (Pseudonym of Don L. Lee) 1942–

Madhubuti, a Black American poet, writes intensely about racial issues.

Lee strongly believes that education in white America teaches the black man how not to be Black. In a typical poem, from his volume Think Black—a poem, entitled "Wake-up Niggers"—he says, parenthetically, "(you ain't part Indian)." And in "Back Again Home," also found in Think Black, he tells us that to rediscover his blackness, the black man has to resign from white values. Once he does this, Lee says, he is "Back Again, BLACK AGAIN, Home."

Although the black man's blackness is often the topic for serious treatment, Lee is capable of seeing humor in it, too, at times. In his poem "But He Was Cool or: he even stopped for green lights," he writes of the "cool cat" who is so anxious to be black that he is "super-cool ultrablack." He wears a double-natural "that wd put the sisters to shame"; is, in fact, "cool-cool so cool him nick-named refrigerator."

What is Don L. Lee's hangup? The answer seems to be concerned with his impatience with "niggers" and "negroes" (he uses the terms synonymously) who refuse to be Black, and with "little niggers killing little niggers"…. (pp. 29-30)

Lee's last poem in [Think Black] is full of confident hope and optimism for black people and what they will eventually accomplish. He calls it "A Message All Blackpeople Can Dig (& a few negroes too)."

      we are going to do it.
      US: blackpeople, beautiful people; the sons and daughters of beautiful people.
      bring it back to
      US: the unimpossibility.
      now is
      the time, the test …
      are moving, moving to return this earth into the hands of
      human beings.                              (pp. 30-1)

R. Roderick Palmer, in C.L.A. Journal (copyright 1971 by the College Language Association), September, 1971.

Lee's reference [in "We Walk the Way of the New World"] is almost specifically directed to the streetmanplayboy preoccupied with his looks—and looking as white as hair slicked down with thick grease and plastered in place by a tight fitting cap made from the cut-off top of a stocking will allow—who is transformed into a silent walker with a careful eye who knows that in the coming world—the New World—the reality of being human and of responding to others as thinking, feeling people will take precedence over the acquisition of mere things as symbols of status. The same sense of tradition which dominates Baraka's poem ["leroy"] enriches Lee's ["We Walk the Way of the New World"]. The ironic and satiric eye with which Lee views the jo jo of the opening stanzas is softened when he speaks of jo jo's mother. The two views carry within them an implicit contrast, representing as they do, different aspects of a varied tradition. What would you do if someone loved you, Lee asks. His referent is not clear, but his very obscurity is indicative of the complexity of the patterns which bind mother to son, generation to generation, the slave to the freed man to the Neo-Black man. (p. 227)

Sherley Anne Williams, in her Give Birth to Brightness: A Thematic Study in Neo-Black Literature (copyright © 1972 by Sherley Anne Williams; used by permission of The Dial Press), Dial, 1972.

Lee's poems, written in a rapid, jerky, intense speechrhythm in almost Morse shorthand, have sold over 100,000 copies without any large-scale advertising or mass distribution, a phenomenon which (like the success of Ginsberg's "Howl") means that something is happening. Lee is not Rod McKuen or Lois Wyse; he does not sell comfortable sentimentality. He sells on nerve, stamina and satire. In him the sardonic and savage turn-of-phrase long present in black speech as a survival tactic finds its best poet….

The downfall of the super-cool is one of Lee's themes, and he pursues it exquisitely; but there is likely to be some change from satire to sympathy—not a bad turn—in Lee's current alignment with the Pan-Africanists….

The sales of Lee's books will continue as long as his spurts of anger, of derisive force, of bitter warning and of undeniable hope continue to find a mirror in the black readers who wait for each new collection, but it is time for a wider public to hear his voice. (pp. 3, 10)

Helen Vendler, in The New York Times Book Review (© 1974 by The New York Times Company; reprinted by permission), September 29, 1974.