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Poet’s Path to Prose Leads Everywhere

By monét cooper

Poet Lenard D. Moore lives in the past tense.

When he writes, it’s in the long strokes of working the fields of his parents’ North Carolina farm, the childhood reminiscences steeped in honeysuckles and passing of elders, the day his father left to fight in the Vietnam War.

The tales that frame Moore’s history are in the poems he has spent the past 18 years writing.

“Memory is one of the key things a poet must have,” said Moore, a professor at Shaw University in Raleigh, N.C. “Childhood is one of those events that you have to remember if you’re a poet.”

Moore and a group of mostly English majors exchanged poetry during the week in February that he spent at the College as the Department of English’s distinguished guest artist. He was moved to tears by the beauty in the students’ poetry and the hunger they showed in becoming better writers: A group of students even met with Moore outside of his scheduled workshops and readings for an extra class.

“He opened our minds to see more than just poetry,” said Carl Davenport, a senior English major. “He taught us to see ourselves and the different situations we’ve been in, and that the different views we have are worth writing about.”

Moore was so inspired by a print of Varnette P. Honeywood’s painting “Like Father, Like Son,” which hangs in the Kilgore Hall Faculty Lounge, that he wrote a poem by the same name the day before he left Atlanta. (Please scroll down to end of article to read the poem.)

When Moore wasn’t advising poetry pupils in the various workshops, he taught jazzku, a form of prose he created that borrows from jazz music and haiku poetry. He has essentially remixed the haiku. Instead of the typical five-seven-five syllabic units, which total three lines, Moore instead writes his poetry using haiku as an inspiration to get at, what he calls, “the precision of the language.”

“Haiku promotes a keen awareness of the surroundings of the natural world,” he said. “Haiku is the economy of language and helps you write other forms of poetry.”

Moore began his own journey to poetry when he took English classes at the University of Maryland after joining the Army. While he wooed his wife with poetry, it wasn’t something he began to take seriously until the early 1980s when he realized he could write poetry for a living. Moore returned to school, eventually earning a bachelor’s degree from Shaw in 1995 and a master’s in English and African American Literature from North Carolina A&T State University in 1997.

But some of the most important lessons he learned weren’t studied from behind a desk, but given to him in the course of living, such as “going after your dreams regardless of what people say” and tips on networking. These are the lessons he hopes will stay with students as they continue writing and moving through life.

“I want to give back and I don’t want them to make some of the mistakes I made,” said Moore. “In that way, it won’t take [them] as long to find [their] voice.”

VARNETTE P. HONEYWOOD: LIKE FATHER LIKE SON, 1988
By Lenard D. Moore
February 3, 2005
10:41 A.M.

I cannot tell you where
they live
the shadow-faced man
silhouetted
in white shirt, black tie,
white suit coat.
His two sons, same size,
perhaps twins, wear
starched white shirts,
black bowties, blue pants.
I did not tell you the father
wears blue pants too,
only a hint of them
revealed
between the three triangles
of African art
on a small table.
I will not tell you one boy’s
black hand faces the father’s
hand, massive as
the leaves of a tulip tree.
Yes, the man’s finger bears
a ring, gold band.
I must tell you the table
sports a tan tablecloth.
On it, a black leather
Holy Bible, thick red book
whose spine reads Garvey,
a green two-volume set
whose spines read QUR’AN,
Volume 1 and Volume 2
and two Jet magazines—
one of them glaring “Run Jesse Run”
on the glossy cover.
The framed poster
beams in red: “Like
Father, Like Son”
against the green wall paper.
I remember when I was a boy
my father would loop my tie;
then we would go to church.
Yet the man in the photograph
only had to loop his own.
I believe it is a Sunday
that the picture captures.
I won’t tell you anything else,
except that the urge
to call my father
pumps like a heart
this dreary day
when I summon my boyhood
against the winter chill.

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