Poet As Fisherman – James A. Emanuel

Poet As Fisherman


I fish for words
to say what I fish for,
half-catch sometimes.

I have caught little pan fish flashing sunlight
(yellow perch, crappies, blue-gills),
lighthearted reeled them in,
filed them on stringers on the shore.
A nice mess, we called them,
and ate with our fingers, laughing.

Once, dreaming of fish in far-off waters,
I hooked a two-foot carp in Michigan,
on nylon line so fine
a fellow-fisher shook his head:
“He’ll break it, sure; he’ll roll on it and get away.”
A quarter-hour it took to bring him in;
back-and-forth toward my net,
syllable by syllable I let him have his way
till he lay flopping on the grass—
beside no other, himself enough in size:
he fed the three of us (each differently)
new strategies of hook, leader, line, and rod.

Working well, I am a deep-water man,
a “Daredevil” silver wobbler
my lure for lake trout in midsummer.

Oh, I have tried the moon, thermometers—
the bait and time and place all by the rule—
fishing for the masterpiece,
the imperial muskellunge in Minnesota,
the peerless pike in Canada.
I have propped a well-thumbed book
against the butt of my favorite rod
and fished from my heart.

Yet, for my labors,
all I have to show
are tactics, lore—
so little I know
of that pea-sized brain I am casting for,
to think it could swim
with the phantom-words
that lure me to this shore.

James A. Emanuel (1921-2013)

[James A. Emanuel was born in Alliance, Nebraska.Emanuel earned his BA from Howard University, his MA from Northwestern, and his PhD in English and comparative literature from Columbia. Emanuel began teaching at City College, CUNY while completing his doctorate; he taught at the institution from 1957 until his retirement in 1983. Though often described as “neglected,” Emanuel was one of the driving forces behind opening the English college curricula to African American literature. His groundbreaking study Langston Hughes (1967) was one of the first scholarly books on Hughes. With Theodore L. Gross, Emanuel also edited one of the first anthologies of black writers, Dark Symphony: Negro Literature in America (1968).That same year, he published his first book of poetry, The Treehouse and Other Poems (1968). In his poetry, Emanuel frequently utilizes traditional forms and evokes the harsh realities of black experience. His many collections include Black Man Abroad (1978), Whole Grain: Collected Poems 1958–1989 (1991), and The Force and the Reckoning (2001). 
 
In the 1990s, Emanuel developed a new form of writing, frequently described as jazz haiku.

Emanuel’s only son died in 1983, prompting the poem “Deadly James (For All the Victims of Police Brutality).” Emanuel rarely spoke of his son’s death, except to say that he committed suicide after being beaten by “three cowardly cops.” Emanuel moved to Paris in 1984, where he lived until his death in 2013.(source:poetryfoundation.org)