Episode 8

Bernard Clay and Joseph Seamon Cotter Sr.

Bernard Clay was born in Louisville, Kentucky, and he spent most of his childhood and high school years there. He holds an MFA in creative writing from the University of Kentucky, and he is a member of the Affrilachian Poets collective. His work has been published in Appalachian Heritage, The Limestone Review, Blackbone: 25 Years of the Affrilachian Poets, and various other journals and anthologies. His book English Lit was published by Old Cove/Swallow Press in 2021. He lives on a farm in eastern Kentucky with his wife Lauren Kallmeyer, an herbalist who serves as the director of Kentucky Heartwood's Forest Council.

Joseph Seamon Cotter Sr. was born on February 2, 1861, in Bardstown, Kentucky, and he died in Lousiville, Kentucky in 1949. When he was just eight years old, he had to leave school to help support his family. At the age of 22, Cotter returned to his formal education and eventually served for more than fifty years as a teacher and administrator in several Louisville schools. In 1891, he married Maria F. Cox; they had three children, including his eldest son, Joseph Seamon Cotter Jr., who was also a talented poet and playwright. According to Oxford Reference, Joseph Cotter Sr. provided an important “voice during one of the most difficult eras of African American history, and he was a man who backed his words with action in building the African American community.”

Links:

Read "Mr. Nap's Fight" and "Appalachian Smitten"

Read "Dr. Booker T. Washington to the National Negro Business League"

Bernard Clay

Bernard Clay's website

English Lit reviewed in Southern Review of Books

Bernard Clay reading at the historic Western Library of the Louisville Free Public Library

Joseph Seamon Cotter Sr.

Bio and poems at Poets.org

Bio and Bibliography at the Carnegie Center--Kentucky Writers Hall of Fame

Mentioned in this episode:

KnoxCountyLibrary.org

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Transcript
Alan May:

Welcome to The Beat, Knox County Public Library’s poetry podcast. Today we’ll hear three poems by the poet Bernard Clay. The first two, “Mr. Nap’s Fight” and “Appalachian Smitten,” are from Clay’s book English Lit. The third poem, “Dr. Booker T. Washington to the National Negro Business League,” was written by the poet Joseph Seamon Cotter, Sr. And published in 1909.

Bernard Clay:

"MR. NAP’S FIGHT"

brothas and sistas never gave you dap

you rose from the scalp

of the black gene pool

but since you ain’t stringy you ain’t too cool

so the first people yank you with afro picks

cook ya clean-straight with hot comb tricks

so you could be manageable

at least for a day

after work and sweat

you come back anyway

so to combat on you some more

folks chemically bombarded

you with conks galore

get a perm every four to six weeks

but you still bulge and you peek

through that mop of devilish straight hairs

look like we got you in noose snares

you’re drowned in jheri-curl juice spray

electric clippers grind you into a stubbled grave

stocking caps suppress you into bumpy waves

straight asian bobs slipped over african knobs

disguising you so we can stay in school

and keep our jobs

horsetails bring up a debate

stapled, braided, or glued-in at a snail’s rate

you’re bleached farrah fawcett gold

or dyed at your roots

but you continue on with the spending

of much much loot

all done to keep you down

but mr. naps... you still hang around?

making appearances in

’fros, naturals, and dreads

keeping a strong presence

on the face of our heads

"APPALACHIAN SMITTEN"

though she is more mature

than her terrestrial sisters

rocky, andes, or himalaya

though osteoporosis has set in

on her nooks and valleys

she still survived

mastectomies daily for decades

she is so grand

not all her tears are slurry

some of her kisses

are still spring pure

her rain-worn curves

still the smoothest

i’ve ever explored

still framing some of my

most sensual moments

geologically speaking

she is lena horne

regal eternal beauty

The next poem I picked because it's written by a native Louisvillian, Joseph S. Cotter Sr., who is, for all intents and purposes, my poetic ancestor 'cause I'm from Louisville also--Louisville, Kentucky. The poem is sort of a fun rhymey poem, also, so I like reading it. So here's "Dr. Booker T. Washington to the National Negro Business League."

’Tis strange indeed to hear us plead

For selling and for buying

When yesterday we said: “Away

With all good things but dying.”

The world’s ago, and we’re agog

To have our first brief inning;

So let’s away through surge and fog

However slight the winning.

What deeds have sprung from plow and pick!

What bank-rolls from tomatoes!

No dainty crop of rhetoric

Can match one of potatoes.

Ye orator of point and pith,

Who force the world to heed you,

What skeleton you’ll journey with

Ere it is forced to feed you.

A little gold won’t mar our grace,

A little ease our glory.

This world’s a better biding place

When money clinks its story.

Alan May:

You just heard Bernard Clay read his poems “Mr. Nap’s Fight” and “Appalachian Smitten.” Clay followed by reading the poem “Dr. Booker T. Washington to the National Negro Business League” by Joseph S. Cotter, Sr. Clay was kind enough to record these poems for us at his home in Eastern Kentucky.

Bernard Clay was born in Louisville, KY, and spent most of his childhood and high school years there. He holds an MFA in creative writing from the University of Kentucky, and he is a member of the Affrilachian Poets collective. His work has been published in Appalachian Heritage, The Limestone Review, Blackbone: Twenty-Five Years of the Affrilachian Poets, and various other journals and anthologies. His book English Lit was published by Swallow Press in twenty twenty-one. He lives on a farm in eastern Kentucky with his wife Lauren Kallmeyer, an herbalist who serves as the director of Kentucky Heartwood's Forest Council.

Joseph Seamon Cotter, Sr. was born on February second, eighteen sixty-one, in Bardstown, KY. He learned to read at the age of three. When he was just eight years old, he had to leave school to help support his family. At the age of 22, Cotter returned to formal education and eventually served for more than fifty years as a teacher and administrator in several Louisville schools. In eighteen ninety-one, he married Maria F. Cox; they had three children, including his eldest son, Joseph Seamon Cotter Jr., who was also a talented poet and playwright.

According to Oxford Reference, Joseph Cotter Sr. provided an important “voice during one of the most difficult eras of African American history, and he was a man who backed his words with action in building the African American community.” He died in his Louisville home in nineteen forty-nine.

Look for English Lit by Bernard Clay in our online catalog. You can also find poems by Cotter, Sr. and Jr. in the anthologies African-American Poetry of the 19th Century and African American Poetry: Two Hundred and Fifty Years of Struggle and Song, edited by the poet Kevin Young. Also look for links in the show notes. Please join us next time for The Beat.

About the Podcast

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The Beat
A poetry podcast

About your host

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Alan May

Alan May works as a reference librarian at Lawson McGhee Library. In his spare time, he reads and writes poetry. May's most recent books are Dead Letters (2008) and More Unknowns (2014). His poems have appeared in The New York Quarterly, The Hollins Critic, The New Orleans Review, Plume, and others.