Wednesday, April 3, 2013

Poem Honoring Naomi Long Madgett, Poet Laureate of Detroit, Michigan

Frances Shani Parker (left) poses with Naomi Long Madgett near the sculpture of Madgett on display at the Charles H. Wright Museum of African American History in Detroit, Michigan.

April is National Poetry Month. I am honored to recognize Naomi Long Madgett, my friend and Poet Laureate of Detroit, Michigan. Naomi will be 90 years old on her July 5th birthday in 2013. She continues to inspire others with her rich legacy of achievements. Join me as I salute her with a poem I wrote about a true experience we shared years ago.


She said, “Just call me Naomi”
like that would be easy as breathing,
as if that word could dance
from my mouth doing a solo hustle,
as if I could first-name somebody
whose life poem includes the Roaring
Twenties, the Harlem Renaissance,
and the Great Depression.
My Louisiana roots knew better.
That would be like smelling myself. *

This golden light of a lady
named Naomi Long Madgett,
this awesome oxymoron of petiteness
and greatness doesn’t realize
when she looks up to talk to me,
I still look up to her when I look down.
Generations of word lovers
inspired by her talent use her
as their beacon to guide them
across waters to future possibilities.

Her glowing array of achievements
includes illuminating poetry, publishing,
and teaching. She beams brilliance
on rooftops of human potential,
through windows of curiosity,
anywhere words can ignite minds.
Life’s looming landscape continues
to be enhanced with legacies
emitted from her radiant rays
of kindness, integrity, and dedication.

She said to call her Naomi.
Detroit’s poet laureate can’t be denied.
I stir that word in my mouth
like a vintage Starlite mint, chew
until southern discomfort dissolves,
swallow its savored sweetness.
The next time I see Ms. Madgett,
I greet her like the enlightened
queen elder she is and say,
“Hi, Nnnnnnnaomi!”

© Frances Shani Parker

* “Smelling myself” is primarily an African American idiom for being conceited. 

Frances Shani Parker, Author
Becoming Dead Right: A Hospice Volunteer in Urban Nursing Homes is available in paperback and e-book editions in America and other countries at online and offline booksellers.
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  1. Wonderful tribute to a beautiful woman by a beautiful poet.

    1. Thank you, Anonymous, for that lovely word bouquet.

  2. Curtis JenningsApril 07, 2013

    Ms. Parker, your poem is a very fitting tribute to Naomi Long Madgett. I was a student in the late sixties at Northwestern High School where I had the good fortune of being instructed by Ms. Madgett. I have vivid and pleasant memories of Ms. Madgett and her English class. Consistently soft spoken and invariably eloquent, she quietly coaxed the maximun potential from each of her students. Even though Northwestern was an inner-city African American school, Ms. Madgett made disparities in educational opportunities a foreign concept. Anything short of excellence was unacceptable, and she inspired each of us to strive for just that.

    I went on to become class valedictorian and ultimately achieved career success as CEO and COO of one of Michigan's largest and most successful mental health and substance abuse treatment agencies. My personal accomplishments were a direct result of the instruction, guidance and insistence of dedicated and caring individuals like Ms. Madgett. Thank you and God bless you Naomi Long Madgett.