The Death Of James Emanuel
Copyright © by Dan Schneider, 10/4/13
This past Saturday, September 28th, 2013, American poet James A. Emanuel died. He was 92. Born on June 15th, 1921, in Alliance, Nebraska, Emanuel was a poet first, and a great one, at that. He came from a state that produced its own share of excellent to great writers, such as essayist and poet Loren Eiseley, poet and cultural historian John G. Neihardt, poet Weldon Kees, and novelist Willa Cather.
According to Emanuel’s closest friend, in an email received by me, I was informed that ‘James Emanuel passed away last Saturday. He was hospitalized, due to a massive stroke a few days earlier.’ Since then I have found out that he will be cremated, with friends and colleagues attending the services.
I never physically met the man, but corresponded with him via email and post mail for over a decade, after he contacted me upon finding out I had written The Not So Strange Emanuel Case, a seminal essay that, at the time, was the only on- or offline study and criticism of this great poet’s work. I had found out of Emanuel less than a decade earlier after coming across his Whole Grain book of collected poems. I later interviewed Emanuel and his French translator, Jean Migrenne, for an online talk show, Omniversica, that I co-hosted with writer and artist Art Durkee, and my fifth Dan Schneider Interview, six years ago, was with Emanuel. It is a masterpiece of an interview, and demonstrates Emanuel’s wit and wisdom.
This link takes one to other Emanuel pieces on Cosmoetica, and it’s worth noting that virtually all online links to Emanuel emanate back to the important task I started and others contributed to on Cosmoetica, in NOT allowing this great poet, this influential black poet and compiler of black verse, fall through the cracks. One of the things I’m most proud of is my and my website’s commitment to championing great art and artists, wherever it and they come from.
In the near future, when I have more time and energy, I shall detail some of the reasons for Emanuel’s flight from America, as a man and artist, and those who were responsible for his estrangement from his own land, and the artistic and critical neglect that was heaped upon him, especially by the black artistic establishment of this nation. Suffice to say that, at this time, all that need be said is that another great artist of the species has joined the pantheon, and now all that is left of him is his work: James Emanuel, for, in the end, that is what all artists become.
Mozart is not the wacky German composer, but the magnificent symphonies. Shakespeare is not the dead bard under Avon, but the plays and poems. Picasso is not the ugly little Spanish misogynist, but the works that helped mold and transform the way the world can be seen. Whether or not James Emanuel’s long term impact will equal those is to be determined, but James Emanuel is the poems.
I say, for a dead guy, he’s still looking pretty sharp:
slow moves through him, watched by hills.
Something low within each rock receives
His noonday wish, then crumbles rich; so fills
Each furrow that the prairie year upheaves.
His arm has lain with boulders. His copper hand
Has mused on roots, uncaring of barbed wire.
His fist has closed on thistle, and dug the land
For corn October snows have whelmed entire.
Something flows within him in stubborn streams,
And in the parted foliage something lives
In upright green, stirred by the rhythmic gleams
Of his hoe and spade. From worn-out arms he gives;
The earth receives, turns all his pain to soil,
Where he believes, and testifies through toil.
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