This Old Poem #68:
Ntozake Shange’s you are sucha fool
Copyright © by Dan Schneider, 10/10/03

  It’s a measure of the self-consciousness of the artist when they feel an overwhelming desire to ‘explain in detail’ points of fact about themselves that have little or nothing to do with their art. Such is the case with the poetess Paulette Williams who- after getting the ‘black power’ in her soul- decided to change her name to Ntozake Shange- the whole ideal that Africanisms are some sort of sacred thing. In fact, a # of NS websites proudly declaim this factoid:

  Ntozake means "she who comes with her own things, and Shange means "who walks like a lion."


  In other words, she’s 1 tough Mother- SHUTYOMOUTH! Not only will you get told what her new name means but also how to pronounce it- un-toe-zah-key shang-gee. At least that’s how 1 website tells you to pronounce it- others give 3 or 4 different versions. Wanna know more about NS? Here’s 1 of many an online bio:


  Ntozake Shange was born Paulette Williams in Trenton, New Jersey on 10/8/48. In 1971 she changed her name to Ntozake Shange which means "she who comes with her own things" and "she who walks like a lion" in Xhosa, the Zulu language. Her father was an Air Force surgeon and her mother was an educator and a psychiatric social worker. The Williamses were upper middle class African Americans whose love of the arts contributed to an intellectually stimulating childhood for Shange and her three siblings.  Dizzy Gillespie, Miles Davis, Chuck Berry, and W. E. B. Du Bois were among the frequent guests at her parents' house.

  In 1966 Shange enrolled at Barnard College and separated from her husband, a law student. She attempted suicide several times. Nonetheless, she graduated cum laude in American Studies in 1970 and entered the University of Southern California at Los Angeles, where she earned a master's degree in American Studies in 1973.

  While living in California and teaching humanities and women's studies courses at Mills College in Oakland, the University of California Extension, and Sonoma State College, Shange began to associate with poets, teachers, performers, and black and white feminist writers who nurtured her talents. Shange and her friends began to perform their poetry, music, and dance in and around the San Francisco Area. Shange also danced with Halifu Osumare's company. Upon leaving the company she began collaborating with Paula Moss on the poetry, music, and dance that would in 1975 become for colored girls Moss and Shange left California for New York and performed for colored girls in a Soho jazz loft and later in bars in the lower East Side. Producer Woodie King Jr. saw one of these shows and helped director Oz Scott stage the choreopoem Off-Broadway at the New Federal Theatre where it ran for eight months, after which it moved to the New York Shakespeare Company's Anspacher Public Theatre, and then to the Booth Theatre.

In addition to her plays, she has written poetry, novels, and essays. She has taught at California State College, the City College of New York, the University of Houston, Rice University, Yale, Howard, and New York University. Among her many awards are an Obie, a Los Angeles Time Book Prize for Poetry, and a Pushcart Prize.


  Despite her Black Awakening note how utterly average her life is- especially for a woman artist- divorce, suicide despite having all the advantages, overcoming her own self-created obstacles, etc.- NS is really just a 1-note wonder. For Colored Girls Who Have Considered Suicide/When the Rainbow Is Enuf  was her only theatrical hit, & she has not published but a handful of ‘poems’ since. In fairness, while NS is not really a poet, her hybrid hit is quite a surrealistic piece, & has an odd draw about it. But, as poetry it’s utterly atrocious in all the ways most ‘spoken word’ crap is. It was this oddness & that rare once in a lifetime confluence that garnered NS fame. Her subsequent plays have bombed. Her poetry is almost unspeakable- in both senses of the term. Some snippets before we get to the titular poem. Here’s a 2 stanza snip from My Father Is a Retired Magician:


& the reason i'm so peculiar's
cuz i been studyin up on my daddy's technique
& everythin i do is magic these days
& it's very colored
very now you see it/ now you
dont mess wit me
                 i come from a family of retired
sorcerers/ active houngans & pennyante fortune tellers
wit 41 million spirits critturs & celestial bodies 
on our side
              i'll listen to yr problems
              help wit yr career     yr lover     yr wanderin spouse
              make yr grandma's stay in heaven more gratifyin
              ease yr mother thru menopause & show yr son
              how to clean his room
YES YES YES                             3 wishes is all you get
     scarlet ribbons for yr hair
        benwa balls via hong kong
           a miniature of machu picchu

  Bad line breaks, pointless lower casing (is this to suggest the illiteracy of the speaker), too thick drawl- were a white poet to write this NS & her ilk would deem the piece racist, & what’s with the abbreviations of yr? & why some of the indentations of lines, & the spaces within the lines? None of this is unique to NS- they’re pointless staples of spoken word dreck- as if spelling your yr suggests the poet or speaker is hip &/or cool.       
Here’s more from Blood Rhythms - Blood Currents - Black N' Blue Stylin':


southern nights
hard to put your finger on
like screams in the black bloody southern soil
sweet black blood echoin' thru the evenin' service
grindin' by the roadhouse door
sweet black blood
movin' with slow breath

  This is a bad blues song, not a poem. Literally every line is a cliché- & this is about 1/8th of the actual poem. Now what you’ve been waiting for:

you are sucha fool


you are sucha fool/ i haveta love you
you decide to give me a poem/ intent on it/ actually
you pull/ kiss me from 125th to 72nd street/ on
the east side/ no less
you are sucha fool/ you gonna give me/ the poet/
the poem
insistin on proletarian images/ we buy okra/
3 lbs for $1/ & a pair of 98 cent shoes
we kiss
we wrestle
you make sure at east 110 street/ we have cognac
no beer all day
you are sucha fool/ you fall over my day like
a wash of azure


you take my tongue outta my mouth/
make me say foolish things
you take my tongue outta my mouth/ lay it on yr skin
like the dew between my legs
on this the first day of silver balloons
& lil girl's braids undone
friendly savage skulls on bikes/ wish me good-day
you speak spanish like a german & ask puerto rican
market men on lexington if they are foreigners

oh you are sucha fool/ i cant help but love you
maybe it was something in the air
our memories
our first walk
our first...
yes/ alla that


where you poured wine down my throat in rooms
poets i dreamed abt seduced sound & made history/
you make me feel like a cheetah
a gazelle/ something fast & beautiful
you make me remember my animal sounds/
so while i am an antelope
ocelot & serpent speaking in tongues
my body loosens for/ you


you decide to give me the poem
you wet yr fingers/ lay it to my lips
that i might write some more abt you/
how you come into me
the way the blues jumps outta b.b.king/ how
david murray assaults a moon & takes her home/
like dyanne harvey invades the wind


oh you/ you are sucha fool/
you want me to write some more abt you
how you come into me like a rollercoaster in a
dip that swings
leaving me shattered/ glistening/ rich/ screeching
& fully clothed


you set me up to fall into yr dreams
like the sub-saharan animal i am/ in all this heat
wanting to be still
to be still with you
in the shadows
all those buildings
all those people/ celebrating/ sunlight & love/ you


you are sucha fool/ you spend all day piling up images
locations/ morsels of daydreams/ to give me a poem

just smile/ i'll get it

  This poem adds pointless slashes to symbolize a line break, or a break in mood, along with the other sins mentioned about the other poems- but why can’t the words alone do the work? Because they are a string of clichés. Here’s the rewrite:

you are sucha fool

the poem
make me say foolish things
like the dew between my legs
my body loosens for you
how you come into me
in a dip that swings
leaving me
like the sub-saharan animal

in the shadows



i'll get it

  The art is now an active ‘being’ in the poem, but even I could not help this without adding too much ‘me’ into it. This ‘poem’ is beyond redemption. At least the title can now refer to the speaker- that added duplicity improves the poem, even though you’re still better off not wasting your time reading it. Wait a minute- am I being oppressive in saying that?

Final Score: (1-100):

Ntozake Shange’s you are sucha fool: 15
TOP’s you are sucha fool: 40

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