Poems for Company – February 26th, 2024

“Frederick and Anna Murray Douglass”: Though Frederick Douglass grew up not knowing his exact birthdate and even uncertain just how old he was, historians presume he was born in February 1818.  Douglass wrote, “I do not remember to have ever met a slave who could tell of his birthday.”  His master “deemed all such inquiries on the part of a slave improper and impertinent, and evidence of a restless spirit.”  The first poem sampled on this episode, Paul Dunbar’s 1896 “Frederick Douglass,” depicts the former slave turned writer, orator, and powerful force for a wide range of civil rights in a heroic light.  The following two poems lower the pedestal on which Dunbar had placed him and offer insights into the private lives of Frederick and his first wife Anna Murray Douglass.  What would it have been like to be the overlooked wife to a man so frequently absent from home and so immersed in the historical moment?  Both are persona poems, the first in the voice of Anna: M. Nzadi Keita, “Stirring,” from Brief Evidence of Heaven: Poems from the life of Anna Murray Douglass (Whirlwind Press, 2014), available at spdbooks.org and used with kind permission of the author.  The second poem is in the voice of Frederick Douglass himself: Evie Shockley, “from The Lost Letters of Frederick Douglass,” from the new black (Wesleyan UP, 2011), and used with kind permission of the author.  (The show’s theme music is Philip Aaberg’s “Going-to-the Sun,” from his CD Live from Montana, available at sweetgrassmusic.com, and used with kind permission of Philip Aaberg.)