Aubert, Alvin (Bernard)
AUBERT, Alvin (Bernard)
Nationality: American. Born: Lutcher, Louisiana, 12 March 1930. Education: Southern University, Baton Rouge, Louisiana, B.A. in English 1959; University of Michigan, Ann Arbor (Woodrow Wilson Fellow), M.A. 1960; University of Illinois, Urbana, 1963–64, 1966–67. Family: Married 1) Olga Alexis in 1948 (divorced), one daughter; 2) Bernadine Tenant in 1960; two daughters. Career: Instructor, 1960–62, assistant professor, 1962–65, and associate professor of English, 1965–70, Southern University; visiting professor of English, University of Oregon, Eugene, Summer 1970; associate professor, 1970–74, and professor of English, 1974–79, State University of New York, Fredonia; professor of English, 1980–92, and since 1992 professor emeritus, Wayne State University, Detroit. Member, board of directors, Coordinating Council of Literary Magazines, 1982–86. Advisory editor, Drama and Theatre, 1973–75, Black Box, 1974–79, Gumbo, 1976–78, and Callaloo, 1977–83; founder and editor, Obsidian magazine, Fredonia, New York, and Detroit, 1975–85; since 1985 senior editorial consultant, Obsidian II, Raleigh, North Carolina. Awards: Bread Loaf Writers Conference scholarship, 1968; National Endowment for the Arts grant, 1973, 1981; Coordinating Council of Literary Magazines grant, 1979; Annual Callaloo award, 1989. Address: 18234 Parkside Avenue, Detroit, Michigan 48221, U.S.A.
Against the Blues. Detroit, Broadside Press, 1972.
Feeling Through. Greenfield Center, New York, Greenfield Review Press, 1975.
South Louisiana: New and Selected Poems. Grosse Pointe Farms, Michigan, Lunchroom Press, 1985.
If Winter Come. Pittsburgh, Carnegie Mellon Press, 1994.
Harlem Wrestler. East Lansing, Michigan, Michigan State University Press, 1995.
Home from Harlem, adaptation of The Sport of the Gods by Paul Laurence Dunbar (produced Detroit 1986). Detroit, Obsidian Press, 1986.*
Bibliography: "Alvin Aubert: A Primary Bibliography," in Black American Literature Forum (Terre Haute, Indiana), Fall 1989.
Critical Studies: By J.B., in Kliatt (West Newton, Massachusetts), November 1972; by James Shokoff, in Buffalo Courier-Express, 8 June 1973; by Herbert W. Martin, in Three Rivers Poetry Journal (Pittsburgh), November 1978; by Herbert W. Martin, in Black American Literature Forum (Terre Haute, Indiana), Fall 1987; by Tom Dent, in Black American Literature Forum (Terre Haute, Indiana), Spring 1988; by Jerry W. Ward, in Black American Literature Forum (Terre Haute, Indiana), Fall 1989; by M. Williams, in African American Review, 30(3), 1996.
Alvin Aubert comments:
A poem is a verification of experience in thought and feeling but mostly the latter, for feeling is the means by which essential experience is received and transmitted. If the feeling is right, the intellectual content is also, which is to say that in the poem that works there takes place a mutual verification of thought by feeling, feeling by thought. I am African-American and conscious of my roots in south Louisiana, with its confluence of African, Native American, and European (French and Spanish) cultural influences. My sensitivity is of course African-American, thus leaving no doubt as to the source of the experiences that verify my poems as well as find verification in them. My thematic concerns are as universal as they are particular. The themes identified by James Shokoff—"death, the shapes of the past, the terror of existence, and the pain of endurance"—are all there and then some. Their particularity is perhaps best identified in Tom Dent's observations about my south Louisiana origin.* * *
The title of Alvin Aubert's first book of poetry, Against the Blues, directs us to read his verse against a background of recalled popular sources. For example, "Whispers in a County Church" simulates an exchange of worldly gossip among the pious; "De Profundis" relates the practical plea of a drinker for some sign, less miraculous than a burning bush, to move him to sobriety. These stock comic figures are matched in a pair of poems, opening the book, that invoke Bessie Smith in an allusion to the muse and announce the news of the dispensation of the blues. None of the poems is long. All have the apparent simplicity of direct statement. Except for the references to Smith and, in another poem, Nat Turner, the immediate subjects are personal experiences, just like the blues. The singer-poet presents first-person experiences in ways that will make them typical.
As both singer and poet know, it is not so much the experience itself, though that is surely familiar, as the form in which it is rendered that makes the song and poem typical. Thus, Aubert typifies his poems through the patterns of language. The characters of Zenobia in "Photo Album" or of those in "Uncle Bill" and "Granny Dean" are familiar not only because we may know people like them but because the poet's lines about his characters approximate the habits of speech. Often a use of negatives or identical rhymes echoes the oral games of Black English. Sometimes, as in "Garden Scene," the verse nearly assumes the form of anecdotal exemplum. Of course, it is not to imitate, even to imitate the patterns of spoken language, that Aubert writes. The typicality provided by the linguistic patterns acknowledged by the poet and reader serves as the subject for creative imagination.
Aubert opens Feeling Through, his second book of poetry, with "Black Aesthetic," a poem that proposes to reverse Duchamp's Nude Descending a Staircase so that it would portray a black man going up, not down. The title poem of the book illustrates Aubert's point, pulling experience up into reflective consciousness and setting it out as the new experience of a poem. With a characteristic syntactic economy, now become almost elliptical, Aubert establishes a situation. He, or his persona, sits on a porch swing, looking through a window at the reflection in a mirror of a carnival photograph. A partial dialogue is overheard but quickly displaced, so that wonder about the old photograph is transformed into a soliloquy on the problem of recapturing the past. The scene and events of "Feeling Through" are the material of a family story. Narrative, however, remains inchoate as the poetic voice plays feelings held in the foreground of mind over the background of anecdote. Thus, the poem is both a gloss on the latent tale of the photograph and the expression of a newly defined experience.
Aubert increasingly attaches subjective significance to his imagery. In poems such as "Economics" from the first volume or "The Opposite of Green" from the second, details explain the mundane appearance of racism, but "Nightmare" and "Levitation," both in the second book, have highly personal references. Still, the tactics of language are consistent throughout Aubert's work. The texts of his poems maintain a continuity with the African-American tradition by simulation and innovation that become a commentary on the richness of his sources and evidence of authentic re-creation.
—John M. Reilly