Patterson, Raymond R(ichard)
PATTERSON, Raymond R(ichard)
Nationality: American. Born: New York City, 14 December 1929. Education: Lincoln University, Pennsylvania, 1947–51, A.B. 1951; New York University, 1954–56, M.A. 1956. Military Service: United States Army, 1951–53. Family: Married Boydie Alice Cooke in 1957; one child. Career: Children's supervisor, Youth House for Boys, New York, 1956–58; instructor in English, Benedict College, Columbia, South Carolina, 1958–59; English teacher in New York City public schools, 1959–68. Professor of English, 1968–92, and since 1992 professor emeritus, City College of the City University of New York. Vice President, the Poetry Society of America, 1985–88; PEN executive board, 1989–90; trustee, Walt Whitman Birthplace Association, 1985–99. Awards: Borestone Mountain award, 1950; National Endowment for the Arts grant, 1969, collaborative fellowship, 1989; Creative Artists Public Service grant, 1977; The City College Langston Hughes award, 1986; James Madison University Furious Flower Lifetime Achievement award in literature, 1994. Address: 2 Lee Court, Merrick, New York 11566, U.S.A.
Twenty-Six Ways of Looking at a Black Man and Other Poems. New York, Award Books, and London, Tandem, 1969.
For K.L. Buffalo, White Pine Press, 1980.
Elemental Blues. Merrick, New York, Cross-Cultural Communications. 1983.
Three Patterson Lyrics for Soprano and Piano. Bryn Mawr, Pennsylvania, Merion Music, Inc., 1986.*
Critical Studies: By Aaron Kramer, in Freedomways (New York),1970; Eugene B. Redmond, in Drumvoices, New York, Anchor Press. 1976.
Raymond R. Patterson comments:
For me writing poetry is an exploration of the possibilities of experience; a poem written is a poem discovered, providing useful knowledge about the territory we travel through.* * *
Contemporary black poetry is rooted in the special upheaval that gripped the United States during the 1950s and 1960s, when, in a last ditch push for full integration, black people in both the north and the south took to the streets. The result of their effort was the recognition by some that the country would cede nothing through protest. From that political truth grew the black power movement. Its cultural arm, the black arts movement, views all art as a weapon in the struggle for black liberation. In this context the aim of black literature is the total evaluation of the ideas and images by which blacks have traditionally defined themselves.
The poet Raymond R. Patterson reflects the influence of all of these forces. The result has been a body of poetry that is seminal in its explorations of black life. Concerned more with the psychological than the physical, Patterson is the poet-chronicler, capturing in verse the revolution in black thought that created the 1960s: "Come into my black hands. / Touch me. Feel the grip / And cramp of angry circumstances …" From the crucial admission of individual rage—a rage given force and articulation in real life by Malcolm X—the poet moves on to attack the various ploys used by blacks to navigate the American holocaust: "Black boys push carts in alligator shoes," while aspiring integrationists "… carry the word in Brooks Brothers suits," and those of the tiny elite, while fully convinced of their infallibility, are "thinking, sometimes … / Someone lied. Sometimes thinking suicide." But all is illusion and self-deception, insists the poet. Beneath the carefully controlled masks "there is enough / Grief- / Energy in / The Blackness / Of the whitest Negro / To incinerate / America."
Incineration is the key to "Riot Rimes U.S.A.," the eighty-five poem sequence that is Patterson's most popular work. The poems are humorous and ironic by turn in their first-person depictions of the Harlem riot of 1965. From the poet's perspective the event was the high point of the African experience in America: "My mama hadn't said one word / To my daddy for two whole years. / But after the riots, she was so happy / She was crying tears … / Nothing suits a family like a big strong male."